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The Year’s Top Priorities for Mining CEOs

December 31, 2012 Comments off

With rapidly increasing production costs, metal and coal prices stable or decreasing, and general global market uncertainty, 2012 was not an easy year to be the CEO of a mining company. The boards of many mining companies have drawn their conclusions and decided 2013 will be the year in which a new leader will make a start. These new executives and the veterans that survived 2012 will face many similar challenges in the new year. The market for project development appears to cool down, but cost pressures and decreasing margins are real and volatility is here to stay for some time.

Below 7 key priorities for mining CEOs in the coming year:

1. Watch your balance sheet

Global debt problems aren’t over yet, and a company’s debt is never stronger than the host country’s sovereign debt. A lot of national, regional, and corporate debt is still overvalued. The European financial system being too young to make tough decisions, the American political system being to antique and entangled in corporate interests to make tough decisions, and a new Chinese government being too dependent on international markets and national stability to make tough decisions are not going to help to solve the debt issue anytime soon. A new chapter of the debt crisis is likely start in 2013, creating a volatile environment in which prudent balance sheet management is key for business stability, preventing you from finding yourself standing at the edge of a solvency cliff, as many coal miners and even iron ore miner Fortescue experienced recently. Don’t get deep into debt, and don’t wait ‘till the last moment to refinance maturing debt, as many global developments could make raising money in debt markets suddenly very hard.

2. Kill bad projects

As a result of rapidly increasing product prices and in the knowledge that global demand for most commodities continues to grow over the next 2 decades, the project pipelines across the industry have been filled to the max. However, for most products only about one third of the projects currently being communicated as ‘planned’ is actually needed to bridge the supply-demand gap in the 2025. That means two out of three projects need to be stopped. And yes, that includes some of your projects. Deciding which of the development projects in the global industry actually are the good projects, and which not so good projects do have a chance to succeed simply because they have a powerful developer, is going to be a key task for this year. Simply doing an IRR calculation based on an imaginary product price doesn’t do the trick; there might be plenty of better projects out there that will make your price forecasts miss the mark completely. It’s time to rev up the intelligence on competitor’s projects: in the end the best projects survive. Making sure you get hold of your fair share of good projects is the objective for the coming years. Those projects that don’t pass the test and that happen to be yours? Kill them, and move on to priority number 3.

3. Expedite good projects

Hopefully your assessment of global project potential confirms your view that some of the projects in your pipeline will make the cut. Now do everything you can to bring those projects forward. Counter-cyclical investment has been a mantra of management gurus forever, but very few executives actually dare to execute on it. Redirect the resources you free up by killing bad projects – finances, human capital, and equipment – to those projects that might succeed. This does not only help you to bring those projects forward, it also sends a clear signal to the market that those projects really are the probable survivors of the battle of the fittest projects. If you decided that none of your projects are good enough to make it? Get to work on priority number 4.

4. Buy cheap future growth

Many of the important mines of the end of this decade and of the coming decades are still in the hands of explorers or juniors that don’t have the funds or appetite to develop the projects, that are always on the outlook for the acquirer, and that have seen their share price become much more discounted than the prices of their potential acquirers. Buying current production is expensive as always and will be tough on your balance sheet, but this year is not a bad moment to buy the exploration-stage projects that will make your company great in the long run. Be aware that for many of these projects the development capital, that scares most company executives at this point, will actually only be needed during the next commodity price cycle. And yes, those projects are challenged geographically, politically, technically, and environmentally, but so were most of the current great mines 10 years before they started producing.

5. Be tough on suppliers and contractors

The slump for mining suppliers and contractors lags the slump for miners by about a year. Last year was the moment of the great awakening in mining companies that the period of rapid growth is over; this year their suppliers and contractors will feel the pain. Don’t forget to squeeze your suppliers out this year! With many projects being shelved or stopped the bargaining position of engineering and construction constructors and equipment manufacturers is deteriorating quickly. Over the past years they have enjoyed a situation in which there were simply not enough skilled people and production capacity to serve all of the industry’s wants straight away, but that period is about to be over. Cost pressures are still there, but the mining companies can solve part of that issue by paying less in new procurement and trying to renegotiate existing contracts.

6. Get talent on board when the job market is down

The suddenly emerging reality of thinning margins has made most mining companies very hesitant in recruiting, and has led several companies to reduce the size of the workforce or implement hiring freezes. The job market in the industry does not look good, so people stay where they are. Just as you should be searching for the right projects especially during tough times, you should be on the hunt for ambitious talent when the job market is bad. Good people always want to make the next step, and any period in which making steps is hard is a headhunter’s bonanza. Not only half of Xstrata’s executives is seriously looking for a new challenge away from Glenstrata, but junior, mid-management, and executives in paralyzed companies around the world are sensitive to a good offer at this time.

