Leaner, meaner Vale turns a profit

VALE has more than doubled its third-quarter profits on last year, with improved operating and financial indicators reflecting a leaner Brazilian mining giant.

Justin Niessner

Net earnings were $US3.5 billion ($A3.7 billion) for the three months to September compared to $1.6 billion in the previous corresponding period.

Operating revenues for the quarter were up 10.8% year on year at $12.9 billion, while adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation lifted 37.4% to $5.9 billion.

The company attributed much of the progress to a series of streamlining initiatives, including an effort to lower operating costs, a focus on extraction of maximum value from existing assets and ongoing moves to minimise exposure to non-core assets.

Investments – excluding acquisitions – for the first nine months of the year were $11 billion, down $1.2 billion compared to the same period in 2012.

Vale said it was pursuing a more rigorous discipline in capital management, with more intense internal competition for funds and only world-class assets being eligible for financing.

“The first half of the year saw the effects of the picking of low-hanging fruits,” the company said.

“However, it is worthwhile noting that the journey towards a lower cost structure on a sustainable basis is long and requires above all persistence and patience.

“The pace of cost savings is not linear, as several achievements depend on the maturation of initiatives underway.”

Capital and R&D expenditures – excluding acquisitions – were $3.4 billion for the quarter compared to $4.3 billion a year ago.

As a result of these cost-cutting initiatives, cost of goods sold for the quarter dropped by $758 million versus last year to $6.5 billion.

This was despite year-on-year increases in the cost of electricity, fuel, materials and outsourced services.

Mining output experienced some significant improvements over the three months with the iron ore division marking its second best quarter ever.

Iron ore production was up 17.3% over the quarter to 85.9 million tonnes earning revenue of $7.7 billion compared to $6.1 billion in the previous quarter.

The average realised price for iron ore was $105.58 per tonne, against $99.21/t in the previous period.

The performance of iron ore prices over the past few months was attributed to a combination of low iron ore and steel inventories and a stronger demand for steel in China.

China’s crude steel output is running at an annualised rate of 804Mt, expanding 8.6% in the first nine months of the year.

In other operational notes, the Salobo mine in Brazil helped push a 3.5% quarter-on-quarter improvement in group copper output to 95,000t.

Salobo produced 17,600t of copper in concentrate, or about 70% of its nominal capacity. It is expected to conclude its ramp-up by the end of the year.

Nickel production, however, was 4.9% lower on the quarter to 62,000t due to an expected seasonal effect of scheduled maintenance for Canadian operations during the Northern Hemisphere summer.