Top 10 Priorities of Rio Tinto’s CEO Tom Albanese
In the series of specials on the priorities of the CEOs of the world’s leading mining companies we analyze Rio Tinto this time. What is top of mind for Rio’s CEO Tom Albanese?
An analysis of Rio Tinto’s latest annual report; financial reports, investor presentations and the news about the company in the last months yields a list of 10 issues that are likely to be at the top of Albanese’s list of priorities. The list holds strategic, operational, financial and relational activities, each of which are scored in terms of importance and urgency. Priority 1 on the list is the lobby on the new Australian mining tax. Number 2 is restoring the operating margin of the company. The list closes with resetting the focus of the exploration program. Read on for the full list of priorities.
Priority 1 – Lobby against Australian mining tax
Although prime minister Kevin Rudd has been replaced by Julia Gillard, the negotiations about the reformation of the Australian mining tax system stay the top priority for mr. Albanese. If the super profits levy proposed by mr. Rudd would be implemented without changes (which is very unlikely at this point), Rio’s profits would take a hit of approx. 20%. As part of the tax discussions Rio Tinto is re-assessing its portfolio of development projects in Australia, as the feasibility of many projects is endangered by the tax.
Priority 2 – Restore operating margin
The operating margin of the company has decreased most of the large diversified miners, down at less than 20%. Especially in the diamonds and minerals unit major cost cutting needs to take place. Furthermore, the transformation of the aluminium business is to continue to take out more costs.
Priority 3 – Achieve ‘A’ credit status
The balance sheet has been strengthened significantly in 2009, but achieving the ‘A’ credit status remains top priority for the CFO in order to ensure access to capital in the near future. “Prudent balance sheet management” and a “complete review of trading security practices” are mentioned as key issues for 2010.
Priority 4 – Sell Alcan packaging food
Rio undertook a major divestment program of non-core assets to strengthen the balance sheet. It did succeed in collecting $8bln already, but still wants to bring more cash in by selling the remainder of the packaging food division of Alcan for some $2bln.
Priority 5 – Complete Pilbara Iron ore JV
The enormous Western Australian iron ore operations, for which a Joint Venture with rival BHP Billiton has been designed, are getting ready for large scale production. However, the JV is still subject to competition authority analysis. The Australian watchdog will decide end of July, but other countries will be investigating much longer. Getting the Pilbara operations on steam is crucial for Rio’s iron ore supply position to China.
Priority 6 – Develop M&A Decision scenarios
The share price of his company will be a major concern for mr. Albanese. The market capitalization has not really recovered after the first hit of the crisis. The low prices in the industry enable many strange merger and acquisition moves. Albanese survived the acquisition effort by BHP Billiton started late 2008, but will need to be prepared for potential new moves.
Priority 7 – Strengthen relationship with China
A revolutionary deal with Chinalco involving $20bln investment by the Chinese collapsed in June 2009 as shareholders did not support the board’s intentions. With China being the single most important country for development of Rio, which is very dependent on iron ore exports, Albanese will have to find other ways to build relationships with the key decision makers in the country.
Priority 8 – Manage capital projects portfolio
Rio is planning to invest only some $5bln in 2010. However, the projects on which the money will be spend are of strategic importance to the company. Extension of Diavik diamond mine, Building of the AP50 aluminium plant, and development of Oyu Tolgoi Copper mine in Mongolia are the most important capital projects in the development phase.
Priority 9 – Improve operational delivery
Where cost cutting is one of the top priorities, increase output volumes is another key issue. Especially the output of the aluminium operations has been disappointing in recent years. Albanese will be closely monitoring the delivery excellence programs in Madagascar (new industrial minerals asset), Queensland (Clermont thermal coal and Kestrel coking coal) and the aluminium business unit.
Priority 10 – Focus exploration program
Finally, Rio’s exploration program needs renewed focus, mainly in the areas of iron ore and copper. The new Mongolian asset and a potential Bingham canyon extension could secure copper output for some time. The difficult relationship with Guinean government very much increases the need to find new iron ore, as the Simandou development can not be expected to be finished quickly.
Sources: Rio Tinto annual report 2009, Rio Tinto annual review 2009, Rio Tinto investor presentation February 2010
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