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Rio Tinto plc (NYSE:RIO)
Q2 2020 Earnings Call
Jul 29, 2020, 4:30 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Menno Gerard Cornelis Sanderse -- Head of Investor Relation

Hello, everybody, and welcome to Rio Tinto's 2020 Interim Results presentation and Q&A session. We will start the session by playing prerecorded presentations from our CEO, J-S Jacques, from Australia; and CFO, Jakob Stausholm, from Europe. This will take just over 30 minutes. Immediately following this, we will hold a live Q&A session for 45 minutes, hosted by J-S; Jakob; Steve McIntosh, Head of Growth and Innovation; and Arnaud Soirat, Head of Copper & Diamonds.

You can find the dial-in number to participate in the live Q&A session on our website under the Presentation section.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Welcome to our first half results presentation. Jakob and I have recorded our presentations but will switch to live streaming for Q&A when Arnaud and Steve will join Jakob and myself. Before we talk about our performance, let's start with an overview of how we see the world. We are in unprecedented times. And these times require unprecedented actions.

There is absolutely no doubt that during this global health pandemic, our industry has been hit by supply and demand shocks on a scale never seen before. No one has remained untouched, on either personal or business level. I am proud of how the team has risen to the challenge to keep our people and communities safe and healthy, to keep serving our customers and to strengthen our financial performance in a highly volatile market. It is about resilience. It is about adaptation. It is about partnership.

Against this backdrop, we have delivered a strong and resilient set of results. Rio Tinto generated underlying EBITDA of $9.6 billion, with a margin of 47%, the same as last year. Our return on capital employed is also high at 21%. Our free cash flow was $2.8 billion, impacted by the final payment of $1 billion in the Australian income tax in June 2020 with respect to 2019 profits. Our balance sheet remains strong with $4.8 billion in net debt at the end of the half. We also continue to invest in growth, investing $2.7 billion in our world-class assets.

And we have returned $3.8 billion of cash to our shareholders, taking our total returns to shareholders over the last 4.5 years to $38 billion, including the first half dividend of $2.5 billion. This supports our TSR, or Total Shareholder Return, of 27%. Our commitment is to deliver superior shareholder value through the cycle. And we have consistently achieved this, year after year. As we do this, we also continue to provide wider economic benefit to society at a time when it's needed.

In this half, we paid $2.7 billion in corporate taxes and $1.2 billion in royalties. So strong operational performance underpins strong financial performance, as does our commitment to sustainability. Of course, not everything has gone well in this half. We are very sorry for the pain we have caused the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People, as a result of the destruction of two rock shelters at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara. I've had the chance to talk to the PKKP direct to hear from their board and restate my personal apologies. I've also reiterated our absolute commitment to understand and learn so we can make sure that the destruction of sites of national significance, like the Juukan rock shelters, never occurs again.

I have also connected with Traditional Owner groups across Australia. And I've spent time on country with the Traditional Owners groups in the Cape and around our Amrun operation in Weipa. As border restrictions ease, I will continue to spend time on country with as many Traditional Owners as possible. These engagements have provided me with really important opportunities to reflect and hear more from our partners. It is absolutely clear. We must learn from what happened at Juukan. Our immediate focus is our partnership with the PKKP. With this in mind, we have already agreed some actions with them to further protect heritage sites on their country, and we are working on further strengthening our relationship.

I will appear at the Parliamentary inquiry next week to share more on the circumstances around Juukan, our learnings to date and our views on potential legislative reform measures. Alongside this, we will support and contribute to the planned review of the Heritage Act in WA, Western Australia. The Rio Tinto Board is also conducting a review, aimed at improving our heritage processes in iron ore. I'm absolutely determined that we all work together as an industry, as governments and with Traditional Owners, to strike the right balance to enable the development of resources as we protect heritage for current and future generations of Australians.

Let me finish this section with an update on safety and health. Our performance has been very strong despite the numerous challenges of coping with COVID. And we have improved our AIFR to 0.37 for the first six months of this year. We had to implement new controls and procedures and use technology in different ways to protect our people and keep our communities safe. Let me give you an example. We are using virtual reality glasses at the Oyu Tolgoi underground project so that all teams can inspect the work at site from their homes. The focus on mental health is even more essential in this environment, and we are supporting the well-being of our teams.

We have introduced LinkedIn online learnings with more than 8,000 employees now enrolled. It is absolutely vital we continue to care for our employees and communities. As you can see, we once again delivered strong operating cash flows of $5.6 billion with a 47% underlying EBITDA margin and a return on capital employed of 21%. We spent $2.7 billion on sustaining our world-class operations and growing the business for the future. We increased leverage on the balance sheet by $1.2 billion in the half. As we paid out $3.6 billion in dividends and completed the final $200 million in our buyback program.

This program, you may remember, started with a $500 million buyback in 2017. We have now completed a total of $9 billion in buybacks. Today, we announced an interim dividend of $2.5 billion, representing 53% of underlying earnings, which is in line with our shareholder return policy. We have one of the strongest balance sheets in the sector. This provide us with resilience and agility, which is absolutely vital in an increasingly complex world. So we are well positioned for ongoing success.

Now over to you, Jakob.

Jakob Stausholm -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, J-S. Good morning, and good afternoon, everyone. Let me start with the market. The main market for our high-quality iron ore is China, which compared to the broader global economy has recovered exceedingly well. China's steel production and demand for iron ore in 2019 was strong, and this has continued despite disruptions in the first quarter. In 2020, crude steel production has again exceeded the one billion tonne annualized run rate and June production was a new all-time high record.

This means that China effectively absorbed the additional iron ore diverted from weaker steel markets in Europe and Asia. So far this year, supply has been constrained as it was in 2019. These factors led to high iron ore prices similar to the same period in 2019. Whilst our iron ore business has benefited from robust demand and resilient prices, other commodities have seen more volatility. In aluminium, the impact of COVID-19 has reduced prices as demand has significantly shrunk, particularly from the automotive sector.