7. Prepare for the low/now growth era

Most of the young talent you recruit at this point will witness the age of ‘peak mining’ during their career. Riding the wave of development in emerging countries the mining industry’s output will grow over the next decades. Still, driven by demographics, economics, and increasing recycled metal supply, the demand for most mined metals is likely to start a slow decrease around 2040. Your investors don’t really care about anything that happens after 2020, but the talent you are recruiting and the communities you are operating in do care. Rio Tinto’s ‘Mine of the Future’ program is focused entirely on the technological future of mining. However, preparing your company for a new, low or no growth, normal implies exploring a whole new way of doing business, technology only being a minor part. Wouldn’t it be great to be known as the CEO who prepared the company for ‘Mining of the Future’?

Enough to work on to keep the miner’s job interesting in the new year! Do you happen not to be the CEO of your company? Don’t hesitate to forward this text to him/her to make sure the most important to-do list in the company includes these priorities. Happy new year!

2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 47/’12: BHP sells diamonds; Anglo pays for iron ore

November 18, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Harry Winston buys BHP’s diamond business for $500m
    • Diamond retailer Harry Winston has decided to buy BHP Billiton’s diamond business for $500m cash. The business consists of 80% of the EKATI diamond mine in Northern Canada and sorting and marketing units.
    • Both BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto put their diamond businesses up for sale this year. Rio Tinto might be reconsidering that decision as it couldn’t secure a good price for its Diavik mine and its Indian holdings have come back with good exploration results.
    • Sources: BHP Billiton press release; Harry Winston press release; Financial Times
  • Anglo’s Minas Rio iron ore project delayed and more expensive
    • Anglo American announced that Minas Rio, its 26.5Mtpa iron ore project in Brazil, will not start producing before the second half of 2014. The delay is caused by license issues around construction of power transmission lines.
    • Anglo also announced that the total capital cost for the project is “unlikely to be less that $8.0bn”, making this the first major iron ore project which costs more than $300 per millions tonnes capacity.
    • Sources: Anglo American press release; Reuters; mining.com
  • Qatar’s support appears to seal GlenStrata deal
    • The Qatar Sovereign wealth fund has announced it will support Glencore’s offer of 3.2 shares per share for Xstrata, making it very likely that the largest mining deal of the past years will become reality. Xstrata’s shareholders get to vote on Tuesday.
    • Qatar, Xstrata’s 2nd largest shareholder after Glencore, also announced it will abstain from voting on the retention incentive package for Xstrata top management, making it very likely that this >$200m retention package will not become reality.
    • Sources: Qatar holding; Financial Times 1; Financial Times 2

Trends & Implications:

  • Anglo’s issues in Brazil demonstrate the enormous importance of getting power issues for large projects sorted out early. Last month Rio Tinto’s enormous Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia was only hinging on a power supply agreement with the Mongolian and Chinese governments. Many projects in developing countries either need to secure power supply from other countries or have to build their own power plants, forcing them to go through tremendous licensing issues and import natural resources to get their operations powered up.
  • When the Xstrata retention package is voted down, a big group of top-level executives at Xstrata can be expected to start looking for new jobs quickly, opening up a great pool of talent for other companies. The corporate cultures at Xstrata and Glencore are so different that many miners will have to adjust to the more aggressive, top-down culture of the trading house. Many of the top managers will prefer to find a good job in another mining house instead.

2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 42/’12: South Africa strikes; Glenstrate voting scheme

October 8, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • South African strikes spread; workers fired
    • Illegal (wildcat) strikes in South Africa have spread to more or less all major miners in the country. Anglo American’s Kumba iron ore and platinum operations are faced with production disruptions, as are Xstrata, GoldFields, Anglogold, and most other major mining houses in the country.
    • South African strikes escalated when police shot down Lonmin strikers. After Lonmin agreed to a 22% wage increase workers in other companies demanded similar increases, bypassing the traditional unions. Several companies are trying to set up structured wage discussions to come to a collective agreement.
    • AngloAmerican’s Amplats decided to fire 12 thousand striking workers, which is a fifth of its total workforce.
    • Sources: Anglo American press releases1 2; Financial Times 2; wall Street Journal
  • Xstrata board recommends Glenstrata deal and complicates voting
    • Xstrata’s board of directors issues advice for the company shareholders to accept the merger proposal to form Glenstrata. The voting structure has been set up to assess support for a deal both with and without an extensive retention package for Xstrata’s top management.
    • Shareholders will vote first on the merger proposal both including and excluding the retention package, requiring a 75% majority excluding Glencore’s votes. Then the vote on the retention package will be done separately, requiring only a 50% majority of votes.
    • Sources: BusinessWeek; Financial Times

