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Posts Tagged ‘aluminium’

Recycling & the Future of Mining

April 15, 2012 7 comments

For thousands of years the mining industry has supplied the world with the raw materials the growing population needed for ever increasing consumption. However, mining is not the only supplier of these raw materials. Next to the primary mining industry a secondary mining industry is growing: ‘urban mining’. The existing stock of materials in the urban environment is recycled more and more. 38% of iron input in the steel making process comes from scrap. The average ‘new’ copper cable contains some 30% recycled material. The more we recycle, the less we need to mine. As mining costs increase because ‘easy’ mineral deposits are becoming scarcer and as technological improvements make recycling more competitive, the impact of urban mining on the traditional mining sector grows. How does this change the perspectives of the mining industry in the long term? And which factors will play an important role in shaping this future?

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Mining Week 15/’12: Coal in Mongolia, no coal in Australia.

April 9, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Chalco bids for Mongolian coal miner
    • Chalco (holding company = Chinalco) made a tentative $930mln offer for 57.4% ownership of SouthGobi Resources, a Canadian listed company, currently owned by Ivanhoe resources.
    • Sources: Financial Times; Wall Street Journal
  • Coal production issues in Australia
    • BMA, the coal JV between Mitsubishi and BHP Billiton in Queensland, declared force majeure after a week long strike in some of its mines. The labor conflict has been going on for almost a year, with workers campaigning for better contract rights for contracted workers and to retain the union’s power in recruiting decisions.
    • Sources: Financial Times
  • Alcoa again cuts production
    • Alcoa, the largest aluminium producer in North America, announced it would cut alumina production by 2% to support prices.
    • At the start of the year Alcoa cut aluminum production, at that time by 12% and mainly in the USA. The 2% alumina cut is said to be aligned with this 12% ‘final product’ cut.
    • Sources: Wall Street Journal; Financial Times; Alcoa press release

Trends & Implications:

  • The potential Chalco – SouthGobi deal appears to be engineered by or via Rio Tinto. Chinalco owns a significant stake of Rio Tinto, which became the majority shareholder of Ivanhoe recently with the key objective of quickly developing the Oyu Tolgoi gold-copper mine (also in Mongolia).
  • Despite a general demand boom which has not passed aluminum many major aluminum producers are posting losses. Profit margins over the past 10 years average below 10%. The key reason for this situation is an overcapacity resulting in oversupply and high inventory levels. Aluminium is currently one of the very few mined natural resources that could be seen as a ‘demand-driven’ market rather than a ‘supply-driven’ market for price setting. However, as more and more producers cut investment, the demand growth fundamentals should invert this situation in the next couple of years.

Alcoa's long term demand outlook as presented end of 2011

©2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 01/’12: New year – Same fear

January 7, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Alcoa cuts aluminium production in fear of lower demand
    • Alcoa announced shutdown of 532,000 tonnes of smelting capacity at the top of the cost curve to lower production costs and improve competitiveness. The 12% reduction of capacity mainly hits operations in the USA.
    • Sources: Financial Times; Wall Street Journal; Alcoa news release
  • Potashcorp temporarily closes a third mine because of low demand
    • After recently temporarily closing down Lanigan and Rocanville mines, PotashCorp now decided to temporarily close Allan mine to because of lack of demand for fertilizer. The combined shutdown of the three mines results in approx. 1 million tonnes of potash, or some 10% of the company’s annual production.
    • Sources: Wall Street Journal; PotashCorp Q4 market analysis report; text
  • Unions in Canada and Zambia make their case for wage increases
    • A union representing copper mine workers in Zambia signaled the foreign miners will have to agree to higher salary increases than the average offer of 11% to prevent widespread strikes. At the same time Rio Tinto Alcan and Caterpillar are taking a strong position against unions in Canada by locking out union workers after expiry of the negotiation periods.
    • Sources: Wall Street Journal on Zambia; Wall Street Journal on Canada

Trends & Implications:

    The mining industry for the last 2 years has been and continues to be gripped by 2 paradoxical fears:

  • The fear for slowing demand due to the lack of recovery after the financial crisis – With the financial crisis over 4 years old already the typical macro-economic cycle of 6-9 years has clearly been disrupted. Governments and companies are still operating in ‘crisis fighting’-mode because demand does not pick up like after a regular economic downturn. Large investments are still undertaken because the belief in the long term demand driven by population growth and growth of average GDP/capita is unchanged, but at the same time companies are trying to manage short term lack of demand by scaling down or temporarily closing operations.
  • The fear for strikes and civil unrest resulting from struggling individuals facing mining companies that continue to realize high profits – Despite the financial volatility the commodity prices generally have remained high, making mining companies among the few companies in the world that continue to generate high profits. With people around the world facing the economic crisis and feeling its impact, friction develops between the rich companies and the less well off workers and neighbours.