Copper, often named Dr. Copper, initially followed the decline in the world economy. However, later in the half, it recovered strongly, and this has continued with prices now around $2.90 per pound. This is partly due to supply disruption and has been amplified by investor positioning. Lower titanium slag demand was offset by supply disruptions leading to positive prices. In the first half, the world experienced unprecedented conditions stemming from the pandemic.

Against that backdrop, as J-S has already told you, we have today announced a set of very strong financials. First half 2019 represented a five year high and as you can see, this half, we have performed close to those levels. Copper equivalent volumes were flat year-on-year. And in the second quarter, we actually grew by 1% compared to the same quarter last year. Hence, the slightly lower revenue was wholly due to prices. Profitability remained very strong. The return on capital employed of 21% and underlying earnings of $4.8 billion are at similar levels to first half 2019. Net earnings reflected excluded items of $1.5 billion, most notably impairments in aluminium and diamonds.

Given the market conditions, we have prudently assessed and impaired Diavik, NZAS, Bell Bay, Boyne and ISAL, by in total $1 billion after tax. Our balance sheet remained very strong with stable, low net debt. Given our profitability and balance sheet strength, the Board was able to declare an interim dividend of $2.5 billion, which will be paid in September. Let me now analyze our underlying EBITDA and free cash flow in more detail. As I've said, we have had negative commodity prices, and this impacted EBITDA by $0.6 billion. The strong dollar somewhat offset the weaker prices with a positive impact of $0.3 billion.

As you can see, excluding the impact of prices and exchange rates, EBITDA has been very stable. Cash costs for the group have increased slightly, in part due to costs associated with COVID-19. The impact of the earthquake at our Kennecott operations and the earlier-than-planned pot relining at Kitimat are the main items in the one-off and other category. On the surface, our cash conversion looks weak in the first half as underlying earnings of $4.8 billion turned into free cash flow of $2.8 billion, much lower than the cash conversion in the first half last year.

This is due to: firstly, the investment depreciation ratio, which went up in the first half. This is in line with our capital guidance and explains $0.4 billion. Secondly, despite the tough economic environment, we managed to improve working capital by $0.3 billion. Thirdly, the net dividend income ratio from joint ventures went down, resulting in a negative impact of $0.4 billion. Fourth, we paid more tax than we expensed due to timing of payments. And finally, timing differences on provisions had an impact of $0.2 billion. The vast majority of the variances are temporary.

Now turning to product groups. What happened at Juukan Gorge was a sad low point. I deeply regret this and you have my full commitment to working with my colleagues to learn the lessons and ensure that the destruction of sites of national significance, such as the Juukan rock shelter, never occurs again. Throughout the first half of the year, the Pilbara continued to operate with strong safety performance. Productivity on-site has been impressive, in part benefiting from lower maintenance activities. We moved 8% more material and mining operations performed well to plan. This is reflected in the 3% higher production. In the second quarter, our Pilbara operations shipped at an annualized rate of 347 million tonnes.

We're, therefore, confident that we will be able to meet our 2020 guidance. There has also been an improved share of our high-quality Pilbara Blend product. Furthermore, our portside trading business allowed access to a broader range of customers, meeting the needs of our markets and supporting strong pricing outcomes. Operating costs have remained flat at $14.50 per tonne. To keep our people and communities safe, we have incurred one-off unplanned COVID-19 related costs. For the full year, we estimate these costs will amount to $0.50 per tonne. Despite these additional costs, a higher work index at our mines and the increased portion of below water table mining, we continue to target unit cost of $14 to $15 per tonne.

The strong operational performance and continued robust pricing have resulted in revenue and EBITDA increasing by 2%. We are ramping up our investments in sustaining and growth projects despite some disruptions to these in the first half. The Koodaideri Phase one and the Robe replacement projects continue to target production ramp-up in early 2022 and first ore in 2021, respectively. The aluminium industry faced fundamental challenges coming into 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made this worse.

The team has risen to the challenge and has safely maintained production and adjusted the product mix to better match demand. Bauxite production grew by 8% following the ramp-up of Amrun in 2019 and third-party shipments increased by 10%. Production in alumina and aluminium were fairly stable despite pot relining at Kitimat and reduced production at ISAL and NZAS. EBITDA was 18% lower than last year, reflecting the $0.5 billion price impact, which was partly offset by $0.2 billion of cost and volume improvements. 3% return on capital employed reflects the toughest market for the industry since 2015.

Despite this, the business generated free cash flow of $0.6 billion due to the relentless focus on cost, strict capital usage and tight working capital management. Our business remains the most profitable in the industry. However, we are taking action to address less-competitive assets as you will have seen from our releases on ISAL and NZAS. Earlier this year, we said that 2020 will be a transitional year for the Copper business with lower grades and byproducts from Kennecott and Oyu Tolgoi. This has happened in the first half.

But we are still on track to see improvements in 2021. The earthquake at Kennecott had an additional impact and resulted in 43% lower refined copper production. The shutdown and repair of the smelter has concluded, and we are now focusing on the safe restart of the smelter. Copper prices were down during the quarter. However, they are now at a two year high. Diamonds have been severely impacted by COVID-19, leading to less contribution from this business. We continue to plan for the closure of Argyle before the end of the year. In the first half, we made significant progress on our growth projects. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the mine design for Oyu Tolgoi underground has been finalized according to the time line laid out a year ago.

We have also made great progress on Winu, where we now have disclosed the resource estimate. J-S will shortly talk about both of the those important and exciting projects. Our Energy & Minerals business has been impacted by restrictions in Canada and South Africa, where the situation remains challenging. You can see this impact in the slightly lower production of titanium slag. However, this has been partly offset by higher prices this half.

Production at IOC has recovered well, and the business has optimized the product mix, allowing shipments to be diverted to Asian mills and has also taken advantage of portside blending in China to produce the products that the customer needs. Despite the challenges stemming primarily from COVID-19 and community unrest, during the first half, Energy & Minerals recorded a very decent 12% return on capital employed. At the Jadar project, we have completed pre-feasibility, and we have now approved funding for the feasibility study. While we intend to continue to adapt to an extremely unpredictable external backdrop, there's one thing that does not change, and that is our capital allocation framework.

