Rio Tinto cuts 2020 copper guidance on Covid-19, Kennecott earthquake

Rio Tinto has cut its 2020 copper production guidance due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an earthquake last month at its Kennecott operations in the US state of Utah.

Mined copper production this year is now expected to be 475,000-520,000 tonnes, down from 530,000-570,000 tonnes previously, while guidance for refined copper production has been cut to 165,000-205,000 tonnes from 205,000-235,000 tonnes previously.

“Mined and refined copper guidance is lowered due to a potential reduction in second half output at Escondida from Covid-19 measures and the earthquake repairs at Kennecott,” the company said.

Rio Tinto has a 30% stake in Escondida in Chile, which produced 1.19 million tonnes of copper last year, equivalent to around 5% of global supply. BHP, which has marketing rights to concentrate produced there, recently stopped offering spot tenders in favor of direct deals to smelters only.

Chile remains in a state of national emergency and has closed borders, leading major mining companies to stall expansion projects that use international contractors.

Rio Tinto’s share of mined copper production in the first quarter of 2020 was 133,000 tonnes, down 8% from the year-ago period. This was the result of anticipated lower copper grades, partially offset by higher throughput. Its share of first quarter 2020 refined copper production was 47,200 tonnes, down by 2% on the first quarter of 2019.

The company meanwhile said it is still working to resume normal operations at Kennecott following the earthquake, which caused damage to the furnace and has impacted production guidance accordingly. The company declared force majeure on shipments of copper cathode earlier this month.

“Following the earthquake, damage to the flash converting furnace in the Kennecott smelter has been identified, resulting in a full furnace rebuild being required in 2020,” Rio Tinto said.

“The smelter is scheduled for a 45-day planned maintenance shutdown due to commence in May,” it added.

The mine, concentrator, tailings storage facility and refinery have all resumed safe and stable operations.

Phase one of the south wall pushback project at Kennecott remains on track with access to higher grades expected from 2021.

“We will continue to monitor and adjust production levels and product mix to meet customer requirements in 2020, in line with our value over volume strategy, government imposed restrictions related to Covid-19, and any other potential Covid-19 related disruptions,” Rio Tinto said.

“Although copper demand remained reasonable in the quarter, the decline in the price reflects deteriorating industrial growth expectations globally,” the company added.

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