Fortescue sees solid rebound in China after strong Q2
December quarter iron ore shipments up 4%
Fortescue sees strong rebound in China demand
Gabon project on track for rapid development
Recasts with executive chairman's comments throughout
Jan 27 (Reuters) -Australia's Fortescue Metals Group FMG.AX on Friday confirmed its delayed Iron Bridge project was set to begin production at the end of the March quarter, and said it is expecting a solid economic rebound in China, its top iron ore customer.
Founder and Executive Chairman Andrew Forrest said Chinese businesses, large and small, were eagre to invest and hire workers again, ramping up after the world's no.2 economy eased COVID-19 curbs.
"You can pick holes in it. But generally, it will be a very major growth centre and absorb huge amounts of commodities from around the world as its people really want to get back on track," Forrest said in aquarterly call, updating analysts on production and the company's projects.
The world's No. 4 iron ore miner reported a 4% jump in shipments in the December quarter on a year earlier to 49.4 million tonnes, underpinned by strength across its key Western Australia operations, beating analysts' forecasts and posting a record for the half year.
Fortescue's shares rose as much as 3.4% after the quarterly report, but last traded flat at $22.48.
The Iron Bridge project in WA's Pilbara region will allow Fortescue to blend high-grade output from the project with its typically lower grade ore, raising average quality above 60%, making it more competitive with with larger rivals BHP Group BHP.AX and Rio Tinto RIO.AX.
Forrest highlighted the company aims to rapidly develop the Belinga iron ore project in Gabon, with initial drilling due to start in March.
"We're very excited about getting this into production quickly," Forrest told analysts.
Executives said there was strong support from the Gabonese government for the project.
"They'd like to see us to get into production, even if it's just utilising their existing rail system and cutting a haul road to it," Forrest said, adding, however, that the African rail line would not be as efficient as its Australian operations.
Reporting by Harshita Swaminathan, Sonali Paul, Melanie Burton and Roushni Nair; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Maju Samuel & Simon Cameron-Moore
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