Rio Tinto dominates iron ore market in 2023 despite Vale's Q4 surge
Brazilian iron ore miner and exporter, Vale, may have regained the title of the world's top producer of the key steelmaking material in the 4th quarter of 2023. However, Rio Tinto remained the number one player throughout the year, both in production and, more crucially, in sales.
Rio continued to lead as the top exporter, largely because a significant portion of Vale's production is used to make pellets. In 2023, Rio exported 331.8 million tonnes, while Vale could only manage 256.8 million tonnes, representing a 3% increase for Rio and a 1.5% decrease for Vale from 2022.
Production-wise, the two were neck and neck. Vale's iron ore production for 2023 reached 321.1 million tonnes, a 4.3% increase from 2022, trailing Rio's 331.5 million tonnes by just 10 million tonnes.
Throughout the year, Vale diverted approximately 60 million tonnes to produce nearly 36 million tonnes of pellets. While Rio anticipates a slight rise in sales for the upcoming year, ranging from 323 million to 338 million tonnes, Vale has maintained its guidance at 310 million to 320 million tonnes.
Vale's iron ore production surged to 89.4 million tonnes in the last quarter of 2023, marking an 11% increase from the final quarter of 2022. Vale reported that its December production was the highest since 2018, just ahead of Rio's 87.5 million tonnes.
In terms of sales in the December quarter, Vale sold 77.88 million tonnes of ore, while Rio sold 86.3 million. Both giants maintained similar average prices of $US108 per dry metric tonne for the year. Vale reported that its December quarter price averaged more than $US118 per tonne, though Rio did not provide a figure for the same quarter.
Pellet production also witnessed significant growth, rising by 19% year over year to 9.9 million tonnes in the December quarter and totaling 35.8 million tonnes for the year.
Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.