We continue to invest in safely managing our assets and improving their performance. This means that sufficient spending on sustaining capex is always the first priority. The next priority is allocating capital to our shareholders through our ordinary dividend. Then we carefully consider allocating to growth opportunities, balance sheet strength and further shareholder returns. Our investment decisions are carried out with incredible rigor. I believe that this is in the best assurance to our shareholders that we will only invest in opportunities that create value, even more so during turbulent times. Growth for us is all about value generation and returns for our shareholders. It's not about volume. It's about building sustainable cash flow.

We have, over the last few years, consistently talked about a disciplined ramp-up of our capital investments, and that is exactly what we have done. In the first half, capex of $2.7 billion was 13% higher than the same period in 2019 despite setback due to COVID-19. The rate of expenditure is lower than we had originally anticipated, and the amount of capital we expect to spend this year is now around $6 billion. There has been no cancellations of projects, and we are now expecting that due to the revised phasing of work, that we will spend approximately $7 billion in both 2021 and 2022.

The total expenditure over the three year period, 2020 to 2022, is unchanged at $20 billion. The capital component of $1 billion spend in climate abatement projects during the next five years is also included, though this expenditure extends past the end of the guidance period. We are now anticipating that we will spend somewhat more on sustaining capital. This is vital for the health of our assets, and we are already seeing, in the second quarter, early signs of the return from increasing sustained capex in the Pilbara.

Our balance sheet remained very strong. Net debt was steady at $4.8 billion. We also have high liquidity of over $16 billion in a long-dated finance portfolio with an average maturity of liabilities of 10 years. We're very comfortable with the strength of our balance sheet. During uncertain times, this provides resilience, ensures we are able to continue to invest in our business, to provide superior return to our shareholders and create optionality. The shareholder return policy is to pay out 40% to 60% of underlying earnings through the cycle.

As you can see, over the last four years, we have consistently exceeded our policy. The interim dividend has consistently had a payout ratio of around 50%. Today, we announced an interim dividend of $2.5 billion, the same as last year's record interim dividend, reflecting a payout ratio of 53%. The dividend per share is equal to $1.55, which is up 3% due to the completion of the share buyback program. Let me take a step back before handing back to J-S. The results that we have delivered show that Rio Tinto is a strong and very resilient company.

Whilst there has been some disruption, the overall operational and financial results have been excellent and gives us confidence of delivering production and cost guidance for the year. The second half is off to a good start, and while we are still experiencing price volatility, currently prices are higher than the average of the first half. Our portfolio of long-life, competitive and sustainable assets continue to deliver strong profitability and robust cash flow to all our stakeholders.

We will continue to invest in our business and make significant contributions to communities and host governments. Our operational and financial performance, along with our strong balance sheet, allows us to maintain consistent and superior returns to shareholders. We are well positioned against an increasing complex and volatile world, and our strength and resilience should serve us well for the future.

Thank you, and back to you, J-S.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Jakob. In 2020, so far, we have seen unprecedented changes in our daily lives. With things once thought impossible becoming a new normal, such as homeworking and severe travel restrictions, to name but two. It is clear that COVID will be with us for some time. And we need to learn to live with it. It's difficult to predict with absolute certainty the shape of the recovery. Looking at the data so far, we see an industrial-led V-shape recovery in China.

In other major economies like the U.S. and Europe, the recovery is much more tentative. Big questions remain over the trajectory of consumer spending globally in the face of significant levels of unemployment. As we look ahead, there's a wide variety of possible outcomes. As the unprecedented fiscal support from government matches unprecedented impacts to supply and demand. There are a number of uncertainties to consider such as the rate of reopening across countries, the effectiveness of the stimulus measures and, of course, the risk of a second, third wave of the virus occurring until a vaccine becomes available.

But alongside these charges, there will also be opportunities. So the question is this, how will Rio Tinto continue to compete and win in this new word? At Rio, we remain committed to our 4P strategy: performance, people, portfolio and partnerships. And we are developing action plans with three key outcomes in mind: one, how to enhance resilience; two, how to ensure our business adapts quickly; three, how to strengthen partnership.

All with the aim to deliver shareholder value in the short, medium and long term. I will talk to all three in summary. Enhancing resilience for us is really about resilience of performance, from safety to free cash flow. Strengthening our partnerships and quickly adapting will be key to any transformation effort. Each of our assets and commercial teams are stress testing their businesses against these three dimensions for both current and future performance as well as new opportunities. Resilience is key. And so I will cover this in more detail.

As recent events have shown, we need to expect and prepare for the unexpected. And I do not see this changing in a decade ahead. To outperform, companies must be resilient. Enhancing resilience is what we, at Rio, have been focusing on for a number of years. Because it also creates optionality. You can expect the same discipline from us in the future. Let me give you some examples of what I mean. We have strengthened our balance sheet.

Our net debt has moved from $13.8 to $4.8 billion over the last 4.5 years, and we have improved the discipline of our capital allocation process. We have also simplified the portfolio, divesting $12 billion of noncore assets. Together, these moves mean we are well positioned to withstand shocks and move on to opportunities. Resilience also comes from having a clear strategy and a deep knowledge of our customers and market. At Rio, we remain committed to our value over volume strategy to drive performance, productivity and free cash flow per share.

In the current environment, understanding the market and being able to respond is essential. Let me give you an example. At IOC we changed the product mix to meet the demand of our customer in just five days. To create further resilience, we are also enhancing our understanding and management of hazards and critical risk. Safety is non-negotiable for us. It is a core value. And we are doubling down on our efforts to keep our people safe. Finally, resilience for our industry increasingly means managing sustainability issues very well.

