Cleveland-Cliffs, a major player on Minnesota's Iron Range, posted third-quarter earnings more than seven times higher than last year, signaling that its multiyear recovery is on sure footing.
Ohio-based Cliffs — which operates Hibbing Taconite, United Taconite and Northshore Mining in Minnesota — said Friday its third-quarter revenue was up 24.3 percent to $742 million. Net income was $438 million, or $1.41 per share, up from $53 million, or 18 cents a share, in the same period a year ago.
Adjusted earnings, which excluded discontinued operations and one-time items, were $250 million, a 66 percent increase from third quarter 2017.
The results were good enough for the company to announce this week that it will start awarding a quarterly dividend of 5 cents per share. Analysts applauded the dividend news during a conference call with company officials Friday morning.
"This quarter's results are another clear demonstration of the strength of Cleveland-Cliffs' unique business model as a supplier of highly customized high-grade iron units to select steelmakers," said Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves during the call. "The success of our four-year transformational journey is on full display. As we begin to wrap up the year, we expect current strong market conditions to support our strong profitability through the next quarter and into 2019."
Cliffs has sold overseas ore operations and exited coal operations. Now the company is primarily focused on iron ore mining and processing in Minnesota and Michigan. It also is building a new hot briquetted iron (HBI) processing facility Toledo, Ohio, that should open in 2020.
The strong quarterly earnings announcement came a week after Cliffs achieved a four-year labor agreement with 1,800 United Steelworkers in Minnesota and Michigan.
Goncalves said Friday the company will continue fighting for a mining presence in Nashwauk, Minn., the site of a controversial $2 billion construction project that has been mired in bankruptcy court, management battles and a host of lawsuits in the past few years.
The Nashwauk mines are caught up in the bankruptcy of Essar Minnesota. Mesabi Metallics has bought Essar's assets out of bankruptcy and plans to finish building the project.
However, Cliffs owns adjacent land that was originally part of the Essar project and wants to start mining on it. The company has claimed in a lawsuit that the state Department of Natural Resources has declined to change the name on the permits on that land to Cliffs, impeding Cliffs' ability to move forward with its plans.
It also has had disputes with Mesabi over the land.
Goncalves has been highly critical of the process surrounding the Nashwauk site, and he repeated his criticisms Friday. He said he has met with Tim Walz and Jeff Johnson, the major gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota, and hopes a new administration will take a fresh look at all the issues surrounding the mine.
Court decisions regarding Cliffs' mining-permit lawsuit have yet to be made. In addition, Nubai Global, Mesabi's new owner, is still working out which financial partners will ultimately participate in the Nashwauk project. Nubai announced last month that the Swiss-based commodities trading firm Mercuria Energy has signed a letter of intent to become the project's lead shareholder.
Cleveland-Cliffs stock closed Friday at $11.05 a share, down 43 cents. The stock experienced volatility — dropping as much as 10 percent during the first hour of trading — after an analyst mistakenly reported that Cliffs had missed the consensus third-quarter estimate forecast by Wall Street analysts.
During Friday's hourlong call with analysts, Goncalves spent several minutes unleashing a tirade of insults about the analyst in question.
"You are a disaster. You are an embarrassment to your parents," Goncalves said on the call after suggesting that the analyst "should resign."
Without initially naming the man, the usually colorful Goncalves continued: "We are going to screw this guy so badly that I don't believe that they will be able to only resign. They will have to commit suicide."
Goncalves later called out the Goldman Sachs analyst by name — Matthew Korn — during the call and demanded that he ask a question. Korn, however, was not on the conference call. A Goldman Sachs spokesman told Bloomberg and other news sources the firm would not have a comment.
Goncalves later defended his remarks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.