The Group’s policies on financial risk management are clearly defined and consistently applied. The policies look to ensure that the Group has an appropriate capital structure which enables it to manage the risks faced by the organisation through the commodities cycle. The general approach to financial risks is to ensure that the business is robust enough to enable exposures to float with the market. However the Group may choose to fix some financial exposures when it is deemed appropriate to do so.
Treasury management and policies
Treasury is a centralised support and service function that acts as the custodian of the Group’s cash and balance sheet and its key financial risks. It performs its activities in a strong control environment, within board approved limits. It is not a profit centre. It is responsible for managing liquidity through funding and investments as well as financial risks such as foreign exchange, interest, financial counterparty credit, commodity, insurance and pension risk. It is also responsible for managing banking relationships across the Group. Rio Tinto does not acquire or issue derivative financial instruments for trading or speculative purposes; nor does it believe that it has material exposure to such trading or speculative holdings through its investments in joint arrangements and associates.
Derivatives are used as and when required in order to manage the Group’s exposure in accordance with its underlying financial risk management principles. Bank counterparty exposures are managed within allocated credit limits. Investment, funding and cash management activities are managed and coordinated by Treasury.
The Group’s interest rate management policy is generally to borrow and invest at floating interest rates. This approach is based on historical correlation between interest rates and commodity prices. In some circumstances, a higher proportion of fixed-rate funding may be considered appropriate.
Rio Tinto’s shareholders’ equity, earnings and cash flows are influenced by a wide variety of currencies due to the geographic diversity of the Group’s sales and the countries in which it operates. The US dollar, however, is the currency in which the majority of the Group’s sales are denominated. Operating costs are influenced by the currencies of those countries where the Group’s mines and processing plants are located and also by those currencies in which the costs of imported equipment and services are determined. The Australian and Canadian dollars are the most important currencies (apart from the US dollar) influencing costs. In any particular year, currency fluctuations may have a significant impact on Rio Tinto’s financial results. A strengthening of the US dollar against the currencies in which the Group’s costs are partly determined has a positive effect on Rio Tinto’s underlying earnings.
Given the dominant role of the US currency in the Group’s affairs, the US dollar is the currency in which financial results are presented both internally and externally. Borrowings and cash are predominantly denominated in US dollars, either directly or through the use of derivatives.
The Group’s normal policy is to sell its products at prevailing market prices. Exceptions to this rule are subject to strict limits laid down by the Rio Tinto board and to rigid internal controls.
The Group is exposed to credit risk from its operating activities (primarily from customer receivables) and from its financing activities, including investments in government securities, deposits with banks and financial institutions, other short-term investments, interest rate and currency derivative contracts and other financial instruments.
Customer credit risk is managed by each business unit subject to Rio Tinto’s established policy, procedures and controls relating to customer credit risk management. Credit limits are established for all customers based on internal or external rating criteria.
Where customers are rated by an independent credit rating agency, these ratings are used to set credit limits. In circumstances where no independent credit rating exists, the credit quality of the customer is assessed based on an extensive credit rating scorecard.
Outstanding customer receivables are regularly monitored and any credit concerns highlighted to senior management. High risk shipments to major customers are generally covered by letters of credit or other forms of credit insurance.
Credit risk from investments in government securities (primarily US Government), corporate and asset backed or money market funds and balances with banks and financial institutions is managed by Group Treasury in accordance with a board-approved policy. Investments of surplus funds are made only with approved counterparties who have been assigned specific credit limits beforehand based upon specific assessment criteria. The counterparty credit limits are reviewed by the Rio Tinto board at least annually. The limits are set to minimise the concentration of credit risk and therefore mitigate the potential for financial loss through counterparty failure.
Liquidity and capital
The Group’s overriding objective when managing capital is to safeguard the business as a going concern whilst maximising returns for the companies’ shareholders. In practice, this involves regular reviews by the board and senior management.
These reviews take into account the Group’s strategic priorities, economic and business conditions and opportunities that are identified to invest across all points of the commodities cycle, and the focus on the progressive dividend policy, and other forms of shareholder return whilst also striving to maintain a strong balance sheet. The resulting capital structure provides the Group with a high degree of financial flexibility at a low cost of capital.
To maintain a strong balance sheet, the Group considers various financial metrics including a target net gearing ratio of 20 to 30 per cent, the overall level of borrowings and their maturity profile, liquidity levels, total capital, cash flow, EBITDA and interest cover ratios either on a statutory reported basis or as expected to be adjusted by the credit rating agencies.