COLUMN-For Rio Tinto, it doesn’t matter being right on iron ore – by Clyde Russell (Reuters U.S. – September 16, 2015)

(Reuters) – There’s been considerable debate over who is right on the outlook for China’s vast steel sector – the bullish iron ore miners or the bearish analysts and steel producers.

Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian miner that’s likely to claim top spot among iron ore producers, has resolutely stuck to its view that China’s steel output will top out at 1 billion tonnes per annum, around 2030.

There’s been no shortage of people lining up to challenge that position, and even number three miner BHP Billiton has rowed back slightly from the 1 billion tonne forecast, to expecting peak output around 935 to 985 million tonnes in the mid-2020s.

The Chinese steel sector thinks peak steel was already achieved with last year’s total of around 823 million tonnes, and is forecasting that output will slip slightly in coming years.

There are more bearish forecasts about, with one research house saying in a recent report that steel output will retreat to 650 million tonnes by 2017 as property demand falls back to levels before the stimulus prompted by the 2008 global recession.

But this is a debate that ultimately matters very little to Rio Tinto.

Other than pride and vindication for being correct, whether China reaches 1 billion tonnes of annual steel output is a moot point for Rio Tinto.

This is because Rio Tinto will be able to sell all of its iron ore production no matter what happens in China, and will be able to do so at a profit that is greater than its competitors.

This is the advantage you get from being the lowest cost producer in the industry.

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