Vale's iron ore output down in Q1

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Brazil's Vale reported iron ore production of 82.0Mt in 1Q18, down 4.9% from 86.2Mt in the first quarter of 2017, primarily due to the company's decision to reduce lower grade ore production from its southern and southeastern systems.

The quarterly figure, which includes purchases from third parties, run-of-mine production and pellet feed, was also impacted by a more intense rainy season, the company said in a statement.

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Vale's northern system achieved all-time output record of 40.6Mt in the quarter, up 12.9% year-on-year mostly due to the ramp-up of the company's flagship S11D Carajás mine (pictured).

Average iron content reached 64.4% in 1Q18, compared to 63.9% in the same period last year, as a result of the S11D ramp-up and the reduction in lower grade ore production aligned with Vale's ongoing strategy to maximize margins. This year's guidance is unchanged at 390Mt, Vale said.

Pellet production rose 2.9% to 12.8Mt, mainly due to the restart of the Tubarão II pellet plant. Roughly 83% of pellet output was attributable to Brazilian operations and the remainder to Vale's plant in Oman. Pellet plant restarts at Tubarão I and São Luís are envisioned by 2Q18 and 3Q18, respectively.

Vale made no mention of Samarco, its pellet JV with BHP that has been halted since a major tailings dam failure in 2015. Regulators have said a renewed operating license will be evaluated by mid-2018, while Vale is reportedly in talks to buy BHP's stake in order to streamline the restart process.

NICKEL, COPPER AND OTHERS

Vale's nickel production reached 58,600t during Q1, down 17.9% due to lower output at the Voisey Bay operation in Canada, part of a plan to extend its mine life, and the decision to adjust nickel supply by placing non-competitive mines such as Stobie in Sudbury and Birchtree in Manitoba on care and maintenance. Nearly half of Vale's nickel comes from Canada.

Just 5,700t of Vale's total mined nickel comes from its Brazilian operation, Onça Puma, where output dropped 6.6% last quarter due to lower grades, the company said.

Vale also has nickel mines in Indonesia and New Caledonia.

Copper output fell 13.2% to 93,300t. The Salobo and Sossego mines in Brazil produced a combined 66,100t in Q1, down 2.1%. Reasons for the lower copper output include an unplanned maintenance shutdown at Canada's Coleman mine and lower grades at Salobo.

Manganese ore production sank 20.2% in the quarter to 434,000t due to lower grades and recoveries at the Azul mine, which offset strong increases at Urucum and Morro da Mina. Ferroalloy output grew 25% to 45,000t thanks to the restart of a furnace at Ouro Preto.

Vale also turned out 113,000oz of gold, as well as platinum and palladium as byproducts of its copper and nickel operations. The company also produces cobalt in Canada and coal in Mozambique and Australia.

Vale's full Q1 production report can be seen here.