Vale ‘sticking to’ 400 million mt/year 2022 iron ore run-rate; ‘flexible’ on further expansion
Vale is “sticking to” plans to produce at a run-rate of 400 million mt/year iron ore in 2022, should the market need this, and will exercise its “value over volume” mantra in further planned mine expansions, company executives said July 30.
The planned 2022 run-rate will compare to the company’s expected production this year of 310 million mt of iron ore, which will be at the lower end of its 2020 guidance, the company’s Executive Director for Ferrous Minerals Marcello Spinelli told analysts on a call to discuss the company’s Q2 results.
Vale’s H1 output of 127 million mt of iron ore is to be followed by 183 million mt output in the second half, he said.
“We will be bringing 50 million mt to the market in the second half,” Spinelli said, noting that Vale is the only miner which will be able to bring back almost 100 million mt of iron ore onto the market within the next two years, and doesn’t have any major restrictions on bringing capacity back. However, some medium-term losses in market supply are still seen, he said.
Despite being committed to low-level guidance due to COVID-19 challenges, production is going well, with the resumption of some operations in its southern system, Spinelli said. Vale’s S11D mine in Carajas has meanwhile been hitting an “amazing” 110 million mt/year run-rate for the last 20 days, above its installed capacity, and the company overall has been producing more than 1 million mt/day during this period, he said.
Chinese demand for ore is currently “amazing,” on infrastructure stimulus, but this may not support current iron ore prices for the short to mid term, Spinelli said. On the other hand, “prices are in a sense where they should be….. to attract new investment.”
Prices for 62% Fe delivered iron ore fines to China – assessed July 30 by S&P Global Platts up 55 cents on the day to $111.45/dry mt – have kept close to five year highs in recent weeks as mine curbs related to COVID-19 have restricted output at various miners’ iron ore mines worldwide. This follows a price surge last year after operations were disrupted by safety checks following the fatal tailings dam accident at Vale’s Brumadinho mine in southeastern Brazil in January 2019, which limited Vale’s 2019 output to 302 million mt.
For the intermediate to longer term however, Vale is “the growth option” for the iron ore market, with “huge flexibility” in how it will bring on a planned 10 million mt/year expansion to take the S11D mine to 100 million mt/year, plus a project for an additional 20 million mt/year there, and further new mine capacity planned at the Gelado and Serra Leste deposits all in the Carajas, northern Brazil, area, Spinelli said. The company had said in a May presentation that it could bring its capacity up to around 450 million mt/year by 2027.
The company is “finalizing the project to expand S11D, which will be presented to the board as soon as possible,” Spinelli said. “Gelado is coming up and Serra Leste is to come up, although obviously we have challenges.”
Vale quit work on Serra Leste in early 2019 but now expects to gain the final permit for this project in August, the executive said.
Cash cost rise was Q2 ‘negative highlight’
Luciano Siani, Vale’s executive director, finance and investor relations, said the company’s iron ore cash costs increased in Q2 to $17.10/mt from $16.20/mt in the previous quarter due to lower production, but that the cash cost should fall again to around $14.50/mt in H2. The company’s costs had been inflated by “one of its worst quarters ever” for demurrage costs on waiting ships – amounting to $81 million – due to lower-than-planned production due to COVID-19 curbs.
However, a substantial devaluation of the Brazilian real against the US dollar in the period had a “positive impact in other parts of the iron ore business,” according to Siani, who noted that the company’s pellet margins expanded significantly to $22/mt in Q2 due to the low-cost performance of its pelletizing plants.
Vale returned to a net profit in Q2 on an on-year basis, registering income of $995 million compared to a net loss of $133 million in Q2 2019. Its net debt has fallen from around $9.7 billion a year ago to $8.1 billion at present, of which $3.4 billion is for liabilities related to the Brumadinho accident.