Cliffs kicks off year "headed in right direction"

WHILE its iron ore business did it no favors in the first quarter, Ohio- headquartered producer Cliffs Natural Resources said it was making strides across its portfolio led in part by its stronger coal arm.
Cliffs kicks off year "headed in right direction" Cliffs kicks off year "headed in right direction" Cliffs kicks off year "headed in right direction" Cliffs kicks off year "headed in right direction" Cliffs kicks off year "headed in right direction"

Cliffs Natural Resources chairman and president Joseph Carrabba.

Donna Schmidt

The company recorded revenues of $US1.1 billion for the period ended March 31, down 6% or $72 million year-on-year on a 10% fall in global iron ore sales volumes.

The iron ore drop also played a role in an overall 2% decrease in cost of goods sold, which totaled $903 million in the first period.

Net income attributed to Cliffs' common shareholders was $97 million, compared with $376 million in the first quarter of 2012.

Cliffs’ consolidated sales margins also dropped 18% to $238 million from $292 million in last year’s similar quarter.

On a very positive note, the company’s North American coal business sales volume totaled 1.8 million tons, a spike of 27% from the 1.4Mt it sold in last year’s comparable quarter.

The increase, officials said, was driven by significantly higher sales volumes from its Oak Grove operation. The news is even more significant considering the mine’s preparation facility and loadout was not fully operational during 2012's first quarter because of severe weather damage in 2011.

However, revenues were impacted. North American Coal's 2013 first-quarter revenues per ton, Cliffs said, were down 9% to $110.35 versus $121.61 in 2012’s first quarter.

The decrease was due mostly to lower year-on-year spot pricing for metallurgical coal products.

Conversely, cash costs per ton were down to $91.16, or 6% lower year-on-year than $97.01.

First-quarter 2013 cash costs per ton benefited from lower maintenance and employment-related expenses, and increased sales volumes resulted in improved fixed-cost leverage, officials said.

“We are headed in the right direction in 2013,” chairman and chief executive officer Joseph Carrabba said.

“During the first quarter, we took deliberate measures to reduce our balance sheet leverage and improve our cash position. Also, our operating teams are taking a pragmatic approach to reduce operating costs across the board.

“We expect these initiatives will position the company to successfully manage through volatile pricing environments."

Looking ahead, the company is maintaining its 2013 full-year expected sales and production volumes of about 7Mt for the North American Coal segment.

Its sales volume mix is expected to be approximately 67% low-volatile metallurgical coal and 25% high-volatile metallurgical coal. Thermal tonnage will make up the rest.

Cliffs' full-year North American Coal revenue-per-ton outlook is between $110 and $115. The producer said it had about 75% of its expected 2013 sales volume committed and priced at approximately $110 per short ton at the mine.

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