Although Russia accounts for about 14% of global mining, most professionals in the industry know very little about Russian mining. Apart from a few large steel companies most large Russian mining firms are unknown in the market, and few people could name the most important Russian mines or mining districts. However, driven by the huge potential of its reserves and the modernization of its industry the country is slowly gaining a more prominent position on the international mining stage.
This article explores the current situation of the Russian mining industry and identifies two key trends that will shape it in the next decade: a struggle for competitiveness; and internationalization of the key players.
Russia’s Reserves & Production
Russia has been blessed with a large variety of mineral reserves across the country. The peninsulas in the northwest, the Ural mountains, Siberia, and the Far East all house important mining districts. Crucial inputs for economic development, like iron ore and coal, are abundant. The country holds 15-20% of the world’s reserves for these resources. The country’s position in reserves of gold and diamonds is very strong too. For a few minerals with only a small global market, like palladium and magnesium compounds, the country even has the potential of dominating the market. The most important observation when comparing the share of world reserves and the share of current global production is that for almost all key minerals the share of reserves exceeds the share of production (See Figure 1). In other words; it is likely that Russia will become more important in the global mining industry.
Current production in the country is more than sufficient to satisfy domestic demand, making Russia a net exporter of mineral goods. The country’s net export balance for ores, slag & ash was $1.3bln and for iron & steel over $14bln in 2010 (Source: ITC), with China being the largest trade partner for ores and Italy being the primary (initial) destination of Russian iron & steel.
Balancing domestic supply and demand
Russia is growing, and mining is needed to fuel this growth. Russian annual GDP growth varied from 4.7% to 8.1% in the period 2001-2008, outpacing growth in the western world (Figure 2). The economic crisis has hit Russia hard, making the economy shrink by almost 8% in 2009; recovering by 3.8% in 2010. However, growth is expected to outpace western growth in the coming years.
As a result of the high growth of the domestic economy, various industry development could take shape. If productivity increases, the potential of Russian reserves will enable a combination of exports and domestic sales, enabling rapid growth. However, if the Russian companies do not succeed in significantly increasing capacity, productivity will be too low to support both domestic and foreign growth. In this case export restrictions to protect the national growth could be instituted.
The structure of Russia’s current mining production is largely shaped in the Soviet period. Mining districts were set up to provide the country with mineral self-sufficiency decades ago. After privatization in the ‘90s most of the state owned assets have been combined in the current private companies. The privatization and the poor financial situation of the Russian government at the time has led to a typical characteristic of the Russian mining industry: the importance of tycoons. Many private companies are owned and controlled by one or a few founders. These founders were at the right place at the right time and knew the right people at the time of privatization. Their position has further been strengthened by the government’s desperate need for funds, resulting in large amounts of debt being issued to the tycoons.
Whereas company owners in the rest of the world typically try to gain control over companies via the stock market, the large ownership stakes held by the tycoons in Russia lead to frequent power struggles among major shareholders. The struggle for control over Norilsk Nickel is the most recent example: Interros, controlled by Vladimir Potanin, and Rusal, controlled by Deripaska,both try to gain the majority in the board of Norilsk Nickel, one of the world’s largest suppliers of nickel and copper. In the last years the power struggles have led to the emergence of clear domestic champions for most of the key commodities: Rusal for aluminium; Norilsk Nickel for nickel and copper; Suek and Mechel for coal; Alrosa for diamonds; TVEL for uranium, etc. For steel and gold the landscape is (and probably will stay) more fragmented.
“Alrosa, De Beers’ Russian rival, is considering a stock market flotation in 2012 in a move that would open the traditionally closed diamond industry to outside investors. Alrosa, controlled by Russia’s federal and regional governments, has long been the second-largest producer of diamonds behind De Beers. In 2009 the two companies mined half of the world’s diamonds, measured by carat volume. Both are private, limiting opportunities for investors in a commodity that is expected to face a supply crunch in coming years. Fyodor Andreev, Alrosa’s chief executive, has said this would change next year. The Siberia-based miner is converting itself from a closed to an open joint stock company – or from a ZAO to an OAO in Russian corporate terminology. This will allow outside investors to buy new shares and relax ownership restrictions on the tightly-held miner.”
“Alrosa, De Beers’ Russian rival, is considering a stock market flotation in 2012 in a move that would open the traditionally closed diamond industry to outside investors. Alrosa, controlled by Russia’s federal and regional governments, has long been the second-largest producer of diamonds behind De Beers. In 2009 the two companies mined half of the world’s diamonds, measured by carat volume. Both are private, limiting opportunities for investors in a commodity that is expected to face a supply crunch in coming years.
Fyodor Andreev, Alrosa’s chief executive, has said this would change next year. The Siberia-based miner is converting itself from a closed to an open joint stock company – or from a ZAO to an OAO in Russian corporate terminology. This will allow outside investors to buy new shares and relax ownership restrictions on the tightly-held miner.”
- Alrosa is currently owned by federal and regional governments. It operates mines in Russia and Angola, accounting for 25% of global carat production and 97% of the Russian production.
- Total equity value of the company is highly uncertain, making an IPO a high-risk way of raising money. Company profit over 2009 was approx. $110mln, while loss over 2008 was approx. $1bln. The company income appears to suffer from very high cost of debt, with interest rate on interest bearing debt at approx. 13%.
- Alrosa will need considerable amounts of cash to be able to move to underground mining in various mines in Siberia. As the governments are not able to provide the money required for this expansion, they are forced to open up the shareholding structure to attract capital from the market.
- Although the ownership of the company will be loosened, it is unlikely the free floating shares will be a major part of the total company ownership. However, the redistribution of government ownership might cause internal struggles: the federal government currently holds just over 50% of the shares, which would be diluted to below 50% after an IPO.
©2010 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com