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South32 hikes FY'19 coal production guidance after YOY surge in Q2, H1 output

South32 Ltd.'s metallurgical coal production in the second quarter of fiscal 2019 swelled 99% year over year to 1.6 million tonnes, leading to an increase in its fiscal year 2019 production guidance on the back of improved longwall performance.

The company bumped up the forecast for total coal production in fiscal 2019 from its Illawarra operations in New South Wales, Australia, by 400,000 tonnes to 6.5 million tonnes, which includes a 300,000-tonne increase in guidance for metallurgical coal output to 5.2 million tonnes. Forecast for all other metals remained unchanged.

The higher production is also expected to result in a lower operating unit costs for the fiscal year, the company said Jan. 17.

Energy coal production in the quarter, meanwhile, slipped to 6.4 million tonnes from 7 million tonnes a year ago.

South32 CEO Graham Kerr noted that the process to transform ownership of its South Africa Energy Coal unit is on track and the company expects to receive binding bids in the June 2019 half year. COO Mike Fraser previously said in February 2018 that the company intends to broaden the unit's ownership but has no plans to withdraw from the South African market.

Alumina and aluminum output for the three months improved to 1.4 million tonnes and 247,000 tonnes, respectively, from 1.3 million tonnes and 246,000 tonnes in the prior-year quarter. Production of manganese ore and manganese alloy declined to 1.4 million wet tonnes and 57,000 tonnes, respectively, from 1.5 million wet tonnes and 62,000 tonnes a year ago.

Payable silver output jumped to 2.9 million ounces from 2.4 million ounces, payable nickel production improved to 10,400 tonnes from 10,100 tonnes, and payable zinc output climbed to 13,100 tonnes from 9,200 tonnes, on a yearly basis. Meanwhile, payable lead production slipped to 22,500 tonnes from 23,600 tonnes a year ago.

In the first half of fiscal 2019, the BHP Group Ltd. spinoff's metallurgical coal production saw a 140% year-over-year surge to 3.1 million tonnes, while energy coal production was down 8% to 12.9 million tonnes.

The dragline damaged in August 2018 at the Klipspruit operation in South Africa is expected to resume operations by the end of January, which will lead to higher exports in the June 2019 half year.

Alumina and aluminum output remained stable year over year at 2.5 million tonnes and 495,000 tonnes, respectively. The company noted that aluminum production was impacted by an increase in load-shedding at the Hillside smelter in South Africa and the Mozal smelter in Mozambique during the December 2018 half year.

Manganese ore production in the half improved 2% to 2.9 million wet tonnes, and manganese alloy output declined 8% to 109,000 tonnes.

Australia Manganese achieved record ore production as the premium concentrate ore circuit operated at about 120% of its design capacity. Meanwhile, manganese alloy salable production was down due to an unplanned furnace outage during the December 2018 quarter.

Payable silver production jumped 17% year over year to 6.1 million ounces, and payable zinc output surged 30% to 26,300 tonnes. Payable nickel and payable lead production was down 3% and 2%, respectively, to 21,100 tonnes and 48,300 tonnes.