Page last updated at 18:40 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Miner Rio Tinto cuts 14,000 jobs

A truck in a mine in Western Australia

The world's third-largest mining firm, Rio Tinto, is cutting 14,000 jobs as part of plans to reduce its debt by $10bn (6.8bn) by the end of next year.

It also plans to defer some of its planned spending on exploration and combine its two London offices.

Rio Tinto, which is listed in the UK and Australia, currently employs 97,000 people worldwide.

It said it was responding to "the unprecedented rapidity and severity of the global economic downturn".

In the past few months, Rio Tinto has been fending off a takeover approach from rival BHP Billiton, which finally abandoned its offer in November.

Price moves

Rio Tinto said that closing one of its London offices would not necessarily lead to job cuts. Less than 2% of its workforce are based in the UK.

Those attempts by Rio to generate cash and thus reduce its massive borrowings of $39bn will cause disappointment and indeed hardship in many communities all over the world
Robert Peston, BBC business editor

It said that the job cuts would comprise 8,500 contractors and 5,500 employees.

As a global miner, Rio Tinto is very sensitive to commodities prices and exchange rates.

It benefited from soaring metals prices in the first half of the year, but has since suffered as they have fallen back.

But falling oil prices have been good news for it - a $1-a-barrel fall in the price of oil adds about $11m to the group's earnings.

Debt problems

Rio Tinto's shares ended Wednesday trading up 256 pence to just above 15, although they are still well off the year's high above 70 a share.

Analysts say the level of its debt has been one of the factors depressing the company's value.


"Their share price has been really slaughtered because of that debt and the BHP bid falling over," said Peter Chilton at Constellation Capital Management in Sydney.

"Probably the biggest issue is the net debt they have got."

Its net debt stands at almost $40bn, which will be more expensive to finance in future as a result of the credit crunch.

But there is some concern that cutting back on spending on exploration will hit growth prospects.

"This goes a long way to ensuring they have enough cash over the next two years to make their debt payments," said Glyn Lawcock at UBS in Sydney.

"The question now is which projects they have to give up. That will determine the growth prospects for the company and its relative attractiveness."

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