Rio Tinto update July 26th, 2023
ISIN: GB0007188757, AU000000RIO1
Rio Tinto is a very profitable mining company with revenues of 55 bn$/yr. and a strong emphasis on iron ore. More than 1/2 of the revenues and 2/3 of the profits of Rio are generated by the iron ore mining in Australia. The remainder are an aluminium and a copper business. The aluminium business has the lowest profit margin. The company is a dual national company listed at at the LSE and Australia.
The business model of Rio is simplified to produce >300M tons of iron ore in Australia for 22$/ton and sell it to the Chinese for >100$/ton. This is a bonanza.
This is not a recommendation or proposal to do anything. The data written in this article is not guarranteed. It is my private personal opinion. I`m not independing as I own a position of Rio Tinto shares.
Opportunities and Risks
While the management emphasizes ideology the iron ore production numbers were flat or slightly declining. The guidances were lowered from quarter to quarter.
The main product of Rio is iron ore. It is as well the most profitable product of Rio. In 2022 the production costs were >21$/to, the average realized price 106$/dwt. Due to inflation the production costs might rise to a range of 21 - 22.5$/ton in 2023. Most of the iron ore is sold to China. Rio`s iron ore production is stagnating while the competitors as BHP increased its production from 240 M tons 2013 to 280tons actually aiming for 330 M tons in the next couple of years passing Rio (78).
As China built up its infrastructure it is likely that the chinese steel demand will stagnate in the future. Steel demand and thus iron ore demand will increase again when India, Bangladesh, Indonesia will develop their infrastructure and thus increase their steel demand in a chinese manner.
A main reason to buy in Rio is the shareholder friendly dividend It is paid out 100% as the share is registered in the UK.
A risk is the Simandou project - the development of the biggest iron ore deposit in Africa. It would add a third big source of iron ore to the duopol of Australia and Brazil. If there are no delays - which is unlikely - it might start production in 2025. In 2023, Rio has incurred $0.3 billion in evaluation costs for the Simandou iron ore project. Actually sept. 23 Chinalco (Chinese governmental company) delay the project by not paying its share of the investment(82)
The main risk is the dependence on China. China did already arrest Rio managers in China years ago as there was a dispute on Rio`s iron ore pricing politics. Actually it looks like iron ore demand from China may stagnate in the future.
Rio spends about 7 bn$ annually on capex. This capex is spent >1/2 on developing projects the remainder on sustaining projects. 1/2 bn $ is spent annually for green nonsense with strong tendency to increase. That means it seems likely Rio will mostly replace the depletion of its reserves by mining.
The Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia is an ongoing headache for Rio. Since a couple of years Rio is in trouble with the Mongolian government. The government is putting one additional demand after the other (67). Rio and its subsidiaries "agreed" to waive a $US2.4 billion debt the Mongolian government owed after Rio and its subsidiaries covered the developing nation’s share of construction costs over the past decade. I guess that the compliance rules does not allow Rio to smoothen the relation to the government. The risk is that Mongolia will block the mine completly (26). I would not be astonished that the government will add additional demands as soon as the mine generates a significant positive cash flow. Actually the copper/gold grades of this mine of 0.46% Q2/19 vs. 0.57% in Q1/19 and gold head grade of 0.31g/t vs. 0.58g/t in Q1/19 (44) seem not outclass other mines. It seems questionable if it justifies the political risk. It might be better if Rio will sell this headache to the Chinese. The Chinese have a much better position in such a game.
Another burden is the oversaturated green politics in many countries. Rio invested 1 bn$ in the Resolution copper mine in Arizona, it invested in the Serbian lithium mine in Yadar...Both projects are stranded due to protests most probably organized by green NGO. From a logical point of view these mines were supposed to mine the minerals needed for the green vision of mass ev. It seems likely that the business climate for miners becomes in many western countries as unreliable as in Africa.
A main challenge for Rio is the green woke politics of the Albanese government. It had to write off 1.7bn$ on its aluminium refineries due to costs of the Australian carbon emission reduction scheme (81).
Rio does not always follow the business logic. The highly profitable coal business which was a diversification from the dependence on the iron ore business was divested. Rio divested its uranium business (1)(7). The uranium business was like the coal business divested in an environement of low prices which means Rio did not get a lot for it. I assume that pressure from Blackrock?? and green comunist groups (climate hoax?) did motivate Rio to do this steps against business logic. A more hungry Management would be an opportunity.
Rio did as well increase the number of female board members as part of a gender initiative to please left ideologic investors (54).
Example Rio Tinto’s smelters, its Boyne and Tomago operations in Australia run off coal-based electrical grids, posing one of the biggest hurdles to Rio Tinto’s push to halve emissions by 2030. Last year, the company kicked off a process of seeking bids to develop four gigawatts of wind and solar farms, backed up by “firming” assets such as big batteries or gas, to decarbonise its Pacific Aluminium division. (80). The main point is the cost impact of this purely (green) religion based activity. It is very questionable if these smelters can remain cost competitive with a religion dominated energy supply.
Link to study Steel Demand of the Future
Rio is like many other companies affected by NGO that buy a few shares, forward bids to decrease CO2 emissions of Rio and its chinese customers (24). Left media gives such events a lot of attention. The spending for green nonsense "In addition, our guidance includes around $1.5 billion over the next three years on decarbonisation projects, mainly relating to repowering the Pilbara: this will accelerate from 2025, bringing our best estimate to around $7.5 billion, in aggregate from 2022 to 2030. " The spending on green nonsense increases dramatic.
A potential reason for the strong woke and ESG orientation of Rio is the high share of woke institutional investors in the Rio shareholdership.
Simandou is the biggest known and not developed iron ore deposit in the world with estimated resources of 10bn tons of minable ore. The potential production is estimated to 60 - 200 M tons/yr. It is situated in Guinea (West Africa), approximatly > 2bn tons of ore in the blocks co-owned by Rio. It is divided into four blocks, with blocks 1 and 2 controlled by a consortium backed by Chinese and Singaporean companies, while Rio Tinto and Aluminum Corp. of China own blocks 3 and 4. Chinese backed companies started work on tunnels necessary to connect Simandou with the coast in march while negotiations are ongoing (66). The project will go in production 2025 at earliest. The main challenge that kept miners from developing The total investment including a railway is estimated to 20 bn. $ (Rio). Chinas motivation to develop this deposit are mainly to diversify its iron ore supply and decrease the dependence on iron ore from Australia (Rio) and Brazil (Vale). On the one hand there is no industrial benefit for Rio or Vale to develop this deposit as both miners have plenty of reserves in their existing developed fields. Africa is always a high political risk - a military coup in sept 21 - and to invest 20bn$ in Africa is a big risk. Some Rio managers working on this project are subject to corruption investigations (African business habits). Hence Rio is evaluating options how to develop it or better to delay the development in the best way. Actually the Chinalco (Chinese governmental company) delay the project by not paying its share of the investment(82). African politics and business habits are even more efficient in preventing it than Rio.
The Koodaideri iron ore mine in Australia investment 2.6 bn$ is planned to replace depleting reserves in other australian mines.
The Resolution Copper Project in Arizona that should produce 1/2 million tons of copper annually - about 3bn$ revenues/yr over 40 years is a major project (29). 1 bn$ already spent. It is a 55% Rio/45% BHP project in its permitting phase since > 10 years. It is blocked since long by left groups plus left wing law makers.
Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine is a combined open pit and underground mine in Mongolia. The open pit is already in production with a production of 146 300 t/y in 2019. The underground part is even more promising. It is under construction. The investment is estimated at 6.75 bn$. The underground is expected to start production in oct. 2022 (delayed). Oyu Tolgoi is expected to produce 480 000 t/y of copper on average from 2028 to 2036 from the open pit and underground. The underground ore reserve has an average copper grade of 1.52%, which is more than three times higher than the open pit ore reserve, and contains 0.31 g/t of gold. There is always trouble with the Mongolese political system (from (60)(71)). The main question is if western miners with its compliance rules can make business in the future in such countries or is it chinese, russian miners only.
