Cliffs Natural Profit, Shares Soar

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Cliffs Natural, the Ohio-based iron ore producer, said its fourth-quarter profit more than tripled to $384.4 million, or $2.82 a share, from $108.2 million, or 82 cents, a year earlier, topping the consensus estimate of $2.22 a share. Revenue surged 74% to $1.34 billion.

Cliffs (CLF), which said in January it will purchase Canadian rival Consolidated Thompson for $4.5 billion, was helped by increased demand for iron ore by China, which drove the price of the raw material higher.

The average selling price of iron ore in the fourth quarter rose more than 60% from the same period in 2009. Cliffs said it sold 14 percent more iron-ore pellets in the quarter as North American steelmakers utilized more of their capacity, according to Bloomberg News.

The company delivered the results after the close of U.S. markets, but its shares gained nearly 10% in the after-hours session after closing at $92.88. Earlier in Wednesday's trading session, shares of Cliffs touched a new 52-week high at $93.95. Cliffs increased its 2011 North American iron-ore sales forecast to about 28 million tons because of the addition of 600,000 tons of the raw material not recognized in the fourth quarter because of severe weather conditions, Bloomberg reported.