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Rio Tinto Forecasts Lower Copper Output, Weak Aluminum Prices in 2020 — Commodity Comment

By Joe Wallace

 

Rio Tinto's mined copper output fell in 2019, the Anglo-Australian miner said Friday, and production is forecast to slip again in 2020. Here's a summary of Anglo's fourth-quarter production and its guidance for 2020.

 

Copper

 

Rio mined 138,700 metric tons of copper in the fourth quarter, down 12% from the previous three months as output fell 39% at its Kennecott unit in Utah. Falling ore grades were the main reason for this decline, Rio said. The miner added that "grades will continue to be lower through 2020 before increasing from the first quarter of 2021, with the transition from east wall to south wall mining."

Rio expects to produce between 530,000 and 570,000 tons of copper across all its mines in 2020, down from 577,000 tons last year. Rio said it is continuing to do "detailed work on mine design" for an underground mine it is building at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia. Work on the mine was delayed last July.

 

Aluminum

 

Aluminum production fell 2% in 2019, to 3.2 million tons, after a pot-line outage at Rio's ISAL smelter in Iceland in the third quarter and a pot-line replacement at Kitimat in Canada.

Production has started to recover at ISAL, which ran at 85% of capacity in the fourth quarter, but output at Kitimat will remain constrained. Rio expects to produce between 3.1 and 3.3 million tons of aluminum in 2020, roughly the same as last year, but said the price it receives for the metal could remain under pressure.

"The aluminum industry continues to face challenging conditions in global markets and policy uncertainty, reflected in low industry profitability," Rio said.

 

Iron Ore

 

Rio Tinto shipped 327.4 million tons of iron ore from Pilbara in Australia in 2019, down 3% from 2018, partly because of disruption from cyclones and a fire at the Cape Lambert A port facility. Shipments are expected to rise this year, to between 330 million and 343 million tons. Rio said construction of a new crusher and a 13-kilometer conveyor at the Western Turner Syncline Phase 2 mine will begin in the first three months of 2020, and that the crusher will produce its first ore in 2021.

 

Write to Joe Wallace at joe.wallace@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 17, 2020 07:15 ET (12:15 GMT)

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