Iron ore output up but oil cut looms

MELBOURNE: Mega-miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are expected to announce more record iron ore production numbers this week despite the commodity’s price dive.

However the oil price crash has analysts tipping that BHP will announce a reduction of nearly $US250 million in exploration spending on US shale oil and gas.

When the big miners last reported production numbers in October, they were criticised for over-producing and driving down the price of iron ore. Since then the price has fallen further from $US80 a tonne to under $70 currently.

Rio and BHP are still profitable at those prices. Analysts think that after a busy fourth quarter Rio will announce on Tuesday it slightly beat its own iron ore sales guidance for the year of 300 million tonnes.

BHP is also expected to have notched up two per cent gains in production from the previous quarter to more than 63 million tonnes.

It is only the second quarter for BHP, but it is on target to beat full year WA iron ore production guidance of 245 million tonnes, say analysts from RBC Capital Markets and Deutsche Bank.

They are predicting production falls in BHP’s crucial petroleum division, due to seasonal factors that led to a strong previous quarter.

Deutsche Bank has production down eight per cent to 61.8 million barrels while RBC predicts an 11 per cent decline to 60.2 million. "An update on the US onshore drilling strategy is likely," said Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Young.

"We expect rigs to be dropped from the Permian and a slowdown in completions in the Black Hawk. "We forecast a drop in quarterly spend from $US895 million to $US650 million."

That view was reinforced by reports that major US onshore BHP contractor Schlumberger would slash 9000 jobs out of its workforce of 126,000 in anticipation of a decline in sector drilling activity.

Fat Prophets resource analyst David Lennox said he thought the outlook for BHP’s petroleum division this year was still positive, because it sold a lot of petroleum products into the US where demand and the economy were strong.

China’s imports for December had also been strong in oil, iron ore and copper despite the price falls, which was a good sign for 2015, he said.

"A lot of what Rio and BHP dig up goes in that direction so they would have participated in delivering that extra commodity into China," he said. - AAP
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