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15.1.10

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Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has had a record-breaking fourth-quarter of iron ore production, pushed up 49 percent by Chinese needs.

The total production for 2009 was 217 million tonnes, an increase of 13 percent on the previous year.

Global iron ore sales set a new quarterly record of 61 million tonnes, driven mostly by continuing high demand from China, with whom Rio has had rocky relations since the arrest last year of Australian Rio executive Stern Hu and three of his Chinese colleagues on allegations of spying.

Beijing on Tuesday confirmed Hu's case had been handed over to prosecutors in Shanghai.
The analysts' consensus for price increases this year stands at about 30pc. However, Paul Cliff, a mining analyst at Nomura, said on Monday that contract prices could rise between 40pc and 50pc. Iron ore production is also expected to rise in the current year, with BHP Billiton targeting a rise in output by 2011 of about 30pc

"Basically it is just a resumption of production for iron ore after they cut back production in line with customer requirements during the global financial crisis," says James Wilson, a mining analyst at broker DJ Carmichael. "It is a big return to business for Rio Tinto in every aspect. It is represented in their annualised output. It is good to see."

Rio's relationship with China has been under intense pressure after the arrest of four Rio staff , including Australian citizen Stern Hu, in July. They are accused of illegally obtaining commercial secrets during last year's round of iron ore pricing talks.

Chinese investigators have concluded their inquiries and the case is now in the hands of the prosecutor, known as the Shanghai People's Procuratorate, which will now decide whether the case should be brought to trial.

Rio shares rose 79p to £36.17.

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