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BHP Billiton 4th-qtr. aluminum output up 10%; nickel down

Keywords: Tags  BHP Billiton, aluminium, alumina, nickel, production, impairment charge, shivani singh

SINGAPORE — BHP Billiton Plc’s aluminum output rose in the fourth quarter of 2012 as production at its Hillside plant in South Africa returned to full technical capacity ahead of schedule.

Aluminum production totaled 297,000 tonnes in the three months ended Dec. 31, up 10 percent from the previous quarter but down 5 percent from a year earlier, according to the diversified miner.

"Strong performance at Worsley in Australia contributed to record alumina production in the December quarter and half year," the company said. "Worsley operated at 95 percent of design capacity during the quarter following the successful ramp-up of the efficiency and growth project."

Alumina production totaled 1.23 million tonnes in the fourth quarter, up 5 percent from the previous three months and 23 percent higher than a year earlier, BHP said. However, a strong Australian dollar and weak pricing environment continued to place pressure on its Australian alumina and nickel operations.

Nickel output declined as a strong operating performance at Cerro Matoso in Colombia was more than offset by planned maintenance at the Nickel West Kalgoorlie smelter and Kwinana refinery in Australia.

Nickel production totaled 34,700 tonnes in the quarter ended Dec. 31, down 6 percent from the previous quarter and 10 percent lower year-on-year.

BHP did not disclose any impairment charges related to its aluminum assets, but according to media reports the company is expected to write down the book value of its aluminum assets by $2 billion to $3 billion.

Earlier this month, Tom Albanese stepped down as Rio Tinto Plc chief executive officer after the miner announced it faced a $14-billion write-down, including up to $11 billion against its troubled aluminum business (, Jan. 17).

This article was first published in AMM sister publication Metal Bulletin.

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