[Ferro-Alloys.com] Australian iron ore producer Roy Hill has paid off its debt and is operating at 60mn t/yr at its Pilbara mines in Western Australian, as it seeks approval to further increase its target to 65mn t/yr.
Roy Hill operated at 60mn t/yr during April-June and continues to do so, according to main shareholder Hancock Prospecting. The joint venture shipped at around 70mn t/yr in October, according to shipping figures compiled by Argus, but it has taken its regular one-week break from shipping in the past week that will lead to lower shipments in November.
It is continuing to pursue plans to expand production to 65mn t/yr. But has also had to apply to amend its mining plan to meet customer quality requirements, potentially pushing costs up. The revised mining plans, which are yet to be approved by federal and state governments, envisage mining a wider area with several concurrent pits to increase blending opportunities. This will require greater movement of waste and require additional dewatering, which will push up costs.
Roy Hill already has higher costs than its major rivals in the Pilbara — BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals. This was more than offset by firm iron ore prices over the past six months, with the joint venture having paid off its initial $7.2bn debt facility and paid its first dividend of A$475mn ($346mn) to be shared among its shareholders, according to Hancock.
Hancock, which is owned by Australian entrepreneur Gina Reinhart, is the largest shareholder in Roy Hill, with South Korean steel producer Posco holding a 12pc stake, Japanese trading house Marubeni owning 15pc and Taiwan's state-controlled China Steel 2.5pc.
Hancock's Atlas Iron subsidiary will assist in extending the life of Roy Hill and has been cash positive at recent iron ore prices, the company said.
Hancock reported a 56pc increase in profit after tax to A$4.07bn for the year to 30 June, largely because of firmer iron ore prices and improved performance from Roy Hill. The firm's Hope Downs joint venture in the Pilbara with Rio Tinto produced 47mn t, with studies into developing new mining regions at Bedded Hilltop and Hope Downs 2 to ensure production can continue at optimal levels.
Hancock is also exploring its independent iron ore project Mulga Cowns, where it expanded iron ore resources by 290mn t in the year to 30 June through a 95,000m drilling campaign.
Argus last assessed the ICX iron ore price at $117.95/t cfr Qingdao on a 62pc Fe basis on 6 November, down from a six-year high of $130.55/t on 3 September but up from $83.50/t six months earlier.
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