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Rio Tinto Expects Volatility, Says Copper Outlook Positive

By Robb M. Stewart MELBOURNE--Rio Tinto PLC (RIO), which is developing one of the world's largest mines in Mongolia, Thursday said the long-term outlook for copper remains positive even though volatility in commodity prices is likely to persist in the near term. Demand for copper has "plenty of growth potential," Andrew Harding, chief executive of the Anglo-Australian company's copper division, said in a slide presentation released to coincide with a resources conference in Hong Kong. Mr. Harding said the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold project near Mongolia's border with China is now 85% complete and on track for first commercial production by 2013. The first phase of the project's development will see the construction of an open-pit mining operation, and will in time be followed by underground development, expansion of the mill and the building of a power station. Rio is the operator of Oyu Tolgoi and majority owner of Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. (IVN), which owns 66% of the project to the Mongolian government's 34%. When fully operational, Oyu Tolgoi is forecast to produce average 1.2 billion pounds of copper a year in the first 10 years, 650,000 troy ounces of gold and more than 3 million ounces of silver. Write to Robb M. Stewart at robb.stewart@wsj.com

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