Rio Tinto slides to annual loss, abandons payout policy

MELBOURNE, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Global miner Rio Tinto slumped to a net loss for 2015, hit by a rout in commodities, and scrapped its promise to pay a steady or higher dividend annually due to the tough outlook.

The world No.2 miner held its 2015 full-year dividend steady at $2.15 a share - although below market forecasts for a higher dividend - at a time when its peers are expected to cut or suspend their payouts to shore up their balance sheets.

Rio reported a net loss of $866 million, hammered by $1.8 billion in writedowns. Underlying earnings slumped 51 percent to $4.54 billion in 2015 from $9.31 billion a year earlier, due to weaker iron ore, copper and aluminium prices. The result was in line with analysts’ average forecast of $4.53 billion.

“In light of the significant deterioration in the macro-economic environment and the resultant market uncertainty, the board believes that it is no longer appropriate to maintain the progressive dividend policy,” Rio said.

Miners are under pressure from credit rating agencies to curb spending, including cutting dividends, to help them weather the worst market conditions in nearly two decades.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin