The world's third biggest mining group, Rio Tinto, yesterday gave an optimistic assessment of global commodity markets, but warned that prices could be volatile throughout 2010 as stimulus packages were removed.
Publishing its 2009 results, the company reintroduced its dividend, at 45 cents a share, 12 months after halting payments. It added that its troublesome debt pile had been halved thanks to last year's rights issue and a number of asset sales.
Reporting forecast-beating second-half profit falls of $3.73bn (£2.38bn), Rio's chief executive, Tom Albanese, said: "Whilst trading conditions were tough in the first half [of 2009], the second half was much improved, with the benefits of our decisive actions on costs, increased production and better markets all making a contribution."
Mr Albanese was coy in addressing questions relating to Rio Tinto's relationship with China, the world's biggest consumer of most commodities. He refused to comment further than acknowledging that four Rio employees in China, including the Australian Stern Hu, have now been indicted on spying charges, which could lead to prison sentences of up to seven years.
Rio also refused to comment on reports that negotiations on this year's iron ore price have started with Chinese steel mills. The level is set each year between the mills and the world's biggest iron ore produces.
No agreement on price was reached last year, leading a spike in the iron ore spot market.