At Rio, all of our operations have climate dimensions built into their operational and strategic plans. We are also focused on enhancing our relationship with as governments and communities and employees. These relationships have been critical in recent times and have allowed us to adapt quickly to COVID. As you have heard me say before, this aspect is a make or break for our business. In a world where digital technology and new skills will be needed, our employees remain key to our success. We have invested in enhancing their technical and commercial capabilities.

As we look ahead, employee and leadership diversity will also underpin our performance in addition to partnership, which will be key to how we transform ourselves. So what about our portfolio of the future? In the first half of 2020, we have made good progress on growth opportunities. Our exploration and evaluation team remain well funded and equipped to pursue opportunities through the cycle. We have progressed a number of joint ventures, and this early exploration work is ensuring a solid pipeline of opportunities is emerging, like Winu in the Paterson region.

The project teams have also done a great job to overcome the various obstacles thrown at them as a result of COVID-19. They have progressed our major investment projects like replacement mines in the Pilbara, Oyu Tolgoi underground, and the Kennecott pushback. On partnerships, we have been able to continue to work with our partners at Simandou to optimize the project. A scope of work has been prepared to enable selected China-based design institutes to update the infrastructure elements of the project.

At Oyu Tolgoi, we finished the initial phase of our mine redesign work, which brings greater certainty on schedule and budget. We will operate Panels one & two independently, and further work is taking place to optimize the design. The goal is to make the most of this design feature, to recover as much mineralization as possible. The definitive estimate will be delivered by the end of this year, as we have said. First ore from the underground is expected between October 2022 and June 2023. So, we are pleased with the progress at Oyu Tolgoi.

At Winu, we have announced a maiden resource of half a billion tonnes at 0.45% copper equivalent. As we have said before, we are looking for an entirely different and more agile development pathway at Winu, to accelerate things. To do this, we are continuing our studies for a small open pit operation, which could be scaled up over time. This approach allows us to provide quicker cash flows to shareholders, communities and governments. We continue to see broader development opportunities in the Paterson region. The mineralization we've found two kilometers east of Winu, serves to reinforce this belief.

In closing, our five year story is not just one of strong financial and portfolio performance, it is also a story of consistent capital allocation. Our business generated over $67 billion over a five-year period. More than three quarters, or $55 billion of this, came from cash from operations. On the back of this, we paid $24 billion in dividends, including the 2020 interim, paid an additional $14 billion via buy-backs and special dividends, returning a total of $38 billion to our shareholders. That is equivalent to over 72% of our market cap at the beginning of 2016.

We have reduced our net debt by $9 billion, and we have invested $21 billion in growth and in sustaining our world-class assets. In extraordinary times, we have shown our strength and our resilience. And we have a solid base for future investment and returns. Rio Tinto, like most companies, is entering a new era. We will continue to adapt to make the most of the opportunity this presents. What will not change is our focus on delivering value to our shareholders and our commitment to deliver value to society in the process.

Now let's turn to questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions]

Menno Gerard Cornelis Sanderse -- Head of Investor Relation

Good evening, and good morning, everyone. It's Menno here, Head of Investor Relations. So thank you for joining this live Q&A session of Rio Tinto's 2020 interim results. I'm joined here this morning/this evening by our CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques; our CFO, Jakob Stausholm; our Head of Copper and Diamonds, Arnaud Soirat; and the Head of Growth and Innovation, Steve McIntosh.

[Operator Instructions] With that, operator, please select the first question.

Operator

Your first question comes from the line of Paul Young from Goldman Sachs. Your line is open.

Paul Young -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Yeah. Hi, J-S and team. J-S, question on Simandou, restarting the study work, it's a pretty big deal for the iron ore market. It's pretty clear that the northern block will be developed in the next five years or so. There are huge savings to be gained by Rio Tinto by working with the Chinese consortium in the north. Are you going to look into a joint venture on the infrastructure?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Paul, good to hear your voice. On Simandou is, first of all, let me step back. In all our models, and I guess, yours as well, now that is, Simandou will take place, all right? And similarly will take place with, without the involvement of Rio Tinto. I think that's the first one. The second point is, there has been lots of activity, and you mentioned it, recently in relation to Block one and 2. And from what we can see is the Chinese are pretty active in order to see if there is a pathway to develop those two blocks.

We at Rio the way we're looking at it is to say, with our partners Baowu, the Chinalco is worthy to better understand the value of the option. If you step back, Simandou is a big is a large infrastructure project. And if you think about all the progress that has been made in the last few years in relation to bauxite in Guinea, we're looking at transshipment and so on and so forth. I think the time has come if you think about the activity I just mentioned, in relation to Block one and 2.

And the fact that there are potentially new logistical routes is to look again at what the economics could look like. Now back to your specific question is, if you think through the length of a large infrastructure project, then the scale doesn't matter. And I think it's going to be important for all of us to look at options only in relation to Block three and 4, but we have to look as well at option that involve all the Blocks 1, 2, 3, 4. And that's the work that will be carried.

From our perspective, it's important to understand the value of the option, not only on the project on a stand-alone basis, but to understand is what could be the value of Simandou to complement our product offering, complement the iron ore we sell from IOC, as an example, or complement the product that we are selling out of the Pilbara. Because it is fair to say that in relation to China, the demand for high-quality iron ore will continue to increase going forward. And that's I think that's one of the main reasons why Simandou will take place with or without Rio Tinto developed by the Chinese.

And therefore, it's important for us to understand what is the value of the project in itself on its own right, but to understand as well, what could be the benefits for us, if we were to complement what we are doing in relation to IOC or in relation to Pilbara. But to cut a long story short is we are looking at all options in relation to the economics. Once we have visibility of that the economics, then there can be a concession, in relation to what is the right equity structure to unlock the value of this deposit. But it is still a long way down the road, Paul. Does that make any sense, Paul?

