Canada's largest diversified miner is feeling the weight of reeling global commodities markets.
Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd., a major supplier of steel-making coal to China, said on Tuesday that first-quarter profit – adjusted for a one-time charge last year – tumbled 40 per cent, dragged down by falling prices for the metals it produces.
"With continuing uncertain global economic conditions, prices for all of our major products were down compared to the first quarter of last year, resulting in lower profits and cash flows," Teck president and chief executive officer Don Lindsay said in the company's statement of results on Tuesday.
Vancouver-based Teck, which produces coal, copper, zinc, molybdenum and some specialty metals, reported adjusted profit of $328-million or 56 cents a share, compared with $544-million or 93 cents in the same period a year ago.
From the first quarter last year to the same period this year, prices for coal, which accounts for 45 per cent of Teck revenue, plunged 28 per cent to $161 (U.S.) a tonne. At the same time, copper prices fell 5 per cent, molybdenum sank 21 per cent and silver dipped 9 per cent.
Cash flow from operations in the first quarter, before working capital changes, was $776-million (Canadian), down from $1.1-billion in the first three months of last year. Revenue for the quarter was $2.33-billion, versus $2.547-billion.
Teck said that "profit attributable shareholders" rose 24 per cent to $319-million or 55 cents a share from $258-million or 44 cents a year earlier. Profit a year ago was affected by a $329-million after-tax charge related to the refinancing of a portion of the company's debt.
The first-quarter adjusted results beat the expectations of analysts polled by Bloomberg for earnings of 38 cents a share, but that was not enough to defray questions about how Teck might fare if the price panorama worsens further.
It's an issue facing most miners these days after prices deteriorated rapidly over the past year, even as costs rose at the fastest pace in decades. As a result, projects have been deferred or shelved in commodities ranging from coal and copper to gold.
Real Foley, Teck's vice-president for coal marketing, said on a conference call with analysts that at current levels, some coal projects were coming under pressure to remain viable. He said that if prices were to fall to the $107-a-tonne level, some coal mines would be uneconomical.
Teck has $320-million in debt obligations through to the beginning of 2017 compared to a little under $3-billion of cash. In October last year, amid building headwinds in the commodities sector, Teck deferred some $1.5-billion in capital spending.
Mr. Lindsay said on Tuesday that if commodity prices were to go a lot lower, the company always has the option of deferring spending on projects such as the Quintette coal project in British Columbia and the Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 copper project in Chile.
At the same time, however, he said the company remained optimistic about commodities demand in the long term, pointing at a rapidly expanding middle class in the developing world.
The company pointed in the short term at healthy demand from steel mills in China in the first quarter, and said it expected that to continue as the year progresses.
"We are watching the market as events unfold, so see which direction its going to go, but for the moment the company is running very well," he said. "We are getting good operating results and we've got good projects ahead of us."