“While the global economic outlook remains uncertain, our balance sheet has never been stronger and we continue to generate sustained cash flows and jobs, invest in growth and focus on delivering returns to our shareholders.”
Mr Forrest – Fortescue’s billionaire founder, chairman and largest shareholder – addressed a media conference yesterday to announce he had secured 10 million coronavirus testing kits from China and urged closer ties between Canberra and Beijing. The calls came amid signs of rising diplomatic tension as the Morrison government seeks a global review into the origin of the outbreak in China. “Australia needs to walk that line where we have a best friend in America, a best friend in China, best friends across South-East Asia,” Mr Forrest said.
The market for iron ore, Australia’s top export, has remained strong this year with prices remaining above $US80 a tonne as China’s steelmakers kept on producing through the lockdowns and supply disruptions emerged in other iron ore-exporting nations. Fortescue said it had shipped 42.3 million tonnes of iron ore in the three months to March 31, ahead of market expectations.
Fortescue and rival miners BHP and Rio Tinto so far have been largely spared from the brunt of virus-related restrictions at their mining operations in the Pilbara, regularly meeting with authorities and introducing strict protocols at their airports and mines to bolster hygiene, ensure physical distancing and minimise infection.
However, Fortescue, like many of Australia’s big resources companies, announced it would scale back its investment spending budget for the 2020 financial year. The miner had initially targeted spending up to $US2.4 billion, but on Thursday revised down the figure to $US2.2 billion.
Ms Gaines said Fortescue had introduced a series of measures to prevent the spread of infection to any of its worksites, including extending operational rosters to reduce staff movement.
“The health and safety of our people, their families and the broader community is our priority, and we have been responsive to the unprecedented global COVID-19 health pandemic and economic crisis,” she said.