Rio Tinto's 2010 profits triple to $14bn

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Media captionMark Heyhoe, Westhouse Securities: China to continue to drive growth

Annual profits at mining giant Rio Tinto have nearly tripled on the back of rising commodity prices and strong growth in emerging markets.

The Anglo-Australian company reported net profits of $14.3bn (£8.9bn) for 2010, up from $4.9bn in 2009.

It said it would return $5bn to shareholders through a share buy-back programme by the end of 2012.

"Rio Tinto is reinvigorated, running strongly and benefiting from favourable markets," said chief Tom Albanese.

The company also announced a final dividend of 63 cents per share.

That took its total dividends for 2010 to 108 cents per share, marking a 20% increase on its previous commitment.

UBS analyst Glyn Lawcock said profits were broadly in line with forecasts, but the dividend increase was ahead of expectations and the share buy-back had come about six months earlier than anticipated.

"Rio has come and surprised people on the upside with the dividend and the buy-back. The buy-back is clearly positive and it's what shareholders were asking for," he said.

Sector benefits

Rio Tinto

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Prices for commodities - including coal, metals, grain and cotton - are rising, pushed higher by increased demand from emerging economies, as well as concerns about supply caused by natural disasters including the recent flooding and cyclones in Australia, and last year's wildfires in Russia.

Chief executive Tom Albanese indicated that prices could keep rising, as emerging markets continued to grow.

But he signalled that the withdrawal of government economic stimulus measures could cause problems in future.

"The timing and speed at which post-global financial crisis stimulus packages are removed have the potential to generate both volatility and substantial swings in commodity prices," he said in a statement.

But he added that he thought Rio was well-placed to deal with such eventualities.

Share boost

The higher commodity prices have led to increased profits for mining companies, and push up share prices in the sector.

On Tuesday, Xstrata said its annual profits had quadrupled to $6.6bn.

Shares across the mining sector have risen by about 8% over the past year, while Rio Tinto's shares have jumped 29% over that period.

In a separate statement, Rio said it had extended the offer period for its takeover bid of Sydney-based Riversdale Mining by 14 days.

Rio's bid has the support of the Riversdale board, and Rio confirmed that no other offer had emerged.

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