Steel News


Cliffs Natural Resources Reports Strong 2013 Third-Quarter Results on Lower Costs

10/30/2013 - Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. reported third-quarter results for the period ended 30 September 2013.
Year-over-year consolidated revenues of US$1.5 billion increased slightly driven by a 17% increase in global seaborne iron ore pricing to an average of US$133 per ton for a 62% Fe fines product (C.F.R. China). This was partially offset by lower market pricing for metallurgical coal products and a 2% decrease in global iron ore sales volumes. Cost of goods sold decreased by 11% to US$1.2 billion, primarily driven by lower cost rates across all of the company's business segments. Lower cost of goods sold and higher revenues resulted in a 76% increase in consolidated sales margin to US$349 million, from US$198 million in last year's comparable quarter.
 
James Kirsch, Cliffs' chairman of the Board, said, "We are pleased with the third quarter's operating performance and financial results. During the quarter, we cut costs across the board, improved year-over-year sales margin, and lowered our full-year capital expenditures outlook. We have made good progress and have even greater investment and operational opportunities in our future. Ultimately, we will be driven by strategies that create the best options to deliver value to shareholders."
 
Operating income for the third quarter of 2013 increased 194% to US$224 million. The increase was primarily driven by the higher consolidated sales margin and significantly lower exploration expenses. The company has taken measures to reduce exploration spending on drilling and other professional services for certain projects, as well as to scale back on chromite-related spending.
 
Cliffs' third-quarter 2013 SG&A expenses were US$71 million and reflected certain special items, including a US$10 million expense related to a litigation judgment and US$8 million in severance-related costs attributed to actions taken to reduce the company's corporate cost profile. Excluding these special items, third-quarter 2013 SG&A expenses were US$53 million, a 13% decrease when compared to the year-ago quarter, which also included US$3 million of special items related to a litigation expense accrual.
 
During the third quarter of 2013, miscellaneous - net expense increased to US$44 million and was comprised of: a US$18 million casualty loss related to an oil spill at the Pointe Noire port in Eastern Canada; an unfavorable penalty of US$16 million incurred from a minimum tonnage rail shipment contract not being met as a result of the delay in the Bloom Lake Phase II expansion; and an unfavorable impact of US$14 million related to foreign currency exchange remeasurements. These items were partially offset by US$6 million in proceeds from insurance recoveries.
 
Third-quarter 2013 results included an income tax expense of US$66 million versus a benefit of US$64 million reported in the previous year's comparable quarter. The company increased its full-year 2013 income tax effective rate to 13% from its previous expectation of 2%, including discrete items. The increase in the expected income tax effective rate is driven by higher anticipated full-year taxable income due to increased iron ore pricing and lower costs. As a result of the higher expected full-year income tax effective rate, the third quarter's income tax expense included US$38 million of expense attributed to the first half of 2013.
 
Cliffs reported third-quarter 2013 net income attributable to Cliffs' common shareholders of US$104 million, or US$0.66 per diluted share, compared withUS$85 million, or US$0.59 per diluted share, in the third quarter of 2012.
 
U.S. Iron Ore
U.S. Iron Ore pellet sales volume was 6.3 million tons, compared with 6.6 million tons in the third quarter of 2012. The decrease was primarily driven by reduced tonnage resulting from a customer's force majeure and the expiration of a customer contract. This was partially offset by increased export sales, including pellet contracts that were previously supplied by Cliffs' Wabush Mine, and increased demand from domestic spot sales.
 
Third-quarter 2013 revenues per ton were US$112.67, up 2% from US$110.51 in the year-ago quarter. The increase was primarily attributable to an increase in pricing for one customer due to the reset of their contract base rate, higher year-over-year market pricing for iron ore, and a favorable true-up on the estimated hot-rolled steel pricing. As previously disclosed, certain customer contracts contain pricing mechanisms linked to hot-rolled steel. These increases were partially offset by credits to certain customers, unfavorable customer mix and increased sales to seaborne customers.
 
Cash cost per ton in U.S. Iron Ore was US$64.81, down 4% from US$67.81 in the prior year's third quarter. The decrease was primarily driven by the absence of a LIFO inventory adjustment that unfavorably impacted the prior year's third-quarter results. Lower labor and repair and maintenance costs also contributed to the improved year-over-year cash cost.  
 
Eastern Canadian Iron Ore
Eastern Canadian Iron Ore sales volume was 2.6 million tons, an increase of 9% versus the prior year's quarter. The increase was primarily driven by higher product sales from Wabush Mine due to the timing of vessel shipments. During the third quarter of 2013, sales volume at Bloom Lake Mine was flat year over year at 1.4 million tons. Wabush Mine sold 700,000 tons of iron ore concentrate and approximately 450,000 of iron ore pellets during the quarter.
 