Trends & Implications:

  • The voting scheme is set up by Xstrata’s board to have a safety net for the deal in case the shareholders don’t accept the management retention package. The Qatari sovereign wealth fund is the largest shareholder that can vote on the merger deal; it has not voiced its opinion on the improved Glencore offer and on the management incentives, but insiders indicate the group considers retention of Xstrata’s officers a key priority. Key unknown in the voting mechanism is whether or not the results of the first two questions (on the merger) are made public before the 3rd vote on the retention scheme.
  • The unrest in South Africa is much wider than the mining industry, and as such requires solutions that are much broader than the industry. In the short term a large part of the workers might return to work with a significant increase in wages as demonstrated in the Lonmin case. However, as long as this increase does not span across the industry the workers that have not been given a raise will turn to strikes to stress their demands. The mining houses will have to work nationwide to find a sustainable solution for the industry, which is hard because South African miners operate on the high end of the global cost structure for many commodities. The task is even harder when taking in account that social unrest will continue as long as the issues in related and supplying industries continue.

2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 37/’12: Glencore increases bid to take over Xstrata

September 8, 2012 Comments off

Top Story of the Week: Glencore takes Xstrata bid hostile

  • Hours before Xstrata’s shareholders were to vote on the proposed merger of equals, Glencore announced it would make a higher bid on different terms . If the vote would have gone on the Qatari sovereign wealth fund would most likely have blocked a deal.
  • The new bid offers 3.05 shares of Glencore for each share of Xstrata, 9% up from the previous bid at 2.80x. In response to the bid Xstrata’s share price went up 8.6% on Friday, with Glencore’s share price dropping 2.9%.
  • Key changes to the previous bid are:
    1. The ‘merger of equals’ will likely change to a plain takeover. As a Xstrata’s shareholders can simply tender their shares and Glencore gains control as soon as it gains a majority of shares (up from the current 35%). Under the former proposed deal approx. two-thirds of Xstrata’s shareholders excluding Glencore would have to vote in favor of a deal.
    2. The initially proposed governance structure with Xstrata’s CEO Mick Davis as the new CEO of the combined company is scrapped and Glencore’s CEO Ivan Glasenberg will take the helm of the new company.

    Official reaction by Xstrata’s independent directors

  • The exact details of the new structure are not yet known, as Glencore is yet to submit the new bid. The implications for the position and potential retention packages for Xstrata’s current top managers and the name of the new company will become clear when the new bid is published.
  • Sources: Financial Times 1 2 3; Wall Street Journal 1 2 3; Reuters; BusinessWeek

Trends & Implications:

  • Facing the likely rejection of the merger bid Glencore had little to lose in changing the terms for the offer. The likelihood of a takeover offer being accepted is much higher than the stakes the merger was going to happen on the proposed terms. Xstrata’s shareholders know that their changes of getting an even better deal than what is offered now are very slim and that they face an immediate drop in Xstrata’s share price if Glencore doesn’t gain control.
  • The offer values Xstrata roughly $4bn higher, but as the company holds 35% of Xstrata already it would cost Glencore approx. $2-3bn extra. If the deal was canceled Xstrata’s share price was likely to lose the roughly 10% in value resulting from Glencore’s bid, amounting to a loss of $1-2bn for Glencore.
  • The sudden governance change to try to make Ivan Glasenberg CEO of the new company is hard to understand. The merger setup was criticized earlier because of the strong focus on keeping Xstrata’s executives on board with generous retention bonuses. Either Glencore’s leadership never really believed they will not be able to achieve the same results as Xstrata’s leadership or they will keep most of the retention controls in place in the new offer.

2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 36/’12: Anglo and Codelco compromise; Glenstrata in doubt

August 31, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Anglo American and Codelco reach a deal on the Sur Complex
    • Anglo agreed to sell a minority stake of its Chilean Sur Projects to Codelco at a significant discount, but the company receives over $2bn more than Codelco would have to pay according to its disputed buy-in option.
    • Codelco partners with Mitsui in a JV that receives a 24.5% stake of the project.
    • Codelco’s union representative voted against the new deal, announcing action to improve the terms for the Chilean company.
    • Sources: Financial Times 1; Wall Street Journal; Financial Times 2; Financial Times 3
  • Norwegian fund joins Qatar in opposition of Glenstrata merger
    • Analysts speculate about a potential compromise on the price paid for Xstrata by Glencore: Glencore offers 2.8 shares per share of Xstrata, but Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund earlier indicated it would require a 3.25 ratio. In a new statement in which the fund says it will vote against the proposed deal the 3.25x ratio was not reiterated.
    • Norges Bank Investment Management has also build up a significant stake in Xstrata. The Qatari fund could be able to block the merger alone (depending on its current ownership level) or with the help of a few other investors.
    • Sources: Financial Times 1; Wall Street Journal; Financial Times 2
  • Australian politicians struggle with mining ‘boom’ approach
    • Iron benchmark ore prices continue to decrease, loosing more than 50% vs. the peak around $200/wmt early in 2011 and 36% year to date. The profits of the iron ore dependent miners has followed this trend.
    • Royalties and income taxes on mining firms are an important pillar of the Australian budget, built for a large part around the newly introduced Mineral Resource Rent Tax. Several Australian politicians have expressed their concern with the perspective of a significant reduction of tax income. The MRRT alone was planned to bring in over $6bn of government income, but because of the progressive nature of the tax the income will be very small at current price levels.
    • Sources: Wall Street Journal; Financial Times; text

