Brazil’s Vale reports first loss in a decade, takes $5.7bn write-down

Brazilian mining giant Vale (NYSE:VALE), the world’s top iron ore producer, reported late Wednesday its first quarterly loss in a decade, becoming the latest miner to write down assets in the face of falling commodity prices.

The Rio de Janeiro-based firm logged a pre-tax loss of $2.65 billion in the fourth quarter – twice as big as analysts expected – compared to a net profit of $4.67 billion in the same quarter of 2011.

Falling metal and mineral prices hit Vale’s sales, forcing it to write down the value of its assets and investments by a total of $5.66 billion in the quarter, leading to its first loss since the third quarter of 2002.

In Australia alone, Vale took a $1 billion write-down against the value of the coal mines it acquired in 2007, blaming softening coal prices.

Despite the gloomy results, the miner said its coal division reached record output since Moatize mine in Mozambique ramped up production.

Iron ore and pellet shipments also reached an all-time high of 303 million tonnes, the company said.

Vale's chief executive Murilo Ferreira has been selling assets, cutting investments and writing down unprofitable projects as falling metal and mineral prices led last year to its lowest annual profit since 2009.

Since iron ore prices fell to a three-year low in September last year, the mining giant has put its vast Simandou iron ore development in Guinea on hold last October and, last month, it announced that it had halted work indefinitely at its $5.9 billion potash project in Argentina.

In addition, the company is planning to sell its Brazilian oil and gasfields, worth roughly $1 billion.

Vale is also said to be selling its Canadian Kronau potash project, after putting the $3 billion project on hold last August.

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