Rio Tinto announced that it plans to return more than $7 billion to shareholders through dividends and share buybacks.
The company said it plans to pay a record interim dividend of $2.2 billion, add $1 billion to its share buyback program and return $4 billion of asset sale proceeds to investors.
The move is further evidence that the global mining sector has changed dramatically since the last commodities boom when mining companies were growing at all costs. Now, Rio Tinto is focused on generating cash for shareholders.
The Financial Times reported that Rio Tinto handed almost $10 billion of cash to shareholders last year, or 50 percent of sector returns. This is in contrast to some of its peers who have continued to prioritize debt reduction. A key plank of Rio Tinto’s strategy is a five-year productivity drive to sweat the group’s assets and generate an additional $5 billion of cash. It has also made a string of disposals and has become the first big miner to exit coal.
“We’ve pledged to deliver superior cash returns to shareholders and that’s what we are doing,” chief executive officer Jean-Sebastien Jacques said. “We can’t go back to where the industry was 10 years ago which was growing at any cost with massive overruns.”
One area where Rio and its peers remain keen on expansion is copper. The company is already expanding a huge copper mine in Mongolia and a study on the Resolution project in Arizona, a joint venture with BHP Billiton Ltd. will be completed by 2021.
Rio Tinto, which has returned $4.7 billion in the first half through buybacks and its full-year dividend, is not alone in funneling cash back to shareholders. Glencore Plc and Vale SA have both announced $1 billion buybacks in the last month.
The report wasn’t all good news though. Bloomberg reported that while Rio’s underlying profit rose 12 percent to $4.4 billion in the six months through June, helped by better base metals prices and higher iron ore volumes, analysts were left disappointed by rising costs that hit cash flows.
The shares fell as much as 4.8 percent, the biggest intraday drop since August last year, and traded 3.7 percent lower in London. Other mining stocks also fell as metals dropped on renewed U.S.-China trade tensions.