©2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 46/’11: Hard times for emerging market multinationals

November 13, 2011 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Vedanta reports disappointing results
    • Earnings of the industrial metals miner with many operations in India dropped despite revenue increase of 43% for the half year. Reduced earnings were caused by losses in the aluminium group and by a weak rupee (with 45% of revenue in India).
    • Sources: Vedanta results presentation; Financial Times; Wall Street Journal
  • Anglo and Codelco battle over Sur
    • Only days after Anglo agreed to pay $5.1bln for a 40% stake of De Beers, it decided to sell a stake of its Chilean Sur copper project to Mitsubishi for $5.4bln. The sale has led to disagreement with Codelco, which claims to hold an option on 49% of the total project, not just on Anglo’s share.
    • Sources: Anglo American press release; Financial Times; Wall Street Journal
  • Caterpillar chooses to produce in USA and Indonesia, buys into China

    Trends & Implications:

    • Though the results for Vedanta were not met with enthusiasm on the markets, they were in line with the strategy set out by the management in May: growth, long term value, and sustainability. Vedanta currently chooses to increase its market share instead of generating high profits, in the awareness that the current development will for a large part determine which companies will be the emerging market multinationals of the future.
    • The fight between Anglo and Codelco over the ownership stakes in the Chilean copper assets is flanked by a fight by Japanese co-investors and traders. Codelco sided with Mitsui to build its 49% stake at a low valuation, but Anglo found a way to get a higher price by selling part of the asset to rivaling keiretsu Mitsubishi.

    M&A overview update

    The M&A overview of the Business of Mining has been updated with Anglo’s 40% acquisition of De Beers.

    ©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 43/’11: Uncertainty in Indonesia

October 23, 2011 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Freeport McMoran faces strikes in Indonesia
    • About half of the workers at Freeports’ Grasberg mine went on strike to demand higher pay, forcing the company to shut down operations. Several strikers have been killed by police and unknown gunmen in the past week.
    • Sources: FCX press release; Financial Times; Wall Street Journal
  • Rio Tinto sells aluminium, buys uranium
  • BHP shops for iron ore in Brazil
    • Junior miner Ferrous Resources, worth just over $3bln, is looking for a buyer. BHP Billiton and a Chinese company are talking with management to negotiate a price.
    • Sources: Financial Times; Fox Business

Trends & Implications:

  • Freeport’s social troubles in Indonesia are the latest labor issue in a rise of labor unrest in the latest year after years of relatively peace in the industry. The unrest mainly affects copper producers, which have seen profits rise with high copper prices, but did not want to increase worker’s compensation too much to secure long term competitiveness.
  • The large diversified miners are increasingly focusing their attention on a limited number of extremely large operations, divesting smaller operations. With the spending power of the ‘mining supermajors’ a divide seems to open between the few operators of the world’s key supply areas and the many operators of a range of smaller operations.
  • Rio Tinto might face challenges selling the unwanted aluminium assets in one package. Very few companies are able to do acquisitions worth over $7bln, and many of the companies that have the spending power might face antitrust limitations.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Russia: Silent Mining Giant

June 16, 2011 Comments off

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

Figure 1 - Russian mining production and reserves

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.

Corporate Landscape

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.

Figure 2 - Russian and global GDP growth

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.

Attracting investment

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Potanin backs Norilsk’s role in Rusal fight

“Vladimir Potanin, the Russian tycoon, has defended controversial actions by the management of Norilsk Nickel during his bitter battle for control of the mining company with rival Oleg Deripaska, insisting that they have protected shareholder value. In his most extensive comments since the conflict flared up again last year, Mr Potanin told the Financial Times that his Interros holding company and Norilsk’s managers were not acting together against Mr Deripaska’s Rusal.

The dispute became public after Rusal ended up with three board directors at last June’s annual shareholder vote, against Interros’s four. The aluminium group accuses Norilsk’s management of manipulating the vote in favour of Mr Potanin’s group.

Mr Potanin said tensions had simmered for six months before June’s shareholder meeting, after Rusal representatives on the board voted against Norilsk’s 2010 budget, demanding it should include big dividend payments.”

Source: Financial Times, May 8 2011

Observations:

  • Despite holding 25% of the ownership of Norilsk Nickel and being on the company’s board, mr. Deripaska has not managed to exert control over the miner. Although Potanin’s Interros does not hold a majority in the board, it can count on the support of Norilsk’s management to control the course of the company.
  • Board composition is depicted below:

Implications:

  • Rusal’s ally Metalloinvest, which holds 4% of Norilsk, is seeking to merge with the company. By trying to increase its share in the open market it could change the voting dynamics in future shareholder meetings to bring control over the company to Rusal’s side, enabling a friendly merger.
  • Deripaska has announced not to sell Rusal’s 25% stake, but Interros will try anything to ensure he will not gain control. One of the current actions of the company to prevent Rusal from gaining control is a share buyback program via Norilsk’s subsidiary Corbiere Holdings. Together with Metalloinvest’s attempts to increase its stake this creates strong demand for the company’s shares.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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