Paul Young -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

No, it makes complete sense, J-S. And one quick follow-up in that case. I mean, under the value over volume strategy, you mentioned that the value needs uplift from the Pilbara. What does this mean to Pilbara volumes if you bring Simandou online? I mean could you let Yandi deplete? Could you let Hope Downs deplete? Let the lower grade deposits deplete?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

For the time being, the way I look at it is I look at it from a customer standpoint, OK? So I look at what are the requirements coming from the Chinese or the Japanese and the Koreans. Because that's primarily all our market here. And try to see how we position ourselves in the best possible way. And look, what we've done this year. We've done some things that we have never done before. We had blended some product of IOC with some products from the Pilbara.

We did product we did blend some product from the Pilbara with some high-grade concentrate from domestic high-grade construct grade from China. So what is important for us is to make sure that we have the best product offering in relation to our Chinese, Japanese and Korean customer to name but a few. So but back to what I said in previous question is let's look at the merit of Simandou on its own right, and then we can have a conversation around how we can complement what we are offering both in out of IOC or out of the Pilbara. So as I said, early days, I'm sure we'll continue this conversation, Paul.

Operator

Next question comes from the line of Jason Fairclough from Bank of America. Please ask your question.

Jason Fairclough -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Yeah, good evening, and thanks for taking these calls. Look, still on iron ore and now more on the Pilbara. There is this general view that the iron ore business has been undercapitalized. You're now in the process of recapitalizing it. Where do you think you are on that journey? And how long is it before the business is really back to an appropriate steady-state level of capitalization?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Thank you, Jason. Good to hear your voice today. I mean, you know as much as I do, Jason, is, between 2003 and 2012, the ore industry went through a massive, absolutely massive capital investment cycle. And then in the subsequent year is the level of the requirement in terms of sustained capex did reduce. We are entering a new phase, and I think we've given some guidance here about the level of sustaining capex that will be required.

But the other piece, which is important is we should step back and don't forget that when you move one million tonnes of iron ore every day, depletion is becoming a reality. So the truth of the matter is we will have to invest in a significant way. And we've given you guidance for the next three years and so on and so forth. In the context of Pilbara, you got the sustaining element, but you have the replacement capex or, what other industry call, development capex.

And we are going to have to continue to invest a lot of money just to stand still. So we've given you a guidance. We are pretty comfortable overall at the group level, where we are for the next three years. Do I believe it will creep even further from there? I don't think so. So take this guidance as a good proxy for the future, Jason.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Lyndon Fagan from JP Morgan. Please ask your question.

Lyndon Fagan -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Thanks very much. Look, the first question is just on the Juukan Gorge issue. I'm just wondering if you could help us understand how many other similar sites sit within the Pilbara that you may need to sort of mine around in future years, depending on what sort of comes about from these various reviews? And I'm just trying to get a bit of a sense of what that could mean for product quality and the like. And the next question is just around Pacific aluminium. Are you able to help us understand the closure cost of Tiwai and given the impairments, whether there's a review imminent for some of the other smelters?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. No. Jakob, you want to start with PacAl, the impairment process we've been through and so on and so forth? And I will pick up the Juukan question after.

Jakob Stausholm -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. Thank you. So we obviously have always taken a fairly conservative view on our aluminium business. We have talked about that before. But right now, with the COVID-19, it's been another pressure point for the aluminium industry. So it should come as no surprise that the two industries that has been seen impairments is diamonds and aluminium. And we basically have written down Bell Bay, Tiwai, Boyne, ISAL to practically 0. We have we're still working hard on our estimate for closure to Tiwai, but I think we have appropriately provided for it.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Thank you, Jakob. So I'll pick up the Juukan question. So I mean the first point I want to make is we are really sorry for what happened, OK? That's clearly not the intent to create such an issue. And we are absolutely, and I am absolutely, determine to understand what happened, to get to the bottom of it in order to make sure it doesn't happen again. There is a lot of work being carried out, but we have already taken some actions. In particular, we have introduced additional screening. We are reviewing all of Section 18.

We have put a very clear process in order to identify the sites which are high-risk and change the delegation of authority. So for the high risk, there is a subset of the exco chaired by myself, for obvious reasons, to decide what we do. We've been managing those heritage sites pretty well for a long period of time, OK? But having said that, we fully acknowledge that something wrong went there. And we will learn from it. So we have put additional measures in place. And where we are today is we can reconfirm the guidance for this year.

So we will have to modify some of the mining plan. The team is on the case, is working on it. And what I can say today is we can reconfirm the guidance for this year, we will provide you as every year guidance in November, December for next year. But rest assured that we've put additional measures to make sure that it doesn't happen again. And for this year, there is no impact on the guidance whatsoever. That's where we are at this point in time.

Jakob Stausholm -- Chief Financial Officer

So, next question please.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Myles Allsop from UBS. Your line is open, please ask your question.

Myles Allsop -- UBS -- Analyst

Great, thank you. What are you concerned that there could be some sort of windfall tax in the second half? I mean, obviously, governments have been paying out lots of money, and you've been making lots of money in iron ore. There's been some sort of speculation in the media that we could see some sort of super profit tax? I mean, how big a risk do you think that is as you look over the next six, 12 months?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Thank you, Myles. I'll from a tax standpoint, is we shouldn't forget that in the first half of this year, we paid $2.7 billion in corporate taxes and $1.2 billion of royalties, right? That's the first point. So yes, we're making a lot of money. But as and when we make a lot of money, we pay a lot of taxes as well. And this point is fully recognized in all the discussion we're having. And I guess your question is primarily around Australia. In all our discussions, we have either the federal or the state level.

They know very well that the best way for Australia to get out of the COVID crisis and the government has been very clear about is, it's about investment. And at this point in time, as we have in the concession, including with the Treasurer again this week, is all the indication is for the government to support us to invest more. And they were, I'm sure they would be very happy to see that we have invested even more than last year. But for sure, no room for complacency. But at this point in time, I've got no indication that there could be an increase in taxation or royalties.

However, that is as of today. What I've learned in the last six months with COVID-19 is expect the unexpectable. But at this point in time, there is no indication whatsoever on this topic. That's the first one. The second point is and it's not only about Australia, it's across all countries. The mining industry is being assessed, so considered by the relevant government as a national industry. Remember, we continue to employ a lot of people. And in the context of Rio Tinto as we are having this concession, we have more than 500 vacancies, right?

