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Rio Tinto's FY'19 iron ore output, shipments slip 3%; bauxite production up 9%

Rio Tinto said Jan. 16 that its fourth-quarter 2019 iron ore production and shipments slipped 3% and 1% year over year to 83.6 million tonnes and 86.8 million tonnes, respectively.

Full-year iron ore production and shipments from Pilbara, meanwhile, both decreased 3% to 326.7 million tonnes and 327.4 million tonnes, respectively, according to the company's results published Jan. 16. The company partly attributed the lower shipments to weather and operational challenges in the first half of 2019.

Mined copper output in the fourth quarter of 2019 declined 9% to 138,700 tonnes, reflecting the impact of lower copper grades from Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. Full-year copper production went down 5% to 577,400 tonnes. The company said that lower copper output is expected to persist until Rio Tinto is able to access higher grades from the end of this year, resulting from phase one of the south wall pushback project.

The company's quarterly production of bauxite increased 28% to 15.1 million tonnes, while full-year output increased 9% to 55.1 million tonnes, underpinned by the ramp-up of the Amrun mine in Queensland, Australia.

Aluminum output in the fourth quarter of 2019 dropped 4% to 783,000 tonnes, while full-year output dropped 2% to 3.2 million tonnes, due to the preventive safety shutdown of one of the three pot-lines at ISAL in Iceland and earlier-than-planned pot relining at Kitimat in British Columbia in the second half.

Iron ore pellets and concentrate output from the company's majority-owned Iron Ore Co. of Canada Inc.'s IOC operations in Labrador decreased 10% to 2.6 million tonnes during the 2019 fourth quarter, but full-year production rose 18% to 10.5 million tonnes.

Production of titanium dioxide slag decreased 3% to 286,000 tonnes during the quarter due to the curtailment of operations at Richards Bay in South Africa following an escalation in violence in the surrounding communities. However, full-year output increased 8% to 1.2 million tonnes, reflecting continued operational improvement and the restart of furnaces in line with market conditions.

For 2020, Rio Tinto is expecting its Pilbara iron ore operations to have a total output of 330 million to 343 million tonnes, while the production guidance for bauxite is from 55 million to 58 million tonnes.

Guidance for aluminum output is between 3.1 million and 3.3 million tonnes, while mined copper is expected to be between 530,000 and 570,000 tonnes. Diamond output is forecast at between 12 million to 14 million carats, while pellets and concentrate output from IOC is expected to range from 10.5 million tonnes to 12.0 million tonnes.

Meanwhile, Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd., majority-owned by Rio Tinto, reported that its Oyu Tolgoi mine produced a total of 146,346 tonnes of copper in the 2019 full year, within the guidance of between 125,000 and 155,000 tonnes. Oyu Tolgoi's gold production totaled 241,840 ounces, higher than the guidance range of 180,000 to 220,000 ounces.

Oyu Tolgoi is expected to produce 140,000 tonnes to 170,000 tonnes of copper and 120,000 to 150,000 ounces of gold concentrates in 2020. The capital expenditure for the mine during the year is expected to be about US$80 million to US$120 million for open pit operations and from US$1.2 billion to US$1.3 billion for the underground development exclusive of any expenditure on power.

For 2021, the mine is expected to produce 170,000 to 200,000 tonnes of copper, and 450,000 to 500,000 ounces of gold.