BHP Billiton slashes copper guidance after Escondida strike

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton cut its copper output guidance for 2017 to a range of 1.33-1.36Mt from 1.62Mt previously, following a 44-day strike at its Escondida mine in Chile.

The strike, which ended on March 24, resulted in BHP downgrading its production guidance at the world's largest copper mine to a 780,000-800,000t range from 1.07Mt previously.

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BHP said the strike resulted in a 23% decline to 546,000t in output at Escondida for the first nine months of its financial year ended March 31. Operations at the mine are expected to return to full capacity this month.

The industrial action also forced the company to delay the commissioning of the Escondida Water Supply (EWS) project and a planned ramp-up at the Los Colorados extension project, both of which are now expected to happen during the September 2017 quarter, the company said.

QUARTERLY COPPER PERFORMANCE

BHP produced 226,900t copper in the March quarter, down from 404,700t in the year-ago period. For the first nine months of its financial year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, copper output was 938,600t from 1.17Mt in the previous financial year, the company said in a report on Wednesday.

Quarterly output at Escondida (pictured) on a 100% basis was 67,600t of copper in concentrates and 27,200t of copper in cathodes from 174,900t and 84,800t, respectively, in the year-ago period. BHP operates Escondida and has a 57.5% stake in it.

Escondida's gold and silver production in the quarter was down to 11,572oz and 540,000oz, from 31,408oz and 1.54Moz, respectively.

BHP's other Chilean copper unit, the Pampa Norte division, which includes the Spence and Cerro Colorado mines, reported a 10.5% increase in copper in cathodes output to 66,100 in the third financial quarter. Production for the first nine months was down 2% to 182,000t.

The Melbourne-based company said production guidance at Pampa Norte remains unchanged, and is expected to be higher than the prior year on the back of completion of the Spence recovery optimization, which achieved an annualized production run rate of 200,000t/y in the December quarter.

BHP said mineral exploration expenditure during the first nine months ended March was US$110mn, all of which was expensed. Greenfield mineral exploration focused on advancing copper targets in Chile, Peru, Canada, Australia and the US.

ANTAMINA

The 33.75%-owned Antamina mine in Peru contributed 29,200t of copper in concentrate on an equity basis in fiscal Q3 versus 35,400t the year before. Production guidance for FY17 remains unchanged at 130,000t.

Antamina saw its quarterly zinc contribution increase 73.4% to 20,653t, as silver production contracted 25.7% to 1.30Moz and lead output rose to 1.31Mt from 1.19Mt. Molybdenum was down to 30t from 227t year-on-year.

IRON ORE

BHP reported quarterly iron ore production of 53.6Mt, up from 53.1Mt in the same three months of fiscal 2016.

Mining and processing operations at its Brazilian pellet JV Samarco remain suspended following the tailings dam collapse of November 2015. The miner changed iron ore production guidance for the full year to 231-234Mt from 228-237Mt.

COLOMBIAN COAL

Energy coal production at BHP's 33.3%-owned Cerrejón mine in Colombia was up 5.59% to 2.76Mt on an equity basis in the quarter.