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Posts Tagged ‘Argyle’

Mining Week 13/’12: Diamonds are not forever, neither are iron ore chiefs

March 31, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Rio Tinto puts its diamond division up for sale
    • Rio Tinto started a ‘strategic review’ of its diamond business to explore divestment options for the 4 assets. The move comes only months after BHP Billiton announced it intends to sell its only diamond project.
    • Rio Tinto was seen as the most likely buyer of BHP’s Ekati project because of the close proximity to it’s Diavik operation.
    • Sources: Rio Tinto press release; Financial Times; Wall Street Journal
  • BHP Billiton iron ore president quits; replaced by insider
    • Ian Ashby, president of BHP Billiton’s iron ore division, announced he will step down in July. BHP will replace him with the head of the energy coal business: Jimmy Wilson.
    • The leadership change comes during an aggressive investment program to expand capacity of the Pilbara operations.
    • Sources: BHP Billiton press released; Wall Street Journal
  • Indian privatization of coal mines backfires
    • A leaked government report states that the Indian government missed out on $210bln by selling state owned coal assets to cheaply without having a proper auctioning mechanism in place.
    • The hedge fund TCI, which owns close to 2% of Coal India, has started a process to sue the management of Coal India for allowing too much government interference related to the sale of assets.
    • Sources: Financial Times; Times of India; Financial Times II

Trends & Implications:

  • In March of last year Rio Tinto was said to explore a partnership with Alrosa, the world’s second largest diamond miner. This cooperation never materialized, and it appears Rio Tinto’s management has decided the iron ore business does not fit in its strategy of running large scale operations of traded minerals. With the presence of DeBeers and Alrosa it is unlikely that a third player will be able to invest to buy both Rio Tinto’s and BHP Billiton’s operations.
  • India is one of the few mineral rich countries in the world that had to go through a large scale privatization program in the last years. Typically domestic investors who know the businesses and have access to influential officials manage to get good deals in buying assets (Russia is another good example). Often the real value of the formerly government owned assets only becomes apparent after a couple of years of operation in private hands.

©2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Rio Tinto plans Russian diamond push

March 22, 2011 Comments off

“Rio Tinto is planning a push into Russian diamond mining, eyeing a tie-up with Alrosa, the state-owned miner, as the global industry looks ahead to rising demand from China amid tight supply constraints. Rio is understood to be a final contender to form a partnership with Alrosa to develop a large deposit near the northern port of Archangel, according to diamond market insiders.

The company declined to comment on its intentions or on wider reports that Tom Albanese, chief executive, had travelled repeatedly over the past year to Russia, a country where Rio has no operations. Rio makes the bulk of its profits from iron ore but it is also a significant diamond miner, producing 13.8m carats last year, compared with De Beers’ 33m and Alrosa’s 34.3m. Alrosa exceeded De Beers’ production for a second year.”

Source: Financial Times, March 20 2011

Observations:

  • Rio Tinto mined 13.8m carats last year in its Diavik and Argyle mines, the lowest volume in over 5 years. Relative importance of diamonds in Rio Tinto’s portfolio has decreased from over 20% of EBITDA 10 years ago to only some 2% now.
  • Argyle and Diavik have approximately similar proved reserves, but probable reserves for Argyle are much higher than for Diavik. Additionally the company has some low grade probable reserves in Murowa (Zimbabwe) and an ongoing feasibility study in India (Bunder). Total recoverable reserves at end of 2010 stands at 206mln carats. In the last annual report the company listed the search for opportunities for inorganic growth in Diamonds and Minerals as key priority.

Implications:

  • Alrosa is facing high levels of investment to increase production in challenging arctic underground mining conditions. Because of low cash flow from operations it has to look to financial markets (IPO) and partnerships to secure funds for capital expenditure.
  • Teaming up with Rio Tinto gives Alrosa not only access to development capital, but also to the extensive knowledge Rio Tinto has gained by operating Diavik’s mine in Northern Canada. However, Rio Tinto will not step into a partnership with a state-controlled Russian company without getting strong commitments to secure its returns.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Rio Tinto to expand diamond operations

September 16, 2010 1 comment

“A bullish outlook for precious stones has prompted Rio Tinto, the London-listed miner, to spend $800m (£518m) expanding its diamond operations. The mining group is primarily focused on iron ore, copper and coal, but has a diamond business that is sometimes overlooked in spite of being the third-largest in the world behind industry leaders De Beers and Alrosa. Rio’s division is based on two mines, including Argyle in the Australian desert.

Rio said on Tuesday that it would spend $803m to construct an underground mine at Argyle, a plan it authorised in 2005 then froze when the financial crisis hit. The expansion will push Argyle’s productivity from 10.6m carats last year to about 20m annual carats in the years leading up to the mine’s closure in 2019, said Harry Kenyon-Slaney, chief of Rio’s diamond and minerals arm.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, June 8 2010

Observations:

  • Rio decided in 2005 to start development on the transition from open pit to underground mining at the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia. Low global demand and uncertainty about capital conditions forced the company to freeze this decision for several years.
  • The company is mainly active in the production of industrial diamonds, although part of Argyle’s production (the pink diamonds) are used in jewellery. Expansion of Diavik diamond mine is one of Rio’s key capital projects at the moment.

Implications:

  • Global demand for both industrial diamonds and stones for jewellery mainly depends on the Chinese economy. De Beers, among others, is actively trying to improve the image of diamonds in the Asian market. Industrial diamonds, used for cutting and sawing, clearly depend on the growth of construction and industrial sectors.
  • Development of an underground mine at Argyle can be performed rapidly, as an exploration drift can be expanded in order to develop the underground infrastructure. Underground production could therefore start within 2 years.

©2010 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com