Fortescue profit hit

C1 OPERATING costs may be down but Fortescue Metal Group’s profit after tax has fallen almost nine fold year on year.
Fortescue profit hit Fortescue profit hit Fortescue profit hit Fortescue profit hit Fortescue profit hit

The strip ratio for FMG's operations have come back significantly and the size of the pits has been decreased.

Noel Dyson

FMG’s net profit after tax for the 2014-15 year was $US316 ($A436) million. In the 2013-14 financial it posted an after tax profit of $2.7 billion.

To some, the fact that FMG posted a profit at all was surprising – especially given the sharp fall in iron ore prices.

But one thing the iron ore miner has done well is trim its costs.

As chief financial officer Stephen Pearce and CEO Nev Power both pointed out, the company had cut its costs quite significantly.

A large part of that has been due to the ability to blend ore from its original Chichester operations with higher grade material from its Firetail operation. The addition of wet processing at four of its five processing hubs has improved the situation even further.

This means the strip ratio for its operations have come back significantly and the size of the pits has been decreased.

Back when it only had ore from Cloudbreak, FMG was looking at a strip ratio of 5.4:1. These days with blending and wet processing the strip ratio has fallen to 2.3:1.

FMG had C1 costs of $US27 per wet metric tonne in 2014-15 – down 21% from the prior year.

It estimates it can get its C1 costs down to $US18/wmt for FY16 through ore processing facility upgrades; improved strip ratio, mining initiatives and better procurement.

If that comes to pass, FMG’s breakeven price will be $US39/wmt.

Better yet, the company has positioned itself third globally in terms of cost behind just Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton and ahead of Brazilian rival Vale.

FMG finished the year with $US2.3 billion in the bank.

Net operating cash inflows before tax were $US2.6 billion representing the increase in total tonnes shipped – it shipped 165.4 million tonnes for FY15 – together with optimisation and cost savings initiatives. Those operating cash inflows also reflected the steep dip in the iron ore price.

FMG realised $US57 per dry metric tonne for the year, an 85% realisation of the 62% Platts contract value.

The company has $US7.2 billion in net debt, with the first part of that debt maturing in 2019.

Even with its cost cuts, FMG could find itself in a bit of a bind if the iron ore price does not pick up. At the moment it is sitting around the $US55-$56 per tonne range for 62% iron. There is speculation that the price could fall into the mid-$40s.

Power has a different view on the iron ore market. While he is not prepared to even take a punt on what the price may do, he did point to signs that the stockpiles in China were shrinking, which would help pick the iron ore price up.

He is also a believer in China.

“The Chinese economy is in the position the US was in in the early 1900s,” Power told a media conference call on FMG’s results.

“China still has 300 million people to urbanise.”

The other option FMG has is to offload a stake in some of its hematite mines or in its TPI infrastructure unit.

Power was pressed on asset sales – and there has been media speculation for months that such a deal might be done – but refused to engage.

He offered the straight bat of “we don’t comment on media speculation” to all such questions.

Such asset sales could go a long way towards paying down the company’s debt.

Power was also keen to point out that FMG is a changing company.

It has gone from a growth and construction phase to operations.

That is reflected in its reduced capital expenditure of $US626 million – less than a third of the $US1.9 billion it spent in the previous fiscal.

That FY15 capital spend included $US308 million of sustaining capital and $US318 million of expenditure on the fifth berth, rail, exploration and ship construction payments.

FMG successfully refinanced $US2.3 billion of debt in April with proceeds used for early repayment of 2017, 2018 and some of the 2019 unsecured notes, and $US320 million was put in the bank.