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UPDATE 1-Fortescue to weigh up resuming full expansion in Dec
November 14, 2012 / 1:47 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Fortescue to weigh up resuming full expansion in Dec

* Iron ore price at $120 could help revive Kings mine

* Fortescue eyes selling rail stakes, but seen unlikely

* Fortescue shares up 1 pct ahead of annual meeting (Adds FMG comments)

PERTH, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Australia’s no.3 iron ore miner, Fortescue Metals Group, plans to review in December whether to push ahead with tripling its iron ore capacity, a plan it deferred in September when iron ore prices slid to a three-year low.

The company had expected iron ore prices to hold around $120 a tonne, but when prices slumped to $87 in September it slammed the brakes on plans to lift its annual capacity to 155 million tonnes by digging the Kings mine.

Iron ore prices have since rebounded to around $120 and Fortescue’s development manager, Peter Meurs, said on Wednesday the company expected prices to hold around that level, which would give it confidence to revive the Kings development.

“We’ll make that final decision when we look at the market in December and say, ‘Do we have the confidence to move forward?'” Meurs told a resources conference.

Fortescue’s sudden reversal of plans in September coincided with a mounting debt pile. It has since eased the pressure on its funding by refinancing $5 billion with no earnings covenants, which could help it revive its ambitious expansion.

To further lighten the debt burden it has been looking to sell some assets, including stakes in its undeveloped iron ore deposits.

However, Meurs played down a media report on Wednesday that said it was considering selling stakes in its port and rail assets, housed in a unit called The Pilbara Infrastructure Pty Ltd (TPI), to rivals like Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore project and Atlas Iron.

“There’s potential interest in selling a portion of TPI, if we can do it in a way that left us with total control of that asset,” Meurs said. “Is it likely? I think it’s highly unlikely.”

He said the Fortescue’s rail assets were “incredibly valuable”, and as long as it has full control over operations on the rail line, it remained open to providing rail access to competitors who have their own port capacity.

“It just makes absolute sense for us to provide the transport service for them,” he said.

Fortescue’s shares rose 0.9 percent ahead of the company’s annual meeting in Perth, outpacing a 0.2 percent rise in the broader market. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Ed Davies)

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