Rio on Track for Iron Ore Record as China’s Imports Surge

By: | at 02:17 AM | Maritime  

Rio Tinto Group is on track for record annual shipments of iron ore as the world’s second-largest exporter’s rail capacity increases and imports by China’s steel mills keep surging.

The company confirmed shipments from Western Australia will hit about 330 million metric tons in 2017, London-based Rio said Tuesday in its production report that showed quarterly cargoes continued to gain. The total would top the 327.6 million tons exported last year.

Imports by China surged above 100 million tons to a record in September, topping a previous high set in 2015, as the world’s top steelmaker’s drive to boost air quality stokes demand for imported higher-grade and less-polluting raw materials.

“Rio will remain a beneficiary of ongoing reforms in China, which appear to be supporting key commodity prices,” including iron ore and aluminum, Melbourne-based RBC Capital Markets analyst Paul Hissey said in a note.

Rio advanced 1.3 percent to A$71.46, the highest since Feb. 2013, in Sydney trading, extending its advance over the past 12 months to about 41 percent.

Shipments jumped 6 percent to 85.8 million tons in the three months to Sept. 30, in line with the median estimate of 85.3 million tons among five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Rio, which officially opened its Silvergrass mine in August, expects further performance improvements with implementation of its autonomous train program by the end of 2018, according to the statement. The producer had in July narrowed its annual guidance after rail maintenance crimped shipments in the first half.

The company will need iron ore exports to hit a record rate in the final three months to meet the forecast of 330 million tons, according to Macquarie Group Ltd. estimates.

Benchmark prices, which slumped from mid-August on concern over weaker demand, have advanced since the release of the China customs data last week. Ore with 62 percent content in Qingdao gained 0.7 percent to $62.94 a dry ton on Monday, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd.

Cuts to steel production in China through winter, amid the efforts to improve air quality, are likely to push prices lower before a rebound in mid-2018, Deutsche Bank AG analysts including Sydney-based Paul Young said in an Oct. 5 note.

Rio’s full-year copper production is forecast at between 460,000 tons to 480,000 tons, from earlier guidance of 500,000 tons to 550,000 tons, according to the statement. That followed a delayed ramp-up of an expansion at Chile’s Escondida mine—the world’s biggest—and planned adjustments to output in the final three months at the Kennecott mine in Utah.

Escondida’s expansion is now on track and output soared in August to the highest since June 2015, according to data compiled by the Chilean government’s copper commission, known as Cochilco. Rio is a partner in the mine with operator BHP Billiton Ltd.

Other changes to Rio’s production guidance:

  • Thermal coal output forecast at 13 million to 14 million tons in 2017, from earlier forecast of 17 million to 18 million tons; semi-soft coking coal guidance cut to 2 million tons from 3.3 million to 3.9 million tons following the sale of Coal & Allied Ltd. operations.
  • Diamond output guidance narrowed to between 19 million and 22 million carats, from earlier forecast of 19 million to 24 million carats.
  • Bauxite production guidance lifted to between 50 million and 51 million tons from earlier estimate of 48 million to 50 million tons.

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