Work hard and you will find success

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Rio Tinto 4th-Quarter Profit at Aluminum, Copper Units to Fall

15 january 2009

Rio Tinto Group, the world’s third- largest mining company, said fourth-quarter earnings at its aluminum and copper units will decline because of falling prices.
Earnings will be “negatively impacted” as a result of a “sharp decline in the aluminum price,” London-based Rio said in a statement today. Inventories of aluminum will be written down, Bloomberg reported. Reduced “provisional pricing” for copper lowered earnings by about $360 million in the second half of last year, Rio said.
“It is going to be a horror show,” Hugh Dive, who helps manage about $3 billion at Sydney-based Investors Mutual Ltd., said by telephone today. “Just look where aluminum prices have gone in the last six months.”
Rio, which is selling assets to pay debt from its $38.1 billion purchase of Canada’s Alcan Inc. in 2007, has curbed production of aluminum, iron ore, coal and diamonds as a global economic slowdown sapped demand in China, the largest consumer, and caused prices to fall. It committed to reduce net debt by $10 billion this year.
“We are taking firm action in response to the global economic downturn,” Chief Executive Officer Tom Albanese said in the statement to the Australian stock exchange. Rio reports earnings on Feb. 12.
Aluminum, used in cars, planes and beverage cans, slid 36 percent last year on the London Metal Exchange while copper slumped 54 percent, the biggest decline since at least 1987, as purchases slowed and stockpiles grew.
Falling demand for aluminum in the construction and automotive industries has led to a global surplus of the lightweight metal. Metal in warehouses approved by the LME totaled 2.45 million tons as of yesterday, the highest since September 1994.
Production of iron ore fell 18 percent in the fourth quarter to 31.8 million metric tons, from 38.96 million tons a year earlier, Rio said today. The company reported record output of 42.4 million tons for the third quarter.
The decline in output at Rio’s Pilbara iron ore mines in the quarter resulted in a “rise in unit costs and a general tightening of margins,” Rio said today. Rio said in November it would curtail output at West Australian iron ore mines by 10 percent.
Iron ore accounted for 48 percent of Rio’s operating income in 2007. A 10 percent price change would alter Rio’s earnings by about 9 percent, Deutsche Bank AG analysts Rob Clifford and Peter O’Connor said last week in a note.
Aluminum production, which accounted for 9.5 percent of 2007 operating income, rose 21 percent to 1 million tons from a year earlier, due to output increases that took place before Rio idled capacity. It has since shut capacity at high-cost plants, sold a share in a Chinese smelter and shelved its involvement in smelter projects in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
Mined copper slid 18 percent to 149,100 tons, from 180,800 tons a year earlier, because of declining grades at the Escondida mine in Chile, the world’s largest copper mine. Rio owns 30 percent of Escondida, which is operated by BHP Billiton Ltd.
Coking coal output advanced 40 percent to 2.2 million tons, from 1.54 million tons a year earlier, the company said.