Where to from here for the Rio Tinto share price?

Credit: iStock

The Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) share price is currently trading under $50 and is up 11.6% since the start of 2016.

But where is the RIO share price heading from here?

After a 3.5% rise overnight to US$60.70 a tonne, spot iron ore is now fetching the equivalent of A$80.87 a tonne, its highest level since early May.

The commodity remains Rio’s most precious asset, generating 42% of revenues and the lion’s share of earnings as the charts below show.

Rio Tinto revenues 2015

Source: Company reports

The miner’s market-leading low production costs for iron ore also mean the margins for iron ore are amongst its largest. However, it’s not the only major commodity Rio has with aluminium and copper likely to play an increasingly important role in the company’s future. Production of both commodities is rising, while coal production continues to fall in the face of record low commodity prices and generates minimal earnings as this chart shows.

Rio Tinto earnings 2015

The second stage of production at the Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mine was approved in May, and at full ramp up by 2027, the mine is expected to produce more than 500,000 tonnes of copper each year – more than double its current 175,000 to 200,000 tonnes.

Additionally, Rio is buying back debt, cutting its gross debt by US$3 billion this year, which will have a positive impact on net profits.

UBS analysts also expect the miner to offload around US$4 billion worth of non-core assets in the next few years and Rio could follow in BHP Billiton Limited’s (ASX: BHP) path and demerge the non-core assets into a newly listed company. BHP demerged several commodities and operations it regarded as non-core into South32 Ltd (ASX: S32) last year.

Foolish takeaway

Earnings are expected to fall by 43% this financial year (Rio has a December year-end) thanks to the fall in commodity prices, and again in 2017. That will likely see dividends cut and it’s hard to see Rio’s share price rising much from here.

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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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