Rio Tinto iron ore exports rise as higher costs emerge

Cape Lambert. Image: Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto is on track to hit the upper part of its Pilbara iron ore guidance in 2018 after a strong end to the first half of the year.

The Western Australian iron ore business shipped 88.5 million tonnes (Mt) in the June quarter, a 14 per cent improvement on the same period in 2017. For the half, its shipments were 168.8Mt.

Rio’s Pilbara operations, which are aiming for 330–340Mt in shipments in 2018, enjoyed better weather conditions and improved productivity across the system during the six months.

The company also recorded solid production increases in the first half of 2018 across its other key commodities, including bauxite, copper and coking coal.

Rio Tinto’s bauxite production was 3 per cent higher in the June quarter against a year earlier at 13.3Mt. Its copper production surged 26 per cent 156,800t in the June quarter, with output at Escondida significantly higher after a labour union strike at the Chilean operation in the first half of last year.

In coking coal, Rio Tinto’s production was 40 per cent higher in the June quarter, an increase mainly due to output being interrupted by Cyclone Debbie in 2017.

Rio Tinto did, however, warn that it was now in an environment of rising cost inflation that was affecting its businesses. The company said the inflation was particularly notable in its aluminium group, which was affected by higher raw material costs.

Chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques described the company’s performance as solid across most commodities, rounding out a strong first half.

“Our increasingly flexible Pilbara iron ore system continued to perform well. Our bauxite and copper businesses also delivered strong operating results, demonstrating the success of our ongoing mine-to-market productivity programme, which is increasingly important in an environment of rising cost inflation,” Jacques said.

“Our sustained focus on cash generation, combined with disciplined capital allocation, will ensure we continue to deliver superior returns to our shareholders across the short, medium and long term.”

Rio Tinto confirmed its growth projects were progressing as planned, including the Amrun bauxite development in Queensland, which is scheduled for production in the first half of 2019.

As reported in Australian Mining last week, Rio Tinto has delivered its first iron ore from pit to port with a fully autonomous train as part of the AutoHaul project in the Pilbara.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.