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Rio Tinto roars back with higher than expected dividend, $500M buyback

09 February 2017

SYDNEY-Rio Tinto PLC RIO returned to profit in 2016 as prices for its commodities such as iron ore rebounded and the company continued a multiyear campaign to cut costs and improve the efficiency of its mines.

The world's second-biggest miner was the biggest gainer on the FTSE 100 index, adding 2.65% after revealing that its underlying earnings rose by 12% a year ago to $5.1bn (£4.1bn).

Under a Madhya Pradesh government order signed in January 2017, the government will accept ownership and take on responsibility for the Bunder assets, it said.

The UK oil and gas index fell 1.3 percent, making it the biggest sectoral decliner, after oil prices extended Tuesday's falls following a massive increase in US fuel inventories and a slump in Chinese demand.

Rio Tinto's Pilbara shipments in 2017 are expected to be between 330 and 340 million tonnes, subject to weather conditions.

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Rio's free cash flow should continue to surge over the next 12 months, given the recent agreement to sell its Hunter Valley thermal coal assets to Yancoal for $US2.45 billion.

Unlike 2015 where impairments relating to the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea and uranium assets carved $US1.8 billion off the bottom line, impairments past year were a more modest $US183 million. Rio Tinto has also announced that it will start a$500 million share buy-back programme of Rio Tinto shares.

In February previous year, the miner abandoned its progressive dividend policy saying it could no longer justify the commitment when the outlook for the global economy was worsening. This total figure of $3.6 billion represents around 70% of 2016 underlying earnings.

Iron ore was also the strongest performer in terms of EBITDA margin, with sales from Western Australia achieving a margin of 63% on an FOB basis. "Our value over volume approach, coupled with a robust balance sheet and world-class assets, places us in a strong position to deliver superior shareholder returns through the cycle".

Rio is forecasting operating cash cost improvements for 2016 and 2017 to reach $2 billion. Capital expenditure will be USD5.00 billion, rising to USD5.50 billion annually in 2018 and 2019, it said.