A few days ago, Rio Tinto announced its production results for the fourth quarter of 2021. Statistics show that the company's output of bauxite, electrolytic aluminum and mineral copper in the fourth quarter of last year was 54.3 million tons, 3.2 million tons and 494000 tons respectively.
Affected by the epidemic, climate, strikes and other factors, compared with the same period in 2020, the output of some of the company's products has been reduced to varying degrees, but the company has overcome difficulties and its achievements are still commendable. Shi Daocheng (Jakob Stausholm), CEO of the company, said: "our product demand will remain strong in 2021, but our production and operation will still be challenged by the long-term interference of the COVID-19 epidemic. Nevertheless, we have made progress on a number of projects, including the Pilbara capacity replacement project, which demonstrates the resilience of our business, as well as the commitment and adaptability of our employees, communities and governments in the countries in which we operate. The company plans to implement a larger promotion plan in 2022 and continue to strive to improve the company's production performance and strive to become the best operator. " He said the company had set a new direction to ensure that it continued to provide shareholders with attractive returns, investment sustainability and growth projects, and to continue to achieve the goal of net zero carbon emissions.
The report explains the reasons for the reduction in production. In the fourth quarter of 2021, the company's bauxite production was 54.3 million tons, down 3% from 2020, as the extremely humid weather in the first quarter of 2021 affected the stability of the system throughout the year, and there were problems with equipment reliability. and the shutdown period in the Pacific business plan has been extended. The company's electrolytic aluminum production was 3.2 million tons, down 1% from 2020, due to a strike in July 2021 that reduced production at the company's Kittimatt (Kitimat) aluminum electrolysis plant in British Columbia. At present, the union and employees have reached an agreement to control the resumption of work in 2022. The company's mineral copper output was 494000 tons, down 7% from 2020, due to the long-term impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, resulting in a decline in the recovery and production of the Escondida (Escondida) copper mine. However, the recovery and grade of (Oyu Tolgoi) copper and gold deposit in Oyu Tolgoi, Mongolia have been improved, which partly offset the above adverse effects.
According to the report, in the fourth quarter of 2021, the company established a number of partnerships with a number of companies to accelerate the decarbonization process of its business and its value chain. In November last year, the joint venture ELYSISTM successfully produced electrolytic aluminum without any direct greenhouse gas emissions in a commercial scale electrolytic cell.
In 2021, the company launched Rio Tinto's safety production system (RTSPS), in five pilot units focusing on the sustainable release of system-wide production capacity. For example, since the deployment of the safety production system at the Collito Copper Mine in the United States in July last year, the processing operation has improved significantly compared with the previous 12 months. If the COVID-19 epidemic is further controlled, the company is prepared to implement a larger promotion plan in 2022, with up to 30 Rio Tinto safety system projects in 15 operating units and 80 rapid improvement projects aimed at short-term bottlenecks.
The report also analyzes commodity markets. Market sentiment in most commodities was very positive in 2021, pushing prices of some commodities to cyclical highs, the report said. Fiscal and monetary policy support and vaccination promotion are key factors for strong demand growth. Strong demand growth has eventually pushed the global supply chain to its limit, posing challenges for many producers around the world. The company is confident about its growth prospects in the coming year, but is wary of the possible impact of new mutants and geopolitical tensions.
For the Chinese market, the report believes that after the economic slowdown in the fourth quarter of 2021, China is transitioning from tightening to easing and taking modest pro-growth measures to support real estate, infrastructure and consumption. China is expected to continue to fine-tune its policies to balance multiple priorities.
In its analysis of the US and eurozone economies, the report found that in the US, economic activity slowed at the end of the year due to concerns about mutated strains and continuing supply chain constraints. The peak of the recovery may be over, meaning that US GDP growth will slow, but solid fundamentals remain. Household debt has fallen to its lowest level since 2000, commodity supply shortages are expected to ease and inventory recovery will support growth.
Economic activity in the euro zone weakened significantly at the end of 2021, and the current level of restrictions heralded a slower-than-expected start to economic activity in 2022, especially in service-oriented economies.
According to the report, aluminum prices fluctuated in the fourth quarter of 2021, but rose to $2800 / tonne at the end of 2021, as power shortages in Europe affected smelting capacity. The spot market remained tight amid strong demand and low inventory levels, leading to a return to premiums in the US and Europe by the end of the year.
The price of copper was 440 cents / lb at the end of 2021, down 45 cents / lb from May 2021. Demand for copper remains good in 2021, while supply faces a number of headwinds, including the COVID-19 epidemic, shipping disruptions and other factors.
Global sales of electric vehicles more than doubled in 2021 due to an increase in global availability of models, government subsidies and a decline in production costs (battery prices). Lithium production failed to keep pace with demand, causing prices to rise by 150 per cent by the end of 2021.