FMG fights doubters

Prices and costs are moving in Fortescue's favour. But its debt remains the issue.

The doubters continue to plague Fortescue Metals and its founder Andrew Forrest.

Under attack from global hedge fund operator and notorious short seller Jim Chanos, flighty investors dissect every announcement the company issues.

And so it was this morning. FMG announced that it would step in to take control of two ore processing facilities at its Christmas Creek mine, ousting contractor Crushing Services, following a fatality last month.

Processing was suspended temporarily after the accident as the company assisted in investigations.

But despite assurances today that full year production - and the ramp up to 155 million tonnes a year - would be unaffected by the company assuming management, a number of analysts this morning were sceptical, arguing that production would need to be reduced while practices were improved.

By midday, however, the view was that the move would be positive and could lower costs delivering a 0.8% lift in FMG's share price to $4.63.

Fortescue's nasty brush with liquidity problems a year ago - following a spectacular fall in the iron ore price to below $US90 a tonne - may have been confined to the history books but the fallout continues.

The recent strong performance of iron ore has lifted the company's prospects enormously, with prices remaining above$US130 a tonne, and it has cut costs by bringing lower cost mines on-stream as it ramps up volumes.  That added up to a 20% plus lift in revenue in its most recent results.

Fortescue, however, has an enormous debt burden. And that is its Achilles heel.

Standing at more than $US12 billion, it will need to be repaid during the next decade, right as the huge lift in global iron volumes are expected to push prices lower.

The company recently announced the first steps in that debt reduction program, redeeming some notes early. The 9% notes were the most expensive in the debt portfolio but at $A140 million, is a mere drop in the large ocean that is Fortescue's debt.

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