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Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has decided that the best way to cope with a slip in iron ore prices is to bank up its copper production as fluctuating prices cause issues for long-term planning in the mining sector.

With ongoing trade disputes between the US and China leading to a seriously volatile market worldwide, many commodities have struggled to find a stable position, which has seen manufacturers and producers struggle to determine the volume necessary to satisfy demand.

Upon release of its third-quarter figures, Rio Tinto said that its results were “consistent,” as its copper returns made up for the decrease in iron ore production. 

Copper was up 2% compared to Q2 for the mining giant and a whopping 32% compared to the same time last year, which shows just how much has changed in the market in a relatively short period.

The company said that it mainly attributes its rise to a higher production grade in one of its mines in Utah, the Bingham Canyon. Copper production varies widely depending on location, with sites in Chile seeing a drop and sites in Mongolia staying relatively flat.

Rio Tinto has seen its other mineral mining formats struggle, with diamonds a particular concern in its Argyle mine in Western Australia, which is down 19% in production compared to the same period last year. A similar picture is emerging at the Diavik mine in Canada.

Overall diamond output should be between 17 million and 20 million carats for the company, which is down from the 21 million carats produced last year.

While iron ore made up 59% of Rio Tinto’s profits last year, this growth slowed in 2018 due to several unexpected circumstances, including a fatality in one of its plants and a pause in planned maintenance projects.

Aluminum remained fairly stable, while bauxite production fell 4% compared to the prior quarter. Due to strikes at a site in Quebec, Rio Tinto had to reduce its expected forecasts for the versatile metal.

Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sebastian Jacques said that the company’s mines “have delivered consistent operational performance in the third quarter” and attributed this to its successful copper output.

Jacques discussed the move away from coal, as it is no longer the asset that it once was. The debate on climate change has resulted in some people considering coal one of the dirtiest fuels available. Having made “strong strategic progress with the full exit from coal,” Rio Tinto received support from a series of shares buy-backs. It aims to exit Grasberg, with which it has a binding contract, for $3.5bn.

Noting that the company will “continue to pursue all opportunities to improve productivity and drive enhanced cash flow generation,” Jacques said that the “disciplined allocation of capital” will enable them to “deliver superior returns to our shareholders” both now and in the future.

Rio Tinto has struggled to maintain positive growth in its share price this year, and its stock is already down 6% for 2018. Following its Q3 results, its share value fell by 0.5% to reach 3,716.50 pence on the London Stock Exchange, which shows the uphill battle that mining companies are facing to stay profitable.