* Rio posts highest underlying earnings in 5 years
* Declares special dividend of $1 bln
* Sees final cost estimate for Oyu Tolgoi in H2 2020 (Adds details on Oyu Tolgoi, CEO comment, impairment charge)
By Aditya Soni
Aug 1 (Reuters) - Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto on Thursday reported its biggest first-half profit since 2014, in-line with estimates, and declared a bumper dividend, on red-hot iron ore prices.
The results signalled robust earnings for other Australian iron ore miners, which are likely to see a boost to coffers from the surging prices of the steel-making commodity, even as production dipped due to the impact of a cyclone.
Prices of iron ore have spiked this year after disruptions caused by a cyclone in Western Australia added to a supply cut from the world’s top iron ore miner Vale.
Rio Tinto’s underlying earnings for the six months ended June 30 rose to $4.93 billion from $4.42 billion a year earlier, the company said.
The figure was roughly in line with a consensus estimate of $4.95 billion compiled by Vuma Financial.
Rio increased its interim dividend by 19% to 151 cents per share. The world’s no.2 miner of iron ore also announced a special dividend of $1.0 billion.
“We are taking actions to protect the Pilbara Blend and optimise performance across our iron ore system, following the operational challenges which emerged in the first half,” Chief Executive Officer Jean-Sébastien Jacques said.
The company’s profit growth in the period was held back by lower iron ore sales due to disruptions from a cyclone in late March and operational challenges at a Pilbara hub in the mineral rich region of Western Australia.
Rio maintained its forecast for annual iron ore shipments of 320 million to 330 million tonnes. The company has downgraded its guidance on shipments three times since April.
It also took an $800 million impairment loss related to Oyu Tolgoi, the miner’s massive copper project in Mongolia.
Rio now expects to deliver the final cost estimate and the schedule for the underground expansion project in the second half of 2020.
Earlier this month, the miner forecast a cost blowout of up to $1.9 billion and a delay of up to 30 months at the project due to Oyu Tolgoi’s challenging geology. (Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Richard Pullin)