Is Rio Tinto Limited set to disappoint shareholders?

Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) has missed analyst expectations and could be falling further behind its target for iron ore shipments this financial year.

Rio shipped 80.9 million tonnes in the June quarter from its Western Australian operations in the Pilbara, below analyst estimates of 83.3 million.

In the previous quarter, Rio had shipped 80.8 million tonnes globally – giving it 161.7 million tonnes for the first half of the 2016 year. Rio was aiming for 330 million tonnes, which means the miner needs to find a way to produce 168.3 million tonnes or more in the next six months – or roughly 84 million tonnes each quarter – well above what the company has achieved so far.

Rio Tinto 2nd quarter production Jul 2016

Source: Rio Tinto

Analysts had been expecting Rio to make an announcement about when it would commence mining at the Silvergrass iron ore project, but the company says it will make the investment decision in the second half of this year.

Rio also says it expects to ship between 330 and 340 million tonnes of iron ore in 2017.

The lower production target may be a godsend for the company and other iron ore miners in general too. The iron ore price has been hovering at around US$55 a tonne in recent months – and was last trading at around US$56.86 a tonne.

BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP) also cut its forecasts due to bad weather and rail maintenance in the first quarter of this year. The miner now expects to produce 260 million tonnes in the 2016 financial year.

Rising supply and falling demand were expected to exert significant downward pressure on the iron ore price this year, but it has yet to materialise.

That’s not to say it won’t happen though. Vale is still pushing ahead with its giant S11 expansion which will add another 90 million tonnes of high quality seaborne iron ore supply, and Roy Hill is still in the ramp up phase to 55 million tonnes annually – having just begun shipments in early December last year.

Foolish takeaway

UBS analysts expect Rio to offload around US$4 billion worth of assets in the next few years – after many of the miner’s non-core assets were put into a single division. That could see Rio do a BHP and create a smaller diversified resource company – similar to South32 Ltd (ASX: S32).

However, shareholders may well be disappointed if Rio Tinto fails to meet its own forecasts for iron ore.

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Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King doesn't own shares in any companies mentioned. You can follow Mike on Twitter @TMFKinga

The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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