April 17, 2018 / 10:40 PM / a month ago

Rio Tinto flags changes to 2018 aluminum output after U.S. sanctions

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Global miner Rio Tinto on Wednesday flagged possible changes to its 2018 aluminum output following U.S. sanctions on its Russian partner Rusal earlier this month.

FILE PHOTO: The Rio Tinto mining company's logo is photographed at their annual general meeting in Sydney, Australia, May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

Rio, which reported a 5 percent rise in first-quarter iron ore shipments in the March quarter, has declared force majeure on some customer contracts after U.S. sanctions on UC Rusal, the world’s second biggest aluminum producer.

Rio kept its forecast for aluminum production steady in its first quarter production report.

“Adjustments may ... be made as a consequence of the U.S. sanctions,” it said.

Rio has said it is reviewing Rusal’s 20 percent stake in its Queensland Alumina refinery, Rusal’s supply and offtake arrangements, bauxite sales to Rusal’s refinery in Ireland and offtake contracts for alumina.

The miner could still be a big beneficiary of the U.S. sanctions on Rusal as it is a major supplier of aluminum to the United States from its Canadian smelters, while aluminum prices have surged by more than 20 percent since the sanctions were announced.

Rio said its 2018 aluminum output forecast of 3.5 to 3.7 million tonnes would also face adjustments following the sale of its Icelandic and French aluminum smelters.

In iron ore, the world’s second-biggest supplier of the steel-making ingredient, shipped 80.3 million tonnes in the quarter ended March 31, up from 76.7 million tonnes last year.

Rio said March shipments rose due to fewer weather disruptions and productivity improvements, although shipments fell 11 percent on the previous quarter.

“We delivered a solid operational performance across most commodities in the first quarter of 2018,” Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in a statement.

“Our world-class Pilbara iron ore assets continue to demonstrate flexibility and the benefits of increased productivity, and production at our bauxite and copper assets was also higher.”

The miner maintained its iron ore production guidance for this year of 330 million to 340 million tonnes, and kept its copper guidance steady.

For the March quarter, aluminum production fell 5 percent from a year ago to 846,000 tonnes, while copper output jumped 65 percent to 139,300 tonnes.

The global miner exited the coal mining business in the March quarter with the sale of its stake in the Kestrel mine in Central Queensland.

Rio’s Australian shares rose 1.6 percent in morning trading, outpacing a 0.3 percent rise in the broader market.

(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of “force” in second paragraph)

Reporting by Rushil Dutta in Bengaluru and Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Richard Pullin

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