BHP bullish on iron ore despite investor worries

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BHP Billiton executives say they are still confident of strong demand for their iron ore despite investor fears of a softening outlook for the mineral.

BHP iron ore chief executive Ian Ashby told an investor briefing yesterday the company still planned to more than double production to 350 million tonnes by 2020.

He also released an eventual production target of 450 million tonnes of iron ore from the Pilbara.

The company said further expansion of the outer harbour at Port Hedland and the opening of new mines would pave the way to the target.

Rio Tinto iron ore boss Sam Walsh has previously spoken of the company’s potential to produce 533 million tonnes of iron ore a year.

Ashby said China would continue to drive global iron demand, and would lead steel production growth well into the next decade.

BHP executives said spot market sales were running at a higher rate than usual for iron ore, but this was not because it had problems with long-term customers.

They said the extra tonnages produced from continued expansion were behind the spot market rise.

The investor briefing also highlighted skills shortages as a continued problem for the company’s expansion plans.

Safety concerns were also raised, with the company releasing statistics showing the recordable injury frequency rate for contractors was nearly three times higher than for employees.

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