The Winu copper exploration project in the Paterson province in the state’s north in Australia is very promising. Rio reports an inferred mineral resource for Winu of 503M metric tons of ore grading at 0.45% copper equivalent and includes a higher-grade component of 188M tons of ore with a 0.68% copper grade (59). Total 3.5 mio. tons of copper. That is an annual production of 150.000tons for 20 yrs. Rio Tinto plans to reach first production at the Winu copper-gold project in Western Australia in 2023, and is progressing discussions with the Traditional Owners to achieve this (56)(59).
A Lithium project Yadar is studied near the town of Loznica, in western Serbia. It was foreseen for start-up in 2023. In the meantime the Serbian government has revoked all licenses.
Rio purchased the Rincon project from Rincon Mining for $825 million in December 2021. It is located in the Salta Province of Argentina, Rincon is a large undeveloped lithium brine project that has the potential to be a long-life, scaleable resource capable of producing battery-grade lithium carbonate.
In the long run, 8 - 10 years, the La Granja project in Peru might become a major copper asset for Rio (see news).
The Paterson copper/gold project in Australia is in a early stage,
Provisions for Restaurations
At 31 December 2022, provisions for close-down and restoration costs and environmental clean-up obligations were $15.8 billion
BHP Group and Vale
Guidance 2023 from q2 2023 production report.
Iron ore is the most profitable business of Rio.
Shareholders (Annual Report 2022)
Iron Ore Mine Production 2021 USGS Data
(1000 metric tons) (million metric tons)
Usable ore Iron content Reserves (M metric tons)
United States 46,000 29,000 3,000 1,000
Australia 900,000 560,000 51,000 25,000
Brazil 380,000 240,000 34,000 15,000
Canada 68,000 41,000 6,000 2,300
Chile 19,000 12,000 NA NA
China 360,000 220,000 20,000 6,900
India 240,000 150,000 5,500 3,400
Iran 50,000 33,000 2,700 1,500
Kazakhstan 64,000 13,000 2,500 900
Mexico 17,000 11,000 NA
Peru 16,000 11,000 2,600 1,500
Russia 100,000 71,000 25,000 14,000
South Africa 61,000 39,000 1,000 670
Sweden 40,000 28,000 1,300 600
Turkey 16,000 8,900 130 38
Ukraine 81,000 51,000
Other countries 90,000 58,000 18,000 9,500
World total (rounded) 2,600,000 1,600,000 180,000 85,000
Copper Production 2021
Country Production kt/yr
By countries 2021
About 35% of the alu is used in the motor vehicle industry, about 25% in construction.
Rio`s Nonsense Projects Nov. 30, 2022
Rio`s Failed Projects March 30, 2022
My assumption is that Rio has capable engineers and technical managers that can develop a multi billion $, multi decade project better than most of their competitors.
As mentioned earlier...Rio produces annually more than 300 M tons of iron ore in Australia for 20$/ton and sell it to the Chinese for > 100$/ton. That`s their core business.
2022/18/07 Oyu Tolgoi Underground was estimated to cost 5.3 bn$ and ready to produce in 2021 (2015). Today cost estimates have risen to 7.1 bn$. The production will start 2024 and get to full capacity in 2028 (77).
2022/15/06 Rio Tinto has delivered first ore from the Gudai-Darri iron ore mine. The Gudai-Darri mine has an expected life of more than 40 years and an annual capacity of 43 million tonnes. The capital cost for the mine is estimated to be $4.3 billion. (75)
2022/14/06 The Western Australian Environmental Authority (EPA) has approved Rio Tinto applications to expand the iron-ore hub in the Paraburdoo region of the Pilbara. New deposits will be developed at Western Range (74).
