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By Stephen Eisenhammer
RIO DE JANEIRO, July 24 Brazil's Vale SA produced record amounts of iron ore in its latest second quarter, rising to the task of battling Australian rivals for market share, but weaker performance at other divisions fanned some concern ahead of results next week.
Iron ore production rose 12.6 percent to 79.45 million tonnes from a year earlier, Vale said on Thursday, as better weather conditions combined with ramp ups at its two main mine sites in Brazil. The Brazilian company is the world's largest producer of the mineral.
Vale is expected to post an annual decline in second-quarter net income of more than 40 percent when it reports on July 31, according to an average of analyst forecasts compiled by Reuters.
Giants Vale, Rio Tinto Plc and BHP Billiton Plc are all increasing iron ore capacity in a move expected to squeeze higher-cost producers out of the market. But with iron ore prices .IO62-CNI=SI languishing near 22-month lows during the period, analysts had been looking to Vale's nickel division to pick up some of the slack.
Some of those analysts were subsequently disappointed as nickel production fell 5.2 percent to 61,700 tonnes due to maintenance at the Sudbury mine in Canada. Its VNC project on the French Pacific island of New Caledonia also suspended operations after an acid spill in May.
Vale had stressed the success of its nickel division in the previous quarter saying it was just 200 tonnes off being the world's biggest producer of the ingredient used to make steel rust-resistant. The price of nickel has risen by about a fifth since April due to a ban on nickel ore exports from Indonesia.
"The production of base metals in particular stood well below our initial forecasts, confirming our view that Vale is still struggling to diversify away from iron ore," Paul Gait, an analyst at S. Bernstein Research, wrote in a note to clients.
IMPRESSIVE IRON ORE
The record result was due to improved weather conditions and the ramping up of production at the company's flagship Carajas mine in Brazil's Amazon as well as at its mines in the southern highland state of Minas Gerais.
Vale's preferred shares, the company's most traded class of stock, were up 1.6 percent in Sao Paulo, on track for their biggest gain in a week.
Vale's coal output fell 7.1 percent to 2.21 million tonnes from 2.38 million tonnes a year earlier. (Editing by Peter Galloway, Bernard Orr)