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Rio Tinto declares record dividend and US$1bn buyback as full year profits jump 69%

Iron ore was the biggest contributor to profits, thanks to higher shipments from Rio's Pilbara mine in Australia
Rio Tinto
Rio Tinto left its 2018 production and capex guidance unchanged

Rio Tinto PLC (LON:RIO) declared a record final dividend and unveiled a US$1bn buyback after higher commodity prices lifted full year profit.

Underlying earnings for the year to December 31 jumped 69% to US$8.63bn from a year earlier, broadly in line with analysts’ estimates of US$8.74bn.

Revenue rose 18.3% to US$40bn, boosted by an increase in prices for commodities such as iron and coal.

READ: Rio Tinto reaches 2017 export targets for iron ore after record fourth quarter

"The strength of our cash flow is a result of resilient prices during the year coupled with a robust operational performance and a focus on mine to market productivity,” said chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques.

"Our strong balance sheet, world-class assets and disciplined allocation of capital puts us in the unique position of being able to invest in high-value growth through the cycle, and consistently deliver superior cash returns to shareholders."

The miner generated operational cash flow of US$13.8bn, up 64% on the previous year.

Record dividend 

Rio will pay shareholders a final dividend of US$1.80 per share, compared to US$1.70 per share a year ago.

The company said it expected to complete its US$1bn buyback of shares by the end of the year. Last year Rio’s buybacks totalled US$4bn, supported by the disposal of some coal assets.

“That’s certainly a lot better than wasting large amounts of money on expensive and inferior acquisitions, such as it did under previous leadership," said AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.

“Natural resources companies learned their lesson when commodity prices crashed four to six years ago, forcing them to pay more attention to how they run operations and spend money."

Iron ore was the biggest contributor to profits with underlying earnings rising 45% to US$6.6bn on the back of higher shipments from its Pilbara mine in Australia.

Rio repeats 2018 guidance

Rio maintained its 2018 guidance for production after raising iron ore shipments target by 10 million tonnes last month.

It also left its 2018 capital expenditure forecast unchanged at around US$5.5bn. 

"A miner’s success or failure is largely down to commodity prices over which it has no control," said Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown

"High quality assets and far healthier balance sheet mean Rio is well placed to weather even the worst conditions in the long term – but investors shouldn’t think it’s escaped the commodity roller-coaster.”

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