(Alliance News) - Rio Tinto PLC on Wednesday reiterated its annual production guidance, despite seeing lower quarterly iron ore shipments and production.

The Anglo-Australian mining and metals company said that first-quarter iron ore production from the Pilbara assets in Western Australia fell 2% year-on-year to 77.9 million tonnes, and was 11% behind the final quarter of 2023.

"Compared to the first quarter in 2023, planned ore depletion, predominantly at Yandicoogina, was partially offset by productivity gains across other operations," the miner explained.

Rio Tinto said it continues to work on asset management and pit health, expecting further productivity gains over the rest of 2024.

Meanwhile, Pilbara iron ore shipments dropped 5% on-year to 78.0 million tonnes, and were 10% behind the fourth quarter. In addition to the lower production, Rio Tinto blamed the lower shipment volumes on weather disruption at the ports, which led to lower stock draw-down.

The Pilbara figures are on a 100% basis.

"We delivered stable operating results in the first quarter, including improvements at our bauxite and aluminium businesses, as we navigated seasonal challenges across our global operations. Our full year guidance is unchanged across all our products," said Chief Executive Officer Jakob Stausholm.

Bauxite production rose 11% year-on-year to 13.4 million tonnes, thanks to continued improvement in operational stability at its Weipa operations in far north Queensland and the Gove site in Northern Territory, Australia. It fell 11% from the prior quarter, however.

Aluminium production improved 5% annually to 826,000 tonnes, but fell 2% from the prior quarter.

Mined copper rose 7% to 156,000 tonnes from the year before, but slipped 2% from the fourth quarter, due to unplanned conveyor downtime at Kennecott mine in Utah, US. The conveyor is now fully operational, Rio Tinto said. Copper production from the Oyu Tolgoi deposit in Mongolia rose 8% year-on-year. The miner noted its ramp-up in underground production at the site was continuing in line with its long-term plan.

"We remained focused on growth in energy-transition materials, with the ramp-up at Oyu Tolgoi underground, the first full quarter of recycled aluminium production from Matalco and further progress at Simandou, our high grade iron ore project in Guinea," said CEO Stausholm.

Rio Tinto left its December guidance for production in 2024 unchanged, expecting Pilbara shipments to be in a range of 323 million to 338 million tonnes - compared to 331.8 million in 2023 overall. Other guidance for 2024 was mostly for ranges that would be slightly lower to somewhat higher than 2023.

The company said the global economy "remains resilient", and expects a "recovery in industrial production ahead". It noted that China's domestic steel demand was trending at similar levels to last year, but steel exports had jumped 30% year-on-year in the first two months of 2024. It expects steel exports to remain "historically elevated", which will support demand for iron ore.

Shares in Rio Tinto were down 0.1% at AUD128.57 each in Sydney early Wednesday afternoon.

By Elizabeth Winter, Alliance News senior correspondent

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