Stock Analysis | Rio Tinto

Why We Bought RIO at $92.74 (ASX: RIO)

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On 27 October 2020, we bought Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) at $92.74. Our technical signals flagged a DeMark Sequential 13 Buy, suggesting a bottoming in the share price whilst fundamentals became increasingly attractive. We believed iron ore prices would continue trending higher on robust steel demand and an infrastructure-led economic recovery in China. RIO was our preferred exposure due to its history of production reliability and high fully franked dividend pay-out. We maintained a position after Brazil’s largest iron ore producer, Vale (NYSE:VALE), downgraded iron ore production guidance for 2021 which is expected to prolong the iron ore supply shortfall.


DeMark Sequential Indicators can be used to find turning points by identifying buying or selling exhaustion. We timed our entry into RIO by using a DeMark 13 Buy at the 200ma, signalling that the stock price had technically bottomed. The blue ribbon labelled “B” in the chart below marked our entry point. Similarly, a DeMark 13 Sell signal suggests a stock has been overbought and can be used to identify when to take profits.


Iron ore demand is largely driven by China which imports over 80% of Australia’s iron ore exports. In response to the Global Financial Crisis, China allocated ¥4 trillion to infrastructure spending which drove global iron ore demand. We expected China to similarly ramp up infrastructure spending to stimulate economic activity in response to the COVID-19 downturn.


RIO was our preferred lower risk iron ore producer at the time as it yielded 6.9% before franking and had reaffirmed their 2020 iron ore production guidance of 324Mt to 334Mt. It has a diversified production portfolio of base metals (iron ore, copper, aluminium etc.). We believed the market was too conservative in its forecasts and that the iron ore price could remain higher for longer. This would allow RIO to continue to enjoy elevated levels of free cash flows and payout large dividends for longer.

Source: Factset. As of 27 October 2020


From a portfolio management perspective, RIO was an attractive opportunity to provide market exposure that was uncorrelated to interest rates. At the time of investment, treasury yields were trading near the bottom of their range and were at risk of rising with additional macroeconomic stimulus. Higher treasury yields increase the discount rate applied to equities, placing downward pressures on valuations. We found that the materials sector had little sensitivity to treasury yields.


The production downgrade from Vale drove further upside in RIO. In 2019, a dam collapse in Brazil forced Vale to drastically scale back iron ore production to 312.5Mt in 2019, down from 385Mt in 2018, which created a material supply shortfall and caused the iron ore price to rally. In 2020, Vale production was again impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, driving a further rally in iron prices.

For 2021, the market had initially expected a material rebound in Vale production given that COVID-19 restrictions were being lifted and that Vale had repeatedly reaffirmed its 400Mt iron ore production target by 2022. On 2 December 2020, Vale downgraded 2020 production targets and issued a disappointing 325Mt target for 2021. The implication was that the supply shortfall would be extended for at least another year, driving another rally in the iron ore price.

RIO rallied 11.7% in the week after the production downgrade from Vale. Whilst the size of the move may appear excessive, it can be explained by two additional factors. Firstly, Australia is the largest exporter of iron ore and has geographical proximity to the largest importer, China. This positions Australian iron ore producers to best benefit from global supply disruptions.

Secondly, increased Chinese reliance on Australian iron ore exports reduces the risk of protectionism. In 2020, China imposed import restrictions or tariffs on wine, barley, beef, cotton, lobsters, and coal. The heightened risk of similar restrictions on iron ore prompted investors to apply a discount to RIO, which lifted as risks dissipated with the Vale production downgrade.

Source: Vale 2020


We bought RIO for its attractive dividend yield on iron ore upside and timed our entry using our technical indicators. A surprising but favourable production downgrade from Vale further reduced risk for RIO and allowed us to take profits at levels higher than initially anticipated.

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