Revenues per ton in Eastern Canadian Iron Ore were US$109.52, up 3% from US$106.57 in the prior year's third quarter. The higher per-ton revenues were attributable to a 17% year-over-year increase in seaborne iron ore pricing. The increase was partially offset by lag pricing that benefited the prior year's third quarter. Also, revenues per ton were unfavorably impacted by increased freight rates and the quarter's product mix, which was comprised of a higher proportion of iron ore concentrate versus pellets. The price premium has been historically lower for iron ore concentrate versus pellets.
 
Cash cost per ton in Eastern Canadian Iron Ore was US$99.96, down 6% from US$106.06 in the year-ago quarter. Third-quarter 2013 cash costs at Wabush Mine were US$108 per ton, down 18% from 2012's comparable quarter, primarily due to absence of pelletizing costs from the Pointe Noire pellet plant, favorable foreign exchange variances, and a decreased cost rate due to the unsalable inventory and lower-of-cost-or-market adjustments recorded during the second quarter of 2013 at Wabush Mine. 
 
The year-over-year decrease in Eastern Canadian Iron Ore's cash costs per ton was partially offset by higher cash costs at Bloom Lake Mine of US$92 per ton, up 5% from the prior year's comparable quarter. The increase was primarily due to increased mine development and maintenance expenses.
 
Asia Pacific Iron Ore
Third-quarter 2013 Asia Pacific Iron Ore sales volume decreased 8% to 2.8 million tons, from 3.0 million tons in 2012's third quarter. The decrease was attributable to the absence of sales volume from Cliffs' Cockatoo Island operation, which ceased production for Cliffs during the third quarter of 2012, and the timing of vessel shipments.
 
Revenues per ton for the third quarter of 2013 increased 28% to US$108.88, from US$84.79 in last year's third quarter. The increase was primarily driven by higher market pricing and the absence of low-grade tons that were sold in the prior year's third quarter at a discounted price. Revenues per ton for the third-quarter of 2013 were impacted by a foreign exchange hedging loss of US$3 per ton.
 
Cash cost per ton in Asia Pacific Iron Ore decreased 22% to US$59.44, from US$76.65 in 2012's comparable quarter. The decrease was due to favorable foreign exchange rate variances of US$8 per ton and lower mining costs due to less waste movement in the third quarter of 2013, compared to the prior year's quarter. Also contributing to the decrease was the absence of costs from Cliffs' Cockatoo Island operation, which was a higher cost mine and included in the prior year's third-quarter results.
 
North American Coal
For the third quarter of 2013, North American Coal sales volume was 1.6 million tons, a 2% decrease from the 1.7 million tons sold in the prior year's comparable quarter. The decrease was driven by lower sales tons at Oak Grove Mine. In the prior year's third quarter, Oak Grove sales volume was higher due to catch-up commitments related to the severe weather damage force majeure. The decrease was partially offset by higher sales at Pinnacle Mine and Logan County due to strong production volumes.
 
North American Coal's 2013 third-quarter revenues per ton were down 23% to US$98.95, versus US$128.88 in the third quarter of 2012. The year-over-year decrease was primarily driven by lower market pricing for metallurgical coal products and customer mix. The decrease in market pricing was partially offset by favorably-priced annual and carryover contracts.
 
Cash cost per ton decreased 34% to US$76.16, from US$114.56 in the year-ago quarter. The decrease was  primarily due to improved production volumes and the resulting favorable impact on the mine's cost-per-ton rate, as well as lower maintenance and contractor spending.
 
Cash Flow and Liquidity
For the third quarter, Cliffs generated US$297 million in cash from operations, versus generating US$308 million in the 2012 comparable quarter. The company also invested US$241 million in capital expenditures, with a significant portion allocated to Bloom Lake Mine. 
 
During the quarter, the company paid down its revolving credit facility by US$60 million and collected US$62 million in cash proceeds from equipment loan financing arrangements. At quarter end, Cliffs had US$3.3 billion in total debt, including US$380 million drawn on its US$1.75 billion revolving credit facility, andUS$299 million of cash and cash equivalents. 
 
Cliffs reported depreciation, depletion and amortization of US$153 million during the third quarter of 2013.
 
Outlook 
Looking forward, the company expects China to maintain its healthy steelmaking pace, driven by broader economic growth and the positive impact of domestic lending policy reforms. Robust Chinese steel production is expected to remain a source of healthy demand for Cliffs' Eastern Canadian Iron Ore and Asia Pacific Iron Ore businesses. Cliffs also anticipates the demand for its U.S. Iron Ore and North American Coal businesses to remain healthy, despite lower year-over-year steel production in North America.
 
