UPDATE 1-Russia's Rusal says aluminium demand healthy despite pandemic

(New throughout, adds interview)

MOSCOW/LONDON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Demand for aluminium is extending its recovery so far this year despite a second wave of COVID-19 lockdowns, an executive at Russian aluminium producer Rusal said on Monday.

“Demand is still strong in many sectors, especially automotive, packaging, construction,” Roman Andryushin, head of sales and marketing, said in an interview.

“In the fourth quarter of last year we had clear signs of restocking to fill gaps in supply chains, but since then new orders have been picking up more and more.”

Demand for aluminium was hit by the slide in economic activity due to the coronavirus pandemic starting last April, but started to recover in July and August, he added.

Hong-Kong listed Rusal, the world’s largest aluminium producer outside China, on Monday said fourth-quarter aluminum sales fell 7.1% from a year ago. It said sales volumes in 2019 benefited from sale of inventories accumulated over 2018 as a result of U.S sanctions.

Rusal said aluminium sales totalled 1.028 million tonnes in October to December 2020, up 2.0% quarter-on-quarter.

“I am absolutely confident for the first quarter ... (sales) should be as good if not better than the fourth quarter,” Andryushin said.

“With all this coronavirus stimulus we’ve seen in many countries and now the U.S., we may see a very strong first half of the year and I hope the full year.”

The company said it had adjusted its regional sales geography last year in response to the pandemic.

Sales to Europe as a proportion of the total fell 9 percentage points year-on-year to 45%, while Asia’s share grew by 8 pp to 25%.

“This shift reflects the less severe lockdown measures in Asia and an arbitrage opportunity in China underpinned by the country’s fast economic recovery,” Rusal said in a statement. (Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova in Moscow and Eric Onstad in London; Editing by Jan Harvey and David Gregorio)