Rio Tinto iron ore production up 12%

Rio Tinto iron ore production up 12%

Rio Tinto has posted a 12 per cent increase in first quarter iron ore production but mined copper production fell three per cent from the same time period year.

Australia’s second biggest miner attributed the rise in its share of iron ore production to 32.245 million tonnes to its $US5 billion ($A5.97 billion) iron expansion program in Western Australia, but said there had been some impact on the first quarter from cyclones.

Miner copper production fell to 197,900 tonnes due to lower grades and recoveries at Kennecott Utah Copper, but refined copper production rose 19 per cent to 101,600 tonnes.

The higher result in refined copper was attributed to higher production at the Escondida leach plant in Chile.

“The Kennecott Utah Copper smelter operated at targeted levels during the quarter, following the scheduled maintenance shut-down in the fourth quarter of 2006,” Rio Tinto said.

Aluminium metal production rose two per cent, compared to the same the quarter of 2006, to 211,700 tonnes, while alumina dropped 15 per cent to 661,000 tonnes.

“First quarter production from Yarwun was 15 per cent higher than the first quarter of 2006 in line with the ramp up to full capacity but was 18 per cent lower than the previous quarter, attributable to maintenance shutdowns in February,” Rio Tinto said.

“Rio Tinto’s share of alumina production in the first quarter fell by 15 per cent when compared with the corresponding quarter last year, following the sale of Eurallumina in October 2006.”

Hard coking coal production increased by 28 per cent to 1.438 million tonnes, in line with an improvement in market conditions.

But Australian thermal coal production fell eight per cent due to shipping congestion at the ports.

Rio Tinto’s overall share of uranium production fell 16 per cent due to 1,270 tonnes, due to heavy rainfall at Ranger mine and plant in the Northern Territory.

Uranium production increased three per cent at Rossing in Namibia.

Mined gold production rose 23 per cent during the quarter to 271,000 ounces, but refined gold production fell two per cent to 115,000 ounces.

Diamond production fell 20 per cent from the same period last year and 47 per cent on the previous quarter to 5.033 carats.

“Lower feed grade at Argyle (Western Australia) resulted in lower production in the first quarter,” Rio Tinto said.

“Variability in feed grade and production rates will continue as the open-pit operation approaches the end of its life and transitions to the underground operation.

“Higher grades were experienced at Diavik (Canada) during the first quarter.”

During the first quarter of 2007, Rio Tinto increased its exploration spend to $72 million, from $57 million in the same period last year.

It also said that, along with Ivanhoe Mines, it has reached an agreement in principle with the government of Mongolia on a draft investment agreement for the development of the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold project in the south Gobi region.

At 1538 AEST Thursday, Rio Tinto’s shares were down $2.16 or 2.56 per cent at $82.34.

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