Rio Tinto iron ore output tops 2012 guidance at record 253 mln T

SYDNEY Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:31pm EST

SYDNEY Jan 15 (Reuters) - Rio Tinto said on Tuesday its iron ore production beat its own guidance to hit 253 million tonnes in 2012, as the miner cashes in on resurgent Chinese demand that has driven up prices in recent months.

"This was another year of strong operational performance across the group," Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese said in the company's fourth-quarter production report.

"Markets remain volatile, but our business continues to perform well," Albanese said.

Rio Tinto, the second-biggest producer behind Brazil's Vale , had set a target of 250 million tonnes in 2012, up from 244.6 million in 2011.

Iron ore prices have soared more than 80 percent since September as Chinese steel mills -- the single biggest buyers of seaborne-traded ore -- returned to the market on signs of a recovery in the Chinese economy.

Benchmark prices hit a 15-month high of $158.50 a tonne last week, as China's iron ore imports topped 70 million tonnes for the first time in December helped by a resurgent economy and a cold snap that cut local production.

Rio Tinto also said its aluminium division produced 10 percent less primary metal in 2012 versus 2011 due to a labour dispute.

The company said it would also make a decision later this month on whether to mothball the Gove alumina refinery in Australia.