Trends & Implications:

  • Xstrata’s shareholder vote on the proposed merger with Glencore is anything but a done deal. Several large shareholders want Glencore to sweeten the offer of 2.8 shares of Glencore per share of Xstrata. However, the actual share ratio has been hovering around 2.65-2.70 since mid May, indicating that a significant share of the market expects the ratio to drop if the deal does not go on. Xstrata has higher value for Glencore than for current shareholders, but it is unlikely the company will want to pay more than the proposed 2.8x ratio and give all of that additional value to Xstrata’s current shareholders.

2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 28/’12: GlenStrata in doubt

July 7, 2012 1 comment

Top Story of the Week:

  • Xstrata vote on merger with Glencore delayed
    • The vote by Xstrata shareholders on the proposed merger between Xstrata and Glencore, originally scheduled for July 12th, has been delayed to a yet to be announced date.
    • Several large shareholders, including Qatar Holding, which holds approx. 11% of the shares, have threatened to try to vote against the deal if the exchange ratio of 2.8 shares of Glencore per Xstrata share is not sweetened. Xstrata’s shareholders have a very strong voice in the deal because Glencore can’t use its 35% of the voting rights. As a result a small group of only some 15% of the shareholders could block the deal.
    • Under pressure of shareholders the proposal of cash retention bonuses for Xstrata executives was adjusted to stock only payments. The planned retention measures were made part of the vote on the merger and threatened to become an obstacle to the approval of the deal
    • The Australian antitrust authorities approved the proposed deal last week, judging that the combination would not be big enough to distort market efficiency. European Union, Chinese, and South African regulators still have to give their judgement.
    • Sources: Xstrata press releases; Financial Times; Wall Street Journal

GlenStrata timeline

©2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Mining Week 24/’12: Steam coal world is changing

June 11, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Indonesian and US supply drives coal prices lower
    • A surge of exports of thermal coal (used for power generation) from Indonesia and the increasing exports from the USA caused by domestic replacement of coal demand by gas demand are driving thermal coal prices to the lowest point in 2 years.
    • Continued low sales prices are causing various coal miners to get close to financial distress. As their share prices have decreased too, analysts expect a new wave of acquisitions in the industry.
    • Sources: Financial Times; Seeking Alpha
  • Alpha closes steam coal mines in USA
    • Alpha Natural Resources, the company that recently bought Massey for $8.5bln, is reducing steam coal production and cutting approx. 150 jobs by closing 4 small mines in Kentucky and offices in 4 US cities, aiming to reduce G&A by 50-60$mln/year.
    • The company mentions low coal prices and new regulations for coal-fired power plants as the key reasons that the mines have become uneconomical and are unlikely to return to making a profit.
    • Sources: Alpha Natural Resources news release; Wall Street Journal; Reuters
  • Xstrata reveals GlenStrata organization structure

    • The organization structure revealed in the merger documentation supporting Glencore’s bid for Xstrata shows a merger of the organization with very little initial integration. The heads of marketing of the business units continue to report to Glasenberg, and the heads of the asset groups continue to report to Davis.
    • Glasenberg agreed to not using his significant share of voting power to force any changes of the or structure for the first years after the merger.
    • Sources: Xstrata – Glencore merger documentation

Trends & Implications:

  • The global changes of steam/energy coal business are mainly demand-driven. China and India are building coal-fired power stations at a high pace, increasing their share of global demand. At the same time stronger regulation in the Western world and the promise of cheap gas are suppressing the demand. As a result the coal business is getting more global, with a larger part of demand being imported from overseas.
  • The business unit focus of the GlenStrata organization reveals an inclination to try to realize the arbitrage opportunities that make up a large part of the merger’s synergy potential on a product-by-product basis. Global markets for each of the products is diverse enough to make a generic approach to geographic, product, and timing arbitrage unpractical.

©2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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