So we're still recruiting people. We keep people employed. We pay taxes. We buy lots of product from our suppliers and so on and so forth. So we are contributing to the society in general. No room for complacency. But at this point in time, I don't have any indication that of additional taxation in the context of Australia. But every day is a new day to be honest.

Operator

And your next question comes from the line Alain Gabriel from Morgan Stanley. your line is open, please ask your question.

Alain Gabriel -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Yes, hi. Jean, so my question is around net debt and how you think about leverage. You have refrained in the past from committing to a rigid targets. How or has the pandemic affected how you think about adequate leverage ratios? In other words, will it prompt you to become even more conservative with your internal leverage target as compared to six or 12 months ago?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Jakob, that's definitely a question for you.

Jakob Stausholm -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you. Look, there's a lot of things that we haven't been able to predict. A lot of unforeseen things has happened, but we have had absolutely no change in our capital allocation policy nor in our views on net debt. And as you can see, we have a stable, even slightly declining when you look at the pro forma net debt development here in the first half. In fact, we have the lowest pro forma net debt in 12 years. But quite frankly, we feel very comfortable about that, given the uncertainty in the world right now. But it's not that we are afraid of using the balance sheet, but we just only want to use it if we are convinced that it can create real value.

Alain Gabriel -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you. All right

Operator

And your next question comes from the line of Liam Fitzpatrick from Deutsche Bank. Your line is open, please ask your question.

Liam Fitzpatrick -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Thank you. Just changing tack a bit onto scope three emissions. You made your position clear that you can't commit to emissions, you don't control. But do you plan to disclose more on your downstream investments? And over what sort of time frame can we expect to hear more on that? And linked to that, longer-term, do you ultimately expect to have to invest materially more in downstream technology and R&D?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. That's a very good question. So I think what you said our position on Scope three is clear. Now we are committed to be part of the solution. And that's why, among other things, we have put the in plan the partnership with Baowu in China last year. We are very conscious that we will have to disclose more about those activities. But the work is under way. That's one point. The second point is, as you remember, when we disclose our target Scope 1, two and 3, we committed $2 billion in the next five years.

If I step back is, the situation is the following. Remember, we have two targets or two milestones, let me put it this way. One is in the next 10 years and the other one is by 2050. We believe that in the next 10 years, we should be able to meet the targets we have set for ourselves by using the existing technology. Now if they are development much faster in terms of new technology, then that would be great. But what is clear in our mind is if we want to meet our 2050 target that will happen only if and only if there are some technology breakthrough.

Because otherwise, you simply cannot get there. So in that context, is the name of the game is going to be about partnership. It's going to be a partnership in order to improve our own footprint, Scope one and 2, but it's going to be a partnership about improving the Scope 3, which is the emission generated by the customer or the customer of our customers. So to answer your question is partnership is the name of the game. The second point is we are absolutely clear that we need to invest more money in technology, and we are already doing some things.

We are I can only repeat so many times, we are committed to be part of the solution. And I fully accept that we're going to have to disclose to provide the market with more visibility on some of the work that is being carried out in that space. So bear with us, it's coming. But what is important is to be to show tangible examples of what we are doing and not only a nice slide and so on and so forth, but the work is taking place. Does that make any sense?

Liam Fitzpatrick -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Yes, that's very clear. I mean in terms of timing, could we expect or could we see something later this year or is it more likely in 2021?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Well, every year, we have to disclose more. I mean, one of the questions I have not discussed with Jakob and Menno yet is, should we have an Investor Day this year and because of COVID and so on and so forth. But let's say that in the next 12 months is we will have an Investor Day. And clearly, climate change, sustainability would be a key feature of that. And we will have and we will disclose more because we have nothing to hide. I mean, the only caveat I have in my mind, to be honest, is sometimes some of the work we're doing with our partners are confidential.

And therefore, we are slightly constrained about what we can say. I mean, a good example is the all development of new aluminium technology with our peers of Alcoa and Apple is there are some constraints on what we can disclose, to be honest. But we'll find a way to provide to the market more visibility about the reduction that we are taking place in that space. Because, as I said, we want to be part of the solution and partnership with our customers is absolutely essential. That's where we are at.

Liam Fitzpatrick -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

That's super helpful. Yes, thanks a lot.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Next question please.

Operator

And next question comes from the line of Glyn Lawcock from UBS. Your line is open, please ask your question.

Glyn Lawcock -- UBS -- Analyst

Yes, hello everyone. Thank you very much. J-S, I just wanted to talk a little bit about how Oyu Tolgoi and no one's brought it up yet. And I know it's not an easy one. There's a lot of moving parts. But I wanted to focus more on the estimates you've got excluding COVID. And I know you said, obviously, we're probably going to have to learn to live with it. Just wondering what sort of slippage is it causing? Like if COVID was to miraclly disappear tomorrow, could you get it within the time line? I'm just trying to understand how much that's adding to the time line? And I guess we've got Steve on the line.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Let me thank you for the question. I'll turn to maybe to Arnaud first and then Steve, but let me give you one simple example of what happened this week. And I'm very proud of what the team has achieved. This week, it's the first time we were able or last week, I'm lost in the days now. It's the first time for maybe four, five months, we were able to send a plan with some of our colleagues back into Mongolia. But what people need to understand is that's why I've got the utmost respect for the people who have raised their hands to be on this plan.

They will have to spend five weeks of quarantine in Mongolia before they can do some work. So that is a very practical consequence of what COVID means in the context of a project like Oyo Tolgoi. five weeks of quarantine. So we can't send their family. We're going to have to send our colleague for a long period of time and so on and so forth. So that's the condition in which we operate and so and so on. Now there are some very good stories around how we can use remote technologies and so on and so forth. But maybe on this note, Steve, you want to go first or Arnaud, you want to go first?

Stephen McIntosh -- Group Executive of Growth and Innovation, Health and Safety and Environment

Maybe Arnaud first.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Arnaud?