2022/03/05 Rio Tinto has executed two agreements with DiscovEx Resources that will give the company the option to acquire the iron ore rights of four tenements within the Sylvania project in Western Australia for 9.3 M$. (73)
2022/28/03 Guinea government stopped the Simandou project for a couple of weeks and renegotiated the contracts. Guinean Government had negotiated 15% stakes in the rail, port and mines, with new infrastructure to become state property once it’s up and running. (72)
2022/25/01 Rio and its subsidiaries have agreed to waive a $US2.4 billion debt the Mongolian government owed after Rio and its subsidiaries covered the developing nation’s share of construction costs over the past decade.
2021/21/12 Rio Tintoannounced plans to acquire the Rincon lithium project from private equity investors at Sentient Equity Partners for $825m. (69)
2021/17/12 Rio Tinto psuspended the project for the Serbia lithium mine suspended (68) after protests organized by green NGO.
2021/13/09 The US congress plans a bill to block the Resolution copper mine (65)
2021/03/08 Rio Tinto has spent over $500 million to develop the Greater Tom Price iron ore operations in Western Australia’s Pilbara region (62).
2021/02/08 The Mongolia seeks deal with Rio Tinto to end Oyu Tolgoi expansion
Crazy politics is not a privilege of saturated western countries but as well wellknown to other parts of the world.
It remembers me very much on the African cycle as mentioned in earlier comments on this subject.
2020/03/16 Rio Tinto that underground work - mine expansion - has been slowed at its Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia due to restrictions that Mongolian authorities have put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Government restriction on expats.
2020/02/18 Rio Tinto reduced its iron ore production guidance for 2020 to 324M-334M metric tons 2020, down from previous guidance 330M-343M mt. (53)
2019/11/27 and 2019/12/03 Rio Tinto and First Quantum Minerals had early stage talks about a development of La Granja, one of Peru's biggest untapped copper projects. Rio won the right to develop La Granja in 2005 but has not made a final investment decision; although the project has the potential to be one of the world's biggest copper mines, the deposit is rich in arsenic, so the material would need to be processed before being sent to smelters(50). Other issues are the scarcity of water in the region that is needed for processing and a resisting local population (51). Perhaps it will need as well additional infrastructure as the area is 1000 Km away from the capital.
2019/11/22 The Oyu Tolgoi copper mine is owned by the Turquoise Hill Resources 66% - Rio owns a majority of it - and the Mongolian government that owns 34% under investment terms agreed in 2015. Mongolian lawmakers approved plans to revise the deal, hoping to add benefits for ordinary citizens (themselve?). The recommendations approved by parliament include replacing the 34% interest with a special royalty and bringing forward the date - currently set at 2041 - when Mongolia begins receiving dividends.
I love socialist governments that change laws with backwardation!
2019/11/05 Rio Tinto completes Oyu Tolgoi Shaft 2 construction
Rio Tinto announced that it had completed the sale of its entire interest in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia as part of a series of transactions involving Inalum (PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium (Persero)), Indonesia’s state mining company, and Freeport McMoRan Inc. Total proceeds from the transaction were $3.5 billion, including $0.1 billion for the 2018 attributable metal share of 25.9 thousand tonnes of copper and 266.7 thousand ounces of gold, net of the capital contribution for the year. (23)
Vale said yesterday (Jan 29, 2019) it would take as much as 10% of its output offline as it decommissions a total of 19 dams over three years, a move that would cut up to 40M tons of iron ore production this year.(22) It is nearly 3% of the annual iron ore production.
Rio has to close down the Ranger uranium mine starting end of 2020 as the Aborigines does not extend the mine operation permission bejond begin of 2021. It produced 2000to UO2 in 2018. That means revenues of 220 mio. $ (contract prices). Ranger’s rehabilitation program requires a further $296 million, taking the initial provision from $512 million up to $808 million (16).
