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BHP maintains FY guidance as Q1 iron ore production jumps 7%

Carla Gottgens | Bloomberg | Getty Images

BHP Billiton hiked iron ore production by 7 percent on-year in the September quarter and said it was on track to meet full-year 2016 guidance across the business.

The mining giant said that iron ore production hit a record 61 million tonnes (Mt) in the fiscal first quarter, up 2 per cent on the previous quarter, on the back of a ramp-up of the Jimblebar mine in Western Australia. Improved WA port facilities and a rise in direct-to-ship ore helped boost sales volume to a record 67Mt.

BHP forecasts iron ore production of 247Mt in the 2016 full-year. A new crusher and conveying facility at Jimblebar and additional productivity improvements will increase the mine's system capacity to 290Mt per year "over time," BHP said.

"BHP Billiton remains on track to meet full-year production and cost guidance after a solid operational performance this quarter," chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said in a press release unveiling production numbers for all of the miner's units: petroleum, copper, iron ore, metallurgical coal and energy coal.

At its projected production rate, BHP will retain its world number three ranking in output and exports of the steel-making commodity, which accounts for more than half its revenue and profits.

Only Brazil's Vale and fellow Australian miner Rio Tinto are larger in iron ore. In their own production reports, Vale said it produced a record 88.2Mt the September quarter, just ahead of Rio Tinto, and would also continue to increase output.

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BHP, like its rivals, is working it mines harder to drive down costs and improve efficiencies as demand for its ore softens in the key China market.

Iron ore prices are down sharply from a high of nearly $200 a tonne in 2011 to $52.10 as of Wednesday. The price is forecast to drop to $50 over the next two years, according to a recent Reuters poll.

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Iron ore miners have been on a drive to lower their iron ore production costs to close to $10-$15 a tonne to keep ahead of the deterioration in pricing.

In copper, production at BHP dropped 3 per cent year-on-year to 377kt (kilotons or 1,000 tons) as lower grades of the metal mined at Escondida in Chile offset improvements in operating performance across the unit.

Production at Escondida, which BHP owns in partnership with Rio Tinto, dropped 14 percent to 230kt. BHP said record material was mined but offset by a 17 percent decline in grade. Guidance for Escondida was unchanged at about 940kt for the full year.

Total petroleum production slipped 4 percent to 64.5 million barrels of oil equivalent (Mmboe), while guidance for the full-year was unchanged at 237Mmboe.

Crude oil, condensate and natural gas liquids dropped 1 percent to 30.7Mmboe, while natural gas dropped 7 percent to 203 billions of cubic feet (bcf) as BHP put off developing onshore U.S. gas sites. This would not impact production guidance, the company said.

BHP cut its planned spending on petroleum by 6 percent to $2.9 billion for the full year. That figure includes $1.4 billion to be spend onshore in the U.S.

Metallurgical coal production was in line year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter at 10,449kt and energy coat at 9,847kt. Guidance for both was unchanged for the full year.

Nickel production for the first-quarter dropped 12 percent to 22kt, which BHP said reflected a cut in third party ore delivered to its Kambalda concentrator in WA.

South32, the company spun out of BHP earlier this year with aluminum and coal assets, will release its first-quarter production numbers on Thursday.

- Reuters contributed to this report.