Australia's Rinehart seals funding for $10 billion iron ore project


Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart has secured $7.2 billion in debt for her Roy Hill iron ore mining project, completing all the funding for a giant mine in Western Australia due to start exporting in late 2015.

The 55-million-tonnes a year mine will make Roy Hill Australia's fourth largest iron ore producer, adding to a looming supply glut built up by bigger rivals Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group.

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Gina Rinehart
Nelson Ching | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"We look forward to becoming a major iron ore producer on an international scale," Rinehart, chairman of Roy Hill and Asia's richest woman, said in a statement.

The $10 billion project is already 30 percent built, the company said, including dredging for two deep water port berths, an airport with a runway big enough for a Boeing 737 plane and villages to house 3,600 construction workers and 2,000 operational staff onsite and at Port Hedland.

The debt financing, the biggest ever provided for a mining project, is made up of loans and guarantees from five Export Credit Agencies from Japan, South Korea and the United States and 19 commercial banks from Australia, Japan, Europe, China, Korea and Singapore.

(Read more: Rio Tinto turns upmine output in iron ore, other minerals)

Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd owns 70 percent of the project, with Japanese trading house Marubeni Corp holding 15 percent, South Korean steel giant POSCO 12.5 percent and Taiwan's China Steel Corp 2.5 percent.

The impending oversupply is unlikely to deter Rinehart and her partners from going ahead with the project, despite major banks forecasting iron ore prices will fall to around $80-$90 a ton, about 23 percent below current prices.

Iron ore volatility to be short-lived: Fitch

In contrast to the objectives of a major miner, the Roy Hill mine was designed to help meet POSCO's strategy of locking in raw materials supplies for its steel mills to hedge against price shocks, said UBS commodities analyst Tom Price.

"It would have been a good strategy five to seven years ago, when we did go through big price shocks and supply uncertainty," Price said. "But now there's so much ore coming on to the market, I'm just wondering if it's necessary to push ahead with these sorts of projects."

UBS expects Roy Hill to produce 15 million tons of iron ore in 2016, contributing to a hefty surplus of around 270 million tons in a forecast seaborne iron ore supply of 1.6 billion tons that year. It expects the mine to reach full capacity in 2019.

(Read more: Fortescue triples profit, year iron ore output to rise)

The mine, rail and port project has long been a dream of Rinehart, who inherited valuable mining tenements from her father but has never actually built a mine.

Given the lack of experience, the project has taken longer than expected to fund as lenders were cautious on lining up guarantees, while a family court row over Rinehart's inheritance two years ago also drew attention away from the development.