Due to a requirement of the mongolian government Rio is asked to etablish a power plant for its large copper mine in Mongolia. The construction at the 300 megawatt plant for Oyu Tolgoi is scheduled to start in 2020, and commissioning is expected mid-2023.(14)
Rio plans a going public for the Canadian iron ore mines in H1 2019. The target value of this business is about 4 bn$ (13).
Rio sold its stake in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia due to a pressure from the government for a nationalization for 3.5 bn$. (12)
Rio sold its European Alu smelters, France, Island. I assume that their cost competitivness is lower than the Canadian operations (11).
Take Over Bid for Turquise Hill (Oyu Tolgoi) March 19,2022
If to bid for the remaining Turquoise Hill Resources shares at all it would be better to wait until the government of Mongolia is making a next step changing the rules in its favor. The political risk becomes more visible.
Anyway I would prefer Rio to sell its stake to Chinese miners* rather than increasing its share in this cash drain.
I would not be astonished if the Mongolian Government will change the conditions further latest when this mine will generate a posititve cash flow.
From a technical point of view Oyu Tolgoi Underground was estimated to cost 5.3 bn$ and ready to produce in 2021 (2015). Today cost estimates have risen to 7.1 bn$. The production will start 2024 and get to full capacity in 2028 (77).
The question ist if Rio will ever earn money with Oyu Tolgoi.
(82) 2023, Sept. 20 https://www.mining-technology.com/news/rio-tinto-iron-guinea/
(80) 2023, Feb. 27 https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/world-s-emissions-targets-at-risk-if-pace-of-change-doesn-t-pick-up-rio-tinto-20230224-p5cnd4.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_feed
(77) 2022, July 18 https://www.mining-technology.com/news/rio-tinto-costs-oyu-tolgoi/
(75) 2022, June 15th https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/gudai-darri-iron-ore-heads-to-port/
(74) 2022, June 14th https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/rio-given-nod-to-expand-pilbara-iron-hub/
(71) 2022, Jan 25th https://seekingalpha.com/news/3791036-rio-tinto-mongolian-government-reach-deal-to-advance-oyu-tolgoi-project?messageid=2900&utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1&utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha&utm_term=RTA+News+Smart
(70) 2022, Jan 21st https://seekingalpha.com/news/3789988-serbia-revokes-licenses-for-big-rio-tinto-lithium-project?messageid=2900&utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1&utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha&utm_term=RTA+News+Smart
(69) 2021, Dec. 21 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3782463-rio-tinto-buying-argentine-lithium-asset-for-825m?messageid=2900&utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1&utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha&utm_term=RTA+News+Smart
(67) 2021, Nov. 25 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3774426-rio-tinto-would-pay-steep-price-to-meet-mongolian-demands-over-mines-future?utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1&utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha&utm_term=RTA+News+Smart#comment-90765131
(65) 2021, Sept 13 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3739199-us-house-bill-seeks-to-block-huge-arizona-copper-mine?mail_subject=rio-u-s-house-bill-seeks-to-block-huge-arizona-copper-mine&utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1&utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha
(61) 2021 Feb, 8 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3659498-mongolia-seeks-deal-with-rio-tinto-to-end-oyu-tolgoi-expansion-ft?mail_subject=rio-mongolia-seeks-deal-with-rio-tinto-to-end-oyu-tolgoi-expansion-ft&utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1&utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha
(59) 2020 July 28 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3595629-rio-tinto-declares-maiden-resource-australias-winu-project?utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha&mail_subject=rio-rio-tinto-declares-maiden-resource-at-australia-s-winu-project&utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1
