Mining giant BHP posts record Australian iron ore output

Sydney (AFP) - Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton on Wednesday posted record half-year iron ore production from Western Australia, but held back from improving the full-year outlook due to bad weather risks.

BHP achieved record production of 108 million tonnes of the key steel-making ingredient in the resource-rich Pilbara region in the half-year ending December 2013, despite weather-related downtime and an increase in planned maintenance, it said.

"Our Western Australia iron-ore business continues to perform strongly, however we have maintained production guidance of 212 million metric tons for the 2014 financial year (ending June 2014) given the general uncertainty that exists as we enter the wet season," BHP said in an operational review.

Last week Rio Tinto unveiled production and shipment records for its flagship iron ore business, with both up five percent on-year in 2013, and analysts had expected an upgraded forecast from BHP.

"There had been an expectation that we could have seen an upgrade to full year production guidance but we've actually just seen full year guidance remaining the same," Bell Direct equities analyst Julia Lee said.

BHP said a strong operating performance across its diversified portfolio in the past six months delivered a 10 percent increase in production, with volumes expected to grow by 16 percent over the two years to the end of the 2015 financial year.

"Iron ore and metallurgical coal were particularly strong and are very well positioned to achieve guidance, notwithstanding the general uncertainty that exists as we enter the wet season," chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said.

The company's productivity agenda was in full swing, he said, with Queensland Coal achieving record production for the December 2013 half year.

"During the period, six of our major projects delivered first production and our 10 remaining projects, which are largely low risk, brownfield expansions, are tracking to plan," Mackenzie added.

BHP's total petroleum production for the December 2013 half year was 120.4 million barrels of oil equivalent, while metallurgical coal production increased by 22 percent over the same period to a record 22 million tonnes.

Copper production increased by six percent in the half to 843,000 tonnes while alumina production rose eight percent to a record 2.6 million tonnes.

BHP Billiton said its share of capital and exploration expenditure for the 2014 financial year was expected to be US$16.1 billion as planned.