BHP September quarter iron ore output flat, copper up

Reuters

BHP Billiton , the world's biggest miner, reported steady September quarter iron ore production and maintained its guidance for a 5 percent increase in output of the steel-making ingredient this year.

Output was 39.8 million tonnes against 39.6 million in the corresponding period a year ago, it said in its quarterly activities report on Wednesday.

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Iron ore prices this month have rebounded to around $114 per tonne from $87 in September as Chinese steel mills restocked depleted inventories. This was encouraging BHP and other miners to keep up or expand production, according to analysts, though worries about demand in top customer China persist.

Rival Rio Tinto on Tuesday said it was sticking with its 2012 production target of 250 million tonnes after reporting September quarter output rose 5.6 percent from a year ago.

Analysts had predicted flat or slightly lower quarter-on-quarter production figures from BHP after export figures from Port Hedland, used by BHP and the world No.4 producer Fortescue Metals Group , showed a 4 percent drop for the September quarter from the June quarter.

Fortescue, which also runs mines in the Pilbara area of Australia's northwest, said on Tuesday it will decide by December whether to restart work on its Kings mine, which could nearly double its output in two years.

But the outlook is uncertain as China's annual economic growth probably slowed for a seventh straight quarter in the July-September period to the weakest since the depths of the global financial crisis, a Reuters poll showed. China releases its GDP figure on Thursday.

Outside of iron ore, BHP said its strategy of wide diversification in commodities was paying off.

"The release of latent capacity and robust operating performance across our diversified portfolio continues to underpin strong growth in our high margin businesses," it said.

BHP, the world's No.2 copper producer, said copper production in the quarter rose 24 percent from a year ago, with its majority-owned Escondida mine in Chile headed for a 20 percent production increase in fiscal 2013.

Also, coal output rose by 20 percent during the September 2012 quarter at its collieries jointly owned with Mitsubishi Corp.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Ed Davies)