Profiles: IRON ORE PRODUCERS
Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC), 58.7-per-cent owned by Rio Tinto Ltd., is one of two of Canada’s largest producers of iron ore, and a global supplier of iron ore pellets and concentrates. IOC was founded by Cleveland-based M.A. Hanna Company, and has been producing iron ore from the Labrador Trough area since 1954. It operates open pit mines, a concentrator plant and a pellet plant in Labrador West, and transports its products along a 418-kilometre railway to its port facilities in Sept-Îles, Quebec. Its operations employ about 2,650.
In 2012, IOC sold 14.1 million tonnes of concentrates and pellets. However, IOC’s concentrator is in the final stages of a multi-year expansion project that will see its capacity increased from 18 million tonnes annually to 23.3 million tonnes, of which approximately 12.5 million tonnes is used to produce pellets at IOC’s pelletizing plant in Labrador City. IOC is studying further capacity increases to 30 million tonnes, and eventually beyond 50 million tonnes per annum.
After processing at the Labrador City facilities, pellets and concentrate are transported south via IOC’s privately-owned Quebec North Shore and Labrador (QNSL) railway to the company’s shipping terminal and deepwater port in Sept-Îles, Quebec. As a common carrier, QNSL also transports iron ore products from other mining operators. The current infrastructure is capable of transporting about 35 million tonnes per annum to accommodate IOC’s internal requirements, as well as those of third parties. It is thought that capacity can be increased to about 80 million tonnes if and when needed.
IOC owns and operates its own port facilities at the port of Sept-Îles, and is capable of handling about 28 million tonnes per annum. The port can accommodate ore carriers up to 255,000 tonnes, providing competitive access to all seaborne pellet markets and to the North American Great Lakes region. IOC exports its concentrate and pellet products to major North American, European and Asian steel makers. Port facilities can be expanded if and when needed.
IOC has been operating its Carol Lake property in Labrador West since the early 1950s. The company’s current mining operations consist of open pit mining and mineral processing (producing concentrates and pellets). Current operations cover an area of approximately 11,000 hectares.
According to Rio Tinto’s 2012 annual report, IOC’s proven and probable reserves resources total 555 million tonnes of iron ore grading 65 per cent Fe. In addition, measured resources total 590 million tonnes grading 38.5 per cent, indicated resources total 1.7 billion tonnes grading 38.0 per cent, and inferred resources total 825 million tonnes grading 37.9 per cent Fe.
IOC’s operations are characterized as low-cost, high volume operations, partly as a result of the high levels of iron concentration in its ore bodies, partly because IOC owns all of the infrastructure it utilizes, and partly because of its drive to squeeze out unnecessary costs. From 2012 to 2014, unit operating expenses (before pelletizing) are expected to be reduced by 40 per cent because of increased production volumes, improved operating efficiencies and continued focus on cost reductions.
According to Rio Tinto’s 2012 annual report, IOC’s gross sales revenues in 2012 amounted to US$1.972 billion, down from US$2.471 billion in 2011. Earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation fell to US$665 million from US$1.329 in 2011. Net earnings fell to US$230 million from US$491 million in 2011. Overall Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore Group sales declined from US$29.475 billion in 2011 to US$24.27 in 2012.
Rio Tinto has announced plans to sell its stake in IOC to allow it to concentrate on its core assets (Pilbara – Australia). It has reportedly received about a dozen initial bids for its stake, and is reportedly conducting serious negotiations with a few remaining contenders.
Mitsubishi holds a 26.2-per-cent stake and Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Corporation (LIORC) holds the remaining 15.1 per cent stake and receives a 7-per-cent gross royalty on all IOC iron ore sales.