Arnaud Soirat -- Chief Executive of Copper and Diamonds

Okay, yes, thank you. Cool. I'll let Steve comment on the project, and which is the specific question. I will just add to J-S's comments that at Oyo Tolgoi, as in all of our other operations, a lot of good work has been done to protect our employees from COVID and also to contribute to the well-being of the communities where we operate.

In his video, J-S mentioned a lot of innovations that we have put in place with remote access of experts from all over the world to be able to carry some complex technical/maintenance activities in the operations and in the project as well with our local workforce. So we are definitely inventing new ways of operating. And COVID is a challenge, but it's also full of opportunities. And we are all trying to seize those opportunities. So Steve, if you'd like to make some comments on the project itself.

Stephen McIntosh -- Group Executive of Growth and Innovation, Health and Safety and Environment

Great. Thanks, Arnaud and J-S. Glyn, look, it's a good question. It's not as you said, it's not one that we can easily answer as we sit here. So the as you know, we're working toward the definitive estimate at this time. We now have the final detailed mine designs for panel 0. So those are being flowed into the full assessment of the definitive estimate. What is happening is that the underground lateral development is going extremely well. So we're still achieving record rates in the mine footprint for the development.

What we have said in the this release is that it's the material handling system and the ancillary equipment that's being impacted by the COVID delays. And they manifest in a couple of different ways because we also have to adhere to social distancing rules on sites, according to the government's regulations. So it caps us in terms of headcount. So what we're doing at this time, we had to reduce some of our manning levels for the underground construction workforce. We're now trying to bring those back up, but we are reassigning some of the headcount and capability out of the mine development team back into the construction packages.

At the moment, we're see we're running at about 40% of planned rates in the material handling construction. And we're hoping we're just making the changes as we speak, and we're hoping to bring that back up to higher levels. The other reason why it's complex is, is because we have now switched on the original panel cave plans to block caves. Actually, it gives us some advantages. Because it means that we can isolate further components required to deliver Panel 0 initially. And so some parts, we can actually go faster in fact.

But we can only do that once we have all of the final designs and we've done the definitive estimate work to understand where all the critical parts now flow. And so that will be toward the back end of the year. The teams will absolutely come up with a framework for how we measure the COVID impacts and how we then think about those on a go-forward basis. But as we sit here today, we'll probably be in a much better position to talk to that in the latter part of the year.

Glyn Lawcock -- UBS -- Analyst

And so, yes sorry, just as a quick follow-on.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Go ahead. No, no worries go ahead.

Glyn Lawcock -- UBS -- Analyst

Yes, sorry, J-S. Just as a quick follow-up. Essentially, it's the people that cost all the money, they are the fixed cost. So is it fair to say every year is about half or 3/4 of $1 billion in just salary costs for the workers?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I don't know whether isn't, Steve, that...

Stephen McIntosh -- Group Executive of Growth and Innovation, Health and Safety and Environment

So look, sorry, I I'm not sure. Actually I was going to try. So, Glyn, not really. Because we actually have very high levels of local workers, much higher than what's originally planned. So yes, obviously, there's a cost, there's an overhead cost and the cost of keeping the workforce going in the project. But substantially, we also still have the critical elements that are required to go into the material handling system and then the requirements to complete the shaft with the shaft sinking in the fit outs components.

So it's again, and it's not that straightforward because we've actually seen a lot of people leave the project as well during this time. So it's again, I think by the time we get to the end of the year, when we are able to talk about the definitive estimate in go-forward basis, we'll be able to talk to the impacts of those rates and the overheads and the fixed costs.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Steve. Sorry, I had a technical issue. Can you hear me now?

Stephen McIntosh -- Group Executive of Growth and Innovation, Health and Safety and Environment

Yes.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Can you hear me? Okay. Sorry, guys, something went wrong with the anyway, I'm back. Sorry. Can we carry on?

Stephen McIntosh -- Group Executive of Growth and Innovation, Health and Safety and Environment

Next question please

Operator

And your next question comes from the line of Tyler Broda from RBC. Your line is open, please ask your question.

Tyler Broda -- RBC -- Analyst

Great. Thanks very much. As J-S, as you said, COVID is going to be with us for a long time. And I appreciate it's still early, but with the resiliency in productivity and cost control that you showed in the first half, are there any general positive trends or benefits you've uncovered from having to approach the operations in a different way? And I guess, conversely, when you look out 12 months, what would be the longer-term issues that leave you concerned here?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

No, that's a very good question. And we have experienced I mean, first of all, let's be clear COVID is an absolute human tragedy, right? So we shouldn't forget that. But there are some benefits, we did manage to benefit from it. And one of the benefits of it is really we are rethinking some of our business model. And well, I mean, I'll give you a few example of it. We are clearer about what we need on-site to be able to run them. And we find out that we don't need to have as many people as we need to we used to run the sites and so on and so forth.

Now this was enabled by technology, to a large extent. And I think that's one of the benefits we want to lock-in, in the future. The fact that we had more than 5,000 working from home and it's not all that easy the working from home, I mean, and we shouldn't forget. And I think, I made a point in the speech about mental health issues and so on and so forth. But because of COVID-19, because people had to work in a different way, we have to be much more focused on why we describe the essentials, really the few things that make the business running and so on and so forth. And we had to remove some of, what people could describe as, distractions.

And as a result, the performance is very strong. And therefore, we need to lock in some of those benefits going forward. Now there are some elements which are question mark at this point in time. And one of them is clearly around global supply chain. And that's a piece of work that we are currently doing, which is to say, in order to make sure that we have a resilient business model, what do we need to do in terms of supply chain going forward?

At some point in time and we still have some of the issues in to summarize is, we buy lots of equipment from China. But today, the issue is not China itself, it's the elements, the electronics or whatever that is coming from Europe to be set up installing those equipment in China. So we are exposed to global supply chain. And therefore, there are a few questions that we need to ask ourselves is, should we continue this way? Should we do it a different way?

