(Adds detail, CEO comments)
LONDON, April 3 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone-focused iron ore miner African Minerals gave 2014 production and cost forecasts slightly worse than analyst expectations on Thursday, as it posted an annual core profit compared with a loss the previous year.
The company said it was targeting sales of 16-18 million tonnes with an expected average cash cost of $34-36 per tonne in 2014. Analysts at Jefferies and Canaccord said sales guidance was lower than expected while costs remained stubbornly high.
Bernie Pryor, chief executive at African Minerals, said the company was not yet 12 months into a full ramp up and the speed with which production was being increased was in line with similar projects in Australia or Brazil.
"This is a standard ramp up for a project of this size," he told Reuters, adding that a sustainable run rate of 20 million tonnes should be achieved by the second half of this year at which point cash costs would approach $30 per tonne.
Shares in African Minerals were down 1.2 percent in early morning trade.
Pryor also said the company was looking to announce a dividend policy by the end of the year. "We recognise that shareholders want to know how they're going to get value back," he said.
The miner posted earnings before tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of $203 million from revenue of $869 million for the year ended Dec. 31. (Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Silvia Antonioli and Mark Potter)