Home > Investments, Market change > BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto growing in potash

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto growing in potash

October 6, 2011

“Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian mining group, is re-entering the potash business through a joint venture with a Russian fertiliser producer which holds extensive exploration permits in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Rio will initially acquire a 40 per cent stake in nine blocks covering an area of 241,000 hectares currently held by North Atlantic Potash, a subsidiary of Russia’s JSC Acron. Under the deal, Rio can eventually raise its stake as high as 80 per cent.”

Source: Financial Times, September 28 2011

“Mining heavyweight BHP Billiton is “aggressively” pursuing potash projects in Saskatchewan along with its Jansen asset, the company said on Wednesday.

“Although these are at an early stage, the data acquired suggests they have the ability to support significant potential developments,” spokesperson Ruban Yogarajah said, adding that the combined properties could “at least” match Jansen’s planned output of eight-million tons a year.

BHP Billiton in June said it approved a further $488-million to develop Jansen, bringing its total investment in the project to $1.2-billion.”

Source: Mining Weekly, September 29 2011

Observations:

  • Approx. 33mln tons of potash are mined annually, with Canada accounting for approx. 30% of global production. With price per ton of around $400-$500 the global market totals $13-17bln annually.
  • Both BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are planning to move or expand in the Potash industry. BHP Billiton already is operating in Saskatchewan and tried to make a big move by taking over PotashCorp last year. Rio Tinto sold its potash exploration projects in 2009, but tries to re-enter in a JV with a small Russian player.

Implications:

  • The potash market it currently dominated by 2 marketing ‘cartels’: Canpotex (PotashCorp, Mosaic, Agrium) and BPC (Belarusian Potash Company: Silvinit & Uralkali), which control close to three quarters of global sales and typically copy each others pricing agreements with large customers. The rise of the large diversified players in the business (apart from BHP and Rio, Vale is also building its potash business) could break the power of these cartels and might move the market to pricing based more on spot prices.
  • From a technology and production standpoint it makes a lot of sense to have diversified mining companies, specialized in running large scale extraction projects, operate potash mines. Only on the marketing and sales side of the business synergies will be hard to realize, but companies like BHP and Rio Tinto have the experience and size required to set up a strong marketing presence.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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