BHP Forecasts 10% Output Growth on Iron Ore, Copper, Oil

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, forecast 10 percent compound annual output growth to the end of fiscal 2014, boosted by increased volumes in iron ore, copper and petroleum.

Iron ore production rose 3 percent to 42.2 million metric tons in the three months ended Dec. 31, Melbourne-based BHP said today in a statement. The median estimate of four analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was 42 million tons. Copper gained 5 percent, while petroleum climbed 3 percent.

Commodities have risen to their highest in three months, led by energy and metals, amid optimism that an economic recovery in China will boost demand. BHP said total output at Chile’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s biggest, is on track to rise 20 percent this fiscal year, while Australian iron ore production is forecast to gain 5 percent.

“This growth is real, and it’s fair and it’s going to drive earnings, but a lot of it is just return of capacity that’s been lost for whatever reason,” Adrian Wood, a Sydney-based resources analyst with Macquarie Group Ltd., said by phone. “The three key divisions, iron ore, copper and petroleum, guidance in all of those has been reiterated today. Halfway through the year they look to be comfortably on track to meet them.”

BHP gained 1.3 percent to A$37.06 at the close of trading in Sydney. Rio Tinto fell 0.7 percent, while the S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 0.2 percent.

Increased capacity “at a number of our highest margin businesses and strong growth across our broader portfolio is expected to deliver a compound annual growth rate of 10 percent in copper equivalent terms over the two years to the end of the 2014 financial year,” BHP said.

‘Strong Outlook’

BHP last October boosted spending plans at its Australian ore mines by a third to more than $6 billion this fiscal year. There’s a “strong outlook” for the unit after output hit a 12th straight, first-half record, BHP said in the statement.

The price of iron ore hit a 15-month high of $158.50 a metric ton this month after the biggest importer, China, announced new spending plans for roads and sewers.

“The rapid turnaround in Chinese sentiment has seen a similar move in iron ore expectations, bolstered by a strong Chinese restock,” Macquarie Securities (Australia) Ltd. said in a Jan. 11 report. “We expect the price to hold above $100 a ton through 2017.”

China’s economy is forecast to accelerate to grow 8.1 percent this year, up from 7.9 percent during 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The recovery has extended to manufacturing activity, which has expanded for three consecutive months, the Purchasing Managers’ Index shows.

Copper Boost

Copper production rose to 295,200 tons in the quarter, after output of copper concentrate at Escondida increased 70 percent during the six months to Dec. 31 during fiscal 2013, BHP said, benefiting from higher ore grades and the completion of maintenance work.

“If BHP are making an increasing play on copper, you’ve got to go along with that” given its knowledge of markets, Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, said by phone. There’s a lot of positive sentiment for copper “given that we’re seeing an improvement in China, given the growth and stabilization in U.S. housing,” he said.

Copper prices climbed 6.3 percent last year as central banks in the U.S., Europe and China increased efforts to boost economies. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., the world’s biggest publicly traded copper producer, yesterday reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ estimates as copper sales rose more than expected and costs fell.

Consumer China

Growth in China, BHP’s biggest customer, will stay at around 7 percent to 8 percent for the next decade as the world’s biggest metals consumer becomes a consumer-led economy, Chief Executive Officer Marius Kloppers said in October.

BHP’s oil and gas production in the quarter was 59.9 million barrels of oil equivalent, the company said. It left annual output guidance unchanged at 240 million barrels.

Production of coking coal, used to make steel, rose 5 percent to 8.9 million tons on the same quarter last year, recovering after industrial action last year. Thermal coal production rose 8 percent to 18 million tons.

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