By Rhiannon Hoyle

 

Rio Tinto PLC reported record first-quarter iron-ore shipments from its mammoth Australian mining operations, but downgraded its full-year copper-production estimate, citing a conveyor outage at its Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City, Utah.

The company also said it is reviewing the budget and schedule for a project at its Rincon lithium development in Argentina due to searing local inflation and rising equipment costs.

The world's second-biggest miner by market value on Thursday said it shipped 82.5 million metric tons of iron ore from its mines in Australia's Pilbara region in the three months through March, up 16% on the same period a year ago. Rio Tinto's iron-ore mining operations there are the biggest in the world, alongside a network of mines run by rival Vale SA in Brazil.

Output from its iron-ore pits was 11% higher than the year-prior level and exports were boosted by a drawdown of stockpiles, the company said.

Rio Tinto said it also produced 145,000 metric tons of mined copper in the quarter, in line with the same period of 2022. However, the miner cut its full-year copper-production estimate due to disruptions at Kennecott, as well as geotechnical challenges in the pit of the Escondida mine in northern Chile.

Rio Tinto now expects to report between 590,000 and 640,000 tons of mined-copper production in 2023, from 650,000 to 710,000 tons previously.

Output at the Kennecott mine was 36% lower year-on-year because of the problems with a conveyor belt that links the mine to a concentrator. The area also experienced record snowfall -- twice the historical Utah average, the company said.

The concentrator is expected to operate at reduced rates until the third quarter, with Rio Tinto planning to truck ore while it sources replacement motors for the conveyor. The miner kept copper unit-cost guidance unchanged.

At the Rincon lithium project in Argentina, development of a lithium-carbonate starter plant is ongoing, the company said. However, it is reviewing its $140 million estimate and schedule for the plant in response to surging inflation.

"Detailed studies for the full-scale operation are ongoing, and the exploration campaign progressed to further understand Rincon's basin and brine reservoir," the miner said.

 

Write to Rhiannon Hoyle at rhiannon.hoyle@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 19, 2023 19:43 ET (23:43 GMT)

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