Iron boosts Rio Tinto but coal suffers

City A.M. Reporter
GLOBAL miner Rio Tinto posted a six per cent rise in iron ore production in the fourth quarter, powered by Chinese demand, but said coal production suffered after flood-related disruptions in Australia.

Rio Tinto said in a production report yesterday that it produced 50.05m tonnes of iron ore in the fourth quarter versus 47.23m a year ago, in response to strong demand from Chinese steel-makers and setting an Australian mining record.

Fourth-quarter output of hard coking coal was 2.28m tonnes, against 2.12m tonnes a year ago. Rio Tinto’s Australian thermal coal production increased to 5.15m tonnes from 5.02m.

The company said it was unable to estimate the full impact to coal mining operations from Australian flooding, and that force majeure declarations on some sales contracts remained in place after Australia’s wettest spring on record. A force majeure is a legal clause that allows a company to miss deliveries because of circumstances beyond its control.

The floods led Australia and London-listed Rio Tinto to make declarations of force majeure on coal sales over the Christmas period.

And last week the company declared another force majeure after halting shipments of aluminium from its 538,000-tonnes-per-year Boyne Island smelter.

Rio Tinto’s mined and refined copper output was down nine per cent and six per cent on the fourth quarter of 2009 and down 16 per cent and five per cent on full-year 2009.

The report showed total production of mined copper from the world’s biggest mine, Escondida in Chile, increased to 786,800 tonnes in 2010 from 774,400 in 2009, but dropped to 194,600 tonnes in the fourth quarter from 233,000 a year ago.