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UPDATE 1-Vale's fourth-quarter iron ore output edges down

(Adds more details, context)

By Peter Frontini

SAO PAULO, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Brazil's Vale SA , one of the world's largest mining companies, on Tuesday reported a fourth-quarter 1% fall in iron ore production from a year earlier, while the sales volume of nickel soared

The company said it produced 80.85 million tonnes of iron ore during the last three months of 2022, sending its annual output to 307.8 million tonnes, slightly below its 310 million tonne forecast.

Vale blamed seasonally higher rainfall levels in its mines in Brazil for missing its forecast, as well as slower licensing processes in its Northern System.

Sales volumes of iron ore, a key material for making steel, fell 0.7% in the quarter, but still came in 24.2% above the previous three months, the company said.

Vale's production of nickel fell 1.3% to 47,400 tonnes in the quarter, after scheduled maintenance stoppages at plants in Canada. Its sales volumes, however, soared 30.2% to 58,200 tonnes, as the company shifted pent-up stocks to fulfill supply contracts.

Last month, Vale predicted an 2023 nickel output below last year's levels while iron ore production should remain flat.

The metal is also a key material for the booming electric vehicle industry, where it is used in the cathode component of batteries. Vale has struck contracts to supply nickel to major auto makers including Tesla and General Motors.

Looking to capitalize on soaring demand for nickel and copper from the EV market, Vale has been seeking a partner to buy a minority stake in its base metals unit.

Earlier this month, it said it had received non-binding offers for the stake, but did not disclose any names. (Reporting by Peter Frontini; editing by Diane Craft)