The company expects pricing for the commodities it sells to remain volatile, with the potential to significantly increase or decrease at any point in time. Due to this expected volatility, and for the purpose of providing a full-year outlook, Cliffs will utilize the year-to-date average Platts 62% Fe seaborne iron ore spot price as of 30 September 2013 of US$135 per ton (C.F.R. China) as a base price assumption for providing its revenues-per-ton sensitivities for the company's iron ore business segments. Cliffs indicated this assumption does not reflect the company's internal expectation of full-year seaborne iron ore pricing. As such, using US$135 per ton as the iron ore price assumption for the remainder of the year, included in the table below is the expected full-year revenues-per-ton range for the company's iron ore business segments and the per-ton sensitivity for each US$10-per-ton variance from the price assumption. The sensitivities per ton for each respective iron ore business segment below reflect the sales volume and realized price achieved for the first nine months of 2013 results and Cliffs' realized expectation for the remainder of 2013.
 
U.S. Iron Ore Outlook (Long Tons)
For 2013, the company is maintaining its sales and production volume expectation of 21 million tons and 20 million tons, respectively. 
 
The U.S. Iron Ore revenues-per-ton sensitivity included within the 2013 revenue sensitivity summary table above also includes the following assumptions:
  • 2013 U.S. and Canada blast furnace steel production of 40 - 45 million tons
  • 2013 average hot-rolled steel pricing of US$630 per ton
  • Approximately 55% of the expected 2013 sales volume is linked to seaborne iron ore pricing
 
Cliffs is maintaining its 2013 full-year U.S. Iron Ore cash-cost-per-ton expectation of US$65–70, and depreciation, depletion and amortization is expected to be approximately US$6 per ton.
 
In 2014, Cliffs expects to sell approximately 22–23 million tons from its U.S. Iron Ore business. This is primarily attributable to a new supply agreement with one of our North American steelmaking customers.
 
Eastern Canadian Iron Ore Outlook (Metric Tons, F.O.B. Eastern Canada)
For 2013, Cliffs is increasing its full-year sales and production volume expectations of 8–9 million tons to 8.5–9 million tons. Cliffs will sell approximately 1.5 million tons of iron ore pellets from its Eastern Canadian Iron Ore segment, with iron ore concentrate sales making up the remainder of the expected full-year sales volume range.  
 
The company is maintaining its full-year cash-cost-per-ton expectation for Bloom Lake and Wabush mines of US$90–95 and US$115–120, respectively. Further, Cliffs is maintaining its full-year 2013 cash cost per ton in Eastern Canadian Iron Ore of US$100–105. Depreciation, depletion and amortization is expected to be approximately US$19 per ton for full-year 2013.
 
The Eastern Canadian Iron Ore revenues-per-ton sensitivity is included within the 2013 revenues-per-ton sensitivity table above.
 
Looking ahead, the company continues to evaluate the long-term strategic fit of Wabush Mine and viability of Bloom Lake's Phase II expansion project. Driven by this ongoing evaluation, the company will only provide its expected full-year 2014 sales volume for Bloom Lake's Phase I of approximately 5.5–6 million tons of iron ore concentrate.
 
Asia Pacific Iron Ore Outlook (Metric Tons, F.O.B. the port)
Cliffs is maintaining its full-year 2013 Asia Pacific Iron Ore expected sales and production volumes of approximately 11 million tons. The product mix is expected to be approximately half lump and half fines iron ore.
 
The Asia Pacific Iron Ore revenues-per-ton sensitivity is included within the 2013 revenues-per-ton sensitivity table above. Cliffs is maintaining its 2013 full-year Asia Pacific Iron Ore cash-cost-per-ton expectation of US$65–70. Depreciation, depletion and amortization is anticipated to be approximatelyUS$15 per ton for the year.
 
In 2014, Cliffs expects to sell approximately 10–11 million tons from its Asia Pacific Iron Ore business, comprised of approximately 50% lump iron ore and 50% fines iron ore.
 
North American Coal Outlook (Short Tons, F.O.B. the mine)
The company is maintaining its full-year 2013 North American Coal expected sales and production volumes of approximately 7 million tons. Sales volume mix is anticipated to be approximately 70% low-volatile metallurgical coal and 21% high-volatile metallurgical coal, with thermal coal making up the remainder.
 
Cliffs is maintaining its full-year 2013 North American Coal revenues-per-ton outlook of US$100–105.
Cliffs is decreasing its North American Coal full-year cash-cost-per-ton expectation to US$85–90 from its previous expectation of US$90–95. The decrease is driven by continued improvement in the operation's cost structure and production volumes. Full-year 2013 depreciation, depletion and amortization is expected to be approximately US$17 per ton.
 
In 2014, Cliffs expects to sell approximately 6–7 million tons from its North American Coal business, comprised of approximately 68% low-volatile metallurgical coal, 23% high-volatile metallurgical coal and 9% thermal coal.