Strong demand from China has helped Australian mining giants to post record iron ore production results in the December quarter, but industry experts warn that Chinese imports will fall this year as the country heads for an economic slowdown.
Rio Tinto, the world's third-largest mining company after BHP Billiton and Vale, said fourth-quarter iron ore production rose to a record 51.2 million metric tons from 50.1 million tons a year earlier.
The total output for 2011 was 231 million tonnes, surpassing analysts' forecasts. The London-based miner said that iron ore production rose to a record driven by expansions at its mines and ports in Australia's Pilbara region.
Production of hard coking coal, used to make steel, rose 16 per cent in the fourth quarter but fell 2 per cent for the year as a whole due to flooding in eastern Australia early last year.
"Across the group, production has bounced back from the severe weather conditions experienced in the first half which had the biggest impact on Australian iron ore, coal and uranium," said Tom Albanese, chief executive of the Anglo-Australian company.
Sales of iron ore and coal will account for about 90 per cent of Rio's earnings for 2011, which is expected to be around $23 billion, up from $21 billion in 2010, according to industry experts.