By Rhiannon Hoyle 

SYDNEY--Rio Tinto PLC Tuesday reported a 1% lift in annual shipments of iron ore from its Australian mining hub and forecast a wide range for 2021 exports around a similar level as it deals with uncertainties tied to the pandemic and a review of heritage laws.

The Anglo-Australian mining company, which runs one of the world's biggest iron-ore export operations, said it shipped 330.6 million metric tons of the commodity from its mines in Australia's remote Pilbara region in the year through December. Rio Tinto had earlier projected annual shipments of between 324 million and 334 million tons.

Production was up 2% at 333.4 million tons, despite weather disruptions and strict measures to manage operations through the coronavirus pandemic, the company said.

Rio Tinto said it expects to ship between 325 million and 340 million tons of iron ore from Australia in 2021.

Rio Tinto said it continues to face uncertainty over how the pandemic will impact projects in its iron-ore business. The future impact from an ongoing review of cultural heritage laws in Western Australia is also unknown, Rio Tinto said.

The miner, which records wide margins on its iron-ore sales and relies on the market for the bulk of its earnings, is benefiting from a boom in prices for the commodity. Iron ore is trading near a nine-year high because of strong demand from Chinese steelmakers. Iron ore, the main ingredient in steel, is one of the world's most-traded commodities and was among the best performing assets of 2020.

In addition to its Australian iron-ore mines, Rio Tinto owns a majority stake in Iron Ore Company of Canada, for which it recorded a 1% drop in full-year output to 10.4 million tons.

The company Tuesday also recorded a 9% fall in annual mined copper output, to 527,900 tons, in big part because it was digging up ore at its Kennecott mine in Utah with a lower metal content. Rio Tinto targeted the lower grade material as it worked through an extended shutdown of its smelter, which took longer than anticipated to restart following planned maintenance.

The company had earlier projected annual mined copper output of 475,000 to 520,000 tons. It said it expects to produce between 500,000 and 550,000 tons in 2021.


Write to Rhiannon Hoyle at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 18, 2021 17:11 ET (22:11 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.