Coal exports from Australia's Hay Point port, one of the world's busiest coal terminals, fell 24 percent in December as steel mills in Asia ordered less coal amid a global economic slowdown. Figures from the port operator's Web site showed Hay Point, located in the northeastern state of Queensland, exported 2.57 million tonnes of coal, down from 3.38 million tonnes in November and 3.23 million tonnes the same month a year earlier.

The port, which has an annual capacity of 44 million tonnes and is operated by the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance, largely handles coking coal destined for Asian steel mills.

Spot prices for hard coking coal have nearly halved from early last year to about $140 a tonne in recent weeks as steel mills cancel orders amid the global financial crisis, prompting more miners to scale back on production.

Rio Tinto's (RIO.L)(RIO.AX) fourth-quarter production report on Thursday showed it was cutting back on coal exports.

Hard coking coal exports from Rio's Queensland mines fell 1 percent on the previous quarter to 7.43 million tonnes. Rio said last week it would cut output by 15 percent at its Kestrel mine in Queensland because of reduced demand.

Falling production of industrial raw materials such as coal, iron ore and copper saw some analysts on Friday trim their forecasts for Rio Tinto's 2009 earnings. (Reporting by Bruce Hextall; Editing by James Thornhill)

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