Should we build some strategic inventory in some areas, either by ourselves or in partnership with others? That's one of the question. And the answer is not clear at this point in time. The other piece is what is absolutely clear in our mind is part of the reason why we had, like everybody else in the industry and the across industry, enter into offshoring contracts was to say that if you have a provider with the service center in India, if the service center collapse in India, then you move to the Philippines, if it collapses in the Philippines, you move to, I don't know, Poland or Mexico and so on and so forth.

And what we have experienced in the last few months that it doesn't always work this way and so on and so forth. So there are some questions where we're going to have to bring back in the company or bring back at least to do some kind of insuring in order to make sure that our businesses is resilient in the very volatile and very uncertain environment. The other areas where we have to do the work, and we're doing it as we speak, is the assumption that we were making even six months ago is that you could move people around all over the world. Today, I can't send any experts in the U.S., for example.

I gave you the example about Mongolia a few minutes ago. So this all assumptions about the ability to move people on short notice is no longer there. So we need to rethink what do we need on a local basis, what do we need on a regional basis and what are the real very few jobs that we need on a global basis using remote technologies and so on and so forth. So your question is absolutely spot on.

That's the work that we are currently carrying. We don't have all the answers, but we want to lock in the new culture, the new ways of working, and we clearly want to look in the performance that we are enjoying today. But there are some questions which are totally need to be worked out in the coming months and coming years and so on and so forth. So that's where we are at this stage.

Tyler Broda -- RBC -- Analyst

That's super helpful. Yes, thanks a lot.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Next question please.

Operator

And next question comes from the line of Sergey Donskoy from Societe Generale. Your line is open, please ask your question.

Sergey Donskoy -- Societe Generale -- Analyst

Yes, hello everyone. I have one follow-up first to the questions asked before. On Simandou, if I understand this correctly, you're now getting down to optimization phase to see how you can bring the parameters of the projects to desired levels. How long do you think this will take, this preliminary phase? And if you could provide maybe some milestones for a couple of years ahead for us to understand how you plan to proceed?

And my main question is about Winu, if I may. Now that it has been officially announced basically that you are going ahead, is it possible to provide some guidance as to what capex for this project may be, if it's included in your guidance for next two years? And what is the planned throughput of the mill?

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Why don't we start with Winu? Come on the Steve. Maybe tell me, tell us, are we healthy as a baby here?

Stephen McIntosh -- Group Executive of Growth and Innovation, Health and Safety and Environment

Yes. So as we've said previously, and J-S was very pleased to be able to deliver the maiden resource yesterday. And basically, we'll be on track by the latter part of this year to talk more about timing and schedule and potential costs. We're working through the key elements of the study as we speak. As we said, the aim here is to be very agile and to be very innovative in our approach to bringing Winu forward into the best of our ability. We are targeting a 2023 commencement of production.

Now we're going through the permitting phase, and we're working through the next phase of the metallurgical results, etc. There will be a natural size that will come out of that work, and we're not ready to talk to that at this time. But I think the other part that I'd say is having declared the initial Winu resource, it just needs to remind everyone that the resource remains open at north Southeast to net debt. And within two kilometers, we're now starting to see this very high-grade gold dominated mineralization. A little bit different to Winu itself.

This entire area is covered by shallow sand cover, but it's essentially blind. And so which means we need to just keep drilling. So I think, as J-S has said on a number of occasions, the concept of potentially a hub or a system, a hub-and-spoke or a system here, still remains a very viable thesis. We've explored less than 2% of the landholding. And we're seeing really encouraging results in some holes that we're in the very recent times, we've just completed drilling. So very exciting, I think, moment in time here.

Sergey Donskoy -- Societe Generale -- Analyst

Absolutely I'm sorry.

Jakob Stausholm -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes, allow me. I'm just wanting a little comment because just to complete the answer is to say and clearly, we all want to talk about Winu because it's such an exciting project. But back to your question. It is part of our capital guidance. What we do with development projects is that we are risking them in our assessments for the $7 billion and the $7 billion in the coming two years. Thank you.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

So on the question on Simandou is I'm not going to commit to any milestone, all right, because although we are clear what we want to do, which is really to reassess the infrastructure we have, I think I've said in the speech, we have already lined up some Chinese design Institute of Chinese engineering company. I'm just one of the question mark I have in the back of my mind is how much work will be required on the ground and how much work we will be able to deliver in the coming months because of COVID-19?

Moving back to my question about moving people. It's very difficult for us to send people into Guinea as we speak. But we will progress it as quickly as we can because we really want to understand the option value here, but I'm not in a position today to give you specific timetable on the milestone. I mean, I could tell you 12 months, but that's I don't think that's that is appropriate at this point in time.

Menno Gerard Cornelis Sanderse -- Head of Investor Relation

Okay. Thank you, everybody. With that, we reached our 45-minute limit. I understand there are a few unanswered questions in the queue. Obviously, we'll be around in the next couple of days to answer, and we'll see several of you on other calls as well. So please don't hesitate to call our IR to follow-up. J-S, Jakob, Steve and Arnaud, thank you very much. And everybody, have a good night and a good day. Bye-bye.

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Menno. Thank you, everybody. Bye for now.

Jakob Stausholm -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, everybody.

Arnaud Soirat -- Chief Executive of Copper and Diamonds

Thank you, bye.

Duration: 73 minutes

Call participants:

Menno Gerard Cornelis Sanderse -- Head of Investor Relation

J-S Jacques -- Chief Executive Officer

Jakob Stausholm -- Chief Financial Officer

Stephen McIntosh -- Group Executive of Growth and Innovation, Health and Safety and Environment

Arnaud Soirat -- Chief Executive of Copper and Diamonds

Paul Young -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Jason Fairclough -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Lyndon Fagan -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Myles Allsop -- UBS -- Analyst

Alain Gabriel -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Liam Fitzpatrick -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Glyn Lawcock -- UBS -- Analyst

Tyler Broda -- RBC -- Analyst

Sergey Donskoy -- Societe Generale -- Analyst

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