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Cliffs could halt Bloom Lake expansion if iron price falls

By Allison Martell

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cliffs Natural Resources Inc said on Wednesday that if iron ore prices fell further, it could scrap a key expansion at its Bloom Lake mine in Canada's iron-rich Labrador Trough region.

The company already delayed the expansion, which will double production capacity to 16 million metric tons a year, after benchmark iron ore <.IO62-CNI=SI> prices plunged from a peak of over $190 per metric ton in 2011 to below $90 in 2012.

The price has since recovered to around $120 per metric ton.

"At $90 the project doesn't go, which is consensus right now," Chief Executive Joseph Carrabba told Reuters. "At $110, $120, the project goes. And believe me, the line is that fine when it comes down to the criticality of that project."

Carrabba, speaking at the Steel Success Strategies conference in New York, added that the Cleveland-based company expects to make a final decision on the development this year, with construction set for 2014.

A further expansion targeted for 2016 could take production capacity up to 24 million metric tons a year.

Bloom Lake, acquired through Cliffs $4 billion takeover of Consolidated Thompson in 2011, is considered by analysts to be a key future growth driver.

The company bought its majority stake in the project with the intention of expanding capacity to fuel growing hunger for iron ore from China, which was booming on rapid urbanization.

But demand and prices have since fallen, prompting the late 2012 delay. Many top global mining companies have slowed their iron ore units on softening demand for the steelmaking material.

Shares of Cliffs were up slightly at $18.62 on Wednesday afternoon in New York. The stock has fallen more than 50 percent so far this year, dragged down by a writedown, volatile commodity prices and declining profit.

(Reporting by Allison Martell; Writing by Julie Gordon; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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