Iluka Resources Ltd. on Wednesday reported higher output of zircon, rutile and synthetic rutile quarter-on-quarter. Iluka is the world's largest producer of zircon, used in ceramics, and a major producer of titanium-dioxide products, used as a white pigment. Here are some remarks from the miner's fourth-quarter production report.
On 4Q production:
"Mining at Jacinth Ambrosia in South Australia produced 152,000 [metric tons] of heavy mineral concentrate (HMC), up from 63,000 tons in Q3 2022. Higher HMC production was the result of higher ore treatment volumes and higher ore grade associated with the return to processing the higher grade Ambrosia deposit in September 2022. In Western Australia, the Cataby operation produced 114,000 tons of HMC, in line with Q3 2022.
"The Narngulu mineral separation plant processed both Cataby and Jacinth Ambrosia HMC. This produced a total of 76,000 tons of zircon, up from 70,000 tons in Q3 2022 due to higher zircon assemblage within the HMC and recovery; and 17,000 tons of rutile, up from 15,000 tons in Q3 2022 due to higher recovery. Production of synthetic rutile from SR2 at Capel was 57,000 tons, down from 59,000 tons in Q3 2022, with SR2 achieving an annual production record of 231,000 tons in 2022."
On changed buying habits:
"Iluka has observed a shift to a 'value over volume' approach in a number of the downstream market segments for zircon and titanium feedstocks. This is evidenced by many opacifier producers resisting efforts from end consumers to discount year-end inventory; and the unprecedented downward adjustment of pigment production in response to slowing demand, which at this time appears to have prevented any unseasonal build of inventory.
"These disciplined responses are an encouraging evolution for the mineral sands and downstream opacifier and pigment industries and should reduce volatility, with positive implications for many through the supply chain. Furthermore, security and reliability of supply are increasingly prominent considerations for many downstream consumers in light of continuing production interruptions at some facilities."
On zircon demand:
"Total sales in the fourth quarter of 80,000 tons were in line with expectations despite ongoing macroeconomic uncertainty globally. Iluka's supply continues to remain tight, with total sales in 2022 exceeding production for the year. The Chinese ceramic market deteriorated further during the quarter due to the confluence of Covid restrictions, softness in the real estate market, and other economic pressures. The fused zirconia, zirconium chemicals, refractories and foundries markets experienced softness towards the end of the quarter. The recent removal of strict Covid restrictions is expected to have a positive impact on demand for zircon, in line with increased economic activity.
"Despite what is expected to be cautious buying in Q1 2023, customers have been indicating their full year volume requirements for 2023 to be in line with their purchases in 2022. Prices for volumes already contracted for Q1 2023 are in line with Q4 2022, which is consistent with the previous announcement of flat pricing from the prior quarter."
On titanium-dioxide feedstock markets:
"Sales of synthetic rutile in Q4 were 63,000 tons. Sales of natural rutile were 12,000 tons, including a spot shipment in December of 5,000 tons. Demand for Iluka's high grade feedstocks remained strong, despite slowing pigment demand, especially in Europe and China. In Europe, pigment demand is estimated to have declined 20-25% compared to the same period to Q4 2021. Pigment producers responded by idling or severely restricting production at all European sulphate pigment plants; and cutting back rates at chloride facilities, thereby reducing production to match demand. Producers remain optimistic for a rebound in the first half of 2023 as the northern hemisphere spring paint season ramps up.
"While titanium dioxide demand in North America has begun to be affected by higher interest rates and reduced housing demand, domestic pigment production remains in line with seasonal norms. China's relaxation of Covid restrictions, coupled with economic incentives to increase housing demand and construction, bodes well for increased demand for pigment and high grade feedstocks in 2023."
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires