Rio Tinto 2018 iron ore shipments rise 2%, copper output jumps 33%

Global miner Rio Tinto on Friday reported a 2 percent rise in annual iron ore shipments from Australia on ramp-up of expanded mines and fewer weather related disruptions, meeting its guidance, and set a higher target for 2019.

Rio's 2018 iron ore shipments from Australia's Pilbara region totaled 338.2 million tonnes, compared to 330.1 million tonnes the year before, the company said in a statement.

Citi had estimated 2018 iron ore shipments from Australia of 338.0 million tonnes.

The world's No. 2 miner of the steelmaking material also set a target of 338 million tonnes to 350 million tonnes for this year. The solid outlook for copper coupled with Rio's desire to reduce its reliance on iron ore has prompted the miner to boost its copper assets.

The Anglo-Australian miner said in July that its 2018 iron ore shipments would be at the upper-end of its guidance-range of 330 million to 340 million tonnes, boosted by productivity improvements.

In November, Rio officially bankrolled a $2.6 billion futuristic iron ore mine in the resource-rich Pilbara region, aiming to cash in on the rising Chinese demand for finer ore.

“We delivered a solid operational performance in the final quarter of 2018, in particular across our copper assets", Chief Executive Officer Jean-Sébastien Jacques said.

For 2018, the London-headquartered miner posted a 33 percent jump in mined copper production. It set a 2019 target to churn out between 550 and 600 tonnes of mined copper.

Mined copper production was boosted by higher output from Rio's Kennecott operations in Utah and from its stake in Chile's Escondida mine. The latter's production in 2017 was impacted by a labour union strike.

Rio's quarterly iron ore shipments from Pilbara fell 3 percent to 87.4 million tonnes in the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2018.

(By Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)