(58) 2020 April 17 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3561548-rio-tintos-quarterly-iron-ore-shipments-rose-despite-cyclone-hit?utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha&mail_subject=rio-rio-tinto-s-quarterly-iron-ore-shipments-rose-despite-cyclone-hit&utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1
(57) 2020 March 5 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3549075-china-to-approve-developing-giant-simandou-iron-ore-mine-bloomberg?utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha&mail_subject=rio-glcnf-china-to-approve-developing-giant-simandou-iron-ore-mine-bloomberg&utm_campaign=rta-stock-news&utm_content=link-1
(55) 2020 Feb 26 file:///C:/Users/holge/Downloads/RT-Annual-results-2019-slides.pdf
(53) 2020, Feb 18 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3542517-rio-tinto-trims-iron-ore-shipments-guidance-after-cyclone?utm_medium=email&utm_source=seeking_alpha&mail_subject=rio-rio-tinto-trims-iron-ore-shipments-guidance-after-cyclone&utm_campaig
(51) 2019, dec. 3 https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/la-granja-peru/
(34) 2019, May 15 http://www.mining.com/rio-tinto-plans-start-mining-lithium-serbia-2023/
(29) 2019, April 15th https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/rio-tinto-bhp-copper-project-tops-2bn-value/
(24) 2019, March 18 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3443635-rio-tinto-rejects-bid-reveal-emission-targets?app=1
(23) 2019, Feb. 11 https://www.riotinto.com/documents/190118_Rio_Tinto_releases_fourth_quarter_production_results.pdf
(22) 2019, Jan 30 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3427435-iron-ore-price-spikes-vales-production-cut-set-disrupt-market?app=1
(21) 2019, Jan 23 https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/western-australia-drives-mining-comeback/
(20) 2019, Jan 18 https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/metals/011819-rio-tinto-to-raise-alumina-bauxite-output-in-2019
(19) 2019, jan 18 https://www.investegate.co.uk/rio-tinto--rio-/rns/rio-tinto-fourth-quarter-production-results/201901180700024447N/
(18) 2019, jan 18 World Nuclear News WNN News Jan 18, 2019
(17) 2019, jan 17 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3424101-rio-tinto-2018-iron-ore-production-rises-2-percent-copper-output-jumps-33-percent?app=1
(16) 2019, jan 11 https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/energy-resources-of-australia-makes-step-toward-ranger-rehabilitation/
(15) 2019, jan 09 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3421836-iron-ores-jump-75-ton-not-sustainable-goldman-warns?app=1
(14) 2019, jan 01 https://www.londonstockexchange.com/exchange/news/alliance-news/detail/1546247461458960300.html
(13) 2018, dec 24 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3419096-reuters-rio-tinto-planning-dual-list-canadian-iron-ore-unit-early-2019?app=1
(12) 2018, dec 22 http://www.stockmarketwire.com/article/6255239/Rio-Tinto-completes-sale-of-Grasberg-mine-in-Indonesia-for-3-point-5bn.html
(11) 2018, dec. 17 https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/rio-tinto-offloads-aluminium-smelter-to-liberty-house/
(10)2018, nov 29 https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/rio-tinto-inks-3-5-billion-investment-koodaideri/
(9) 2018, nov. 28 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3412995-rio-tinto-approves-2_6b-high-tech-western-australia-iron-ore-mine?app=1&dr=1#email_link
(8) 2018, nov 26 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3412020-china-iron-ore-steel-tumble-multi-month-lows-rout-continues?app=1&dr=1#email_link
(7) 2018, nov. 26 https://seekingalpha.com/news/3411988-rio-tinto-sell-african-uranium-mine-chinese-buyer-106_5m?app=1
(6) 2018, nov. 12 https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2018/mcs2018.pdf
(5) 2018, nov. 12 http://www.riotinto.com/documents/181112_Presentation_JS_UBS_conference.pdf
(4) 2018, nov 6th https://www.marketscreener.com/RIO-TINTO-9590196/company/
3. oct. 29, 2018 https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/rio-tintos-simandou-purchase-agreement-lapses/
oct 17, 2018 http://www.mining.com/rio-tinto-delays-start-oyu-tolgoi-expansion-due-technical-issues/