BHP sees signs of recovery in mining, says production steady

The world's third-largest iron ore miner BHP Billiton signaled budding signs of recovery in the long downtrodden commodities market, the Australian company said Wednesday.

"We have seen early signs of markets rebalancing," said chief executive officer, Andrew Mackenzie.

"Fundamentals suggest both oil and gas markets will improve over the next 12 to 18 months. Iron ore and metallurgical coal prices have been stronger than expected, although we continue to expect supply to grow more quickly than demand in the near term," he added in the quarterly operational review.

BHP said it was on track to meet its fiscal 2017 production guidance for iron ore of 265 million-275 million metric tons, compared with 257 million tons last year, despite reporting a 1 percent on-year decline in output to 67 million tons in the quarter to September.

BHP is the world's third-largest iron ore miner after Brazil's Vale SA and Australia's Rio Tinto. The companies have come under intense pressure in the last two years amid a broad-based crash in commodities prices.

Iron ore prices fell to all-time lows around $38 a metric ton in late 2015 as demand for the steel-making material also shriveled amid concerns about an economic slowdown in the world's largest importer of the metal, China. A stimulus program in the world's second-largest economy however has sent prices of iron ore and coking coal up this year as steel mills step up production.

China's iron ore imports reached 93 million tons in September. Coking coal used in steel production meanwhile has been in short supply in China as the government shut small producers and curbed earlier over-production in a bid to improve air quality. BHP's production guidance for coking coal remains unchanged at 44 million tons.

Demand from Chinese steelmakers have helped iron ore this year
STR | AFP | Getty Images
Demand from Chinese steelmakers have helped iron ore this year

Spot iron ore hit $58 a ton on Wednesday the highest price in over a month, while coking coal prices have more than doubled this year to around $230 a ton.

BHP's share price was down over 2 percent to around 22 Australian dollars ($16.90) in early trade in Asia.

Alex Leyland, portfolio manager at Leyland Private Asset Management told CNBC's "The Rundown" that BHP's iron ore production numbers were "a bit of a miss" as brokers were broadly expecting higher figures.

Fellow Australian miners Rio Tinto and Fortescue will announce production data on Thursday.

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