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Coal India Plans JV With Indonesian Mining Company

September 28, 2011 Comments off

“Coal India Ltd. plans to ask the Indonesian government to allocate it a coal mine, and also seek approval to set up a joint venture with a state-run mining company there. Coal India will ask for the approvals at an October meeting of a coal working group set up by the two countries, Interim Chairman Nirmal Chandra Jha said recently.
He didn’t name the Indonesian company or specify the reserves of the mine that Coal India is targeting.

The proposed Indonesian venture will come after a brief overseas pause for Coal India, the world’s largest producer of the fossil fuel. The company has halted its overseas acquisition plans due to delays in getting government approvals. The coal ministry last year told Coal India to invest only in listed overseas companies after allegations of corruption rocked the federal government. Coal India has so far succeeded in getting allocation of only two blocks in Mozambique.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, September 21 2011

Observations:

  • Indian power utilities imported about 42 million tonnes of Indonesian thermal coal last year. Coal fired powerplants produce over half of the country’s electricity. Various Indonesian coal miners are already tied up with Indian financial partners (e.g. Bumi & Tata).
  • Indonesia is working on a ban of exports of coal with low calorific value (<5100kcal/kg), which would threaten part of the thermal coal exports from the country.
  • Indonesia’s energy coal products exports to China has increased by over 25% per year for the past 5 years.

Implications:

  • The Indian government actively tries to reduce secure reliable access to coal via both Coal India and targeted acquisitions by ICVL. As increase of domestic production is slow the government might try to lure foreign miners into operating assets in India to boost productivity.
  • Increased Indian investment interest in Indonesia will pressure the Indonesian government to speed up the regulatory processes around the new Mining Law and the proposed environmental taxes. The new law was introduced over 2 years ago, but implementation regulations are still not fully worked out.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Zambia’s new president worries miners

September 26, 2011 Comments off

“Mining companies are waiting anxiously as Michael Sata, Zambia’s new president, settles into office, wary that the former opposition leader may put past threats against foreign investors into practice now that he has been elected. Rupiah Banda, the incumbent president’s gracious acceptance of defeat in last week’s vote paves the way for a democratic transition, still something of a rarity in Africa.

But it has also triggered unease among investors in Africa’s biggest copper producer. Any mining policy changes would affect a host of international companies – including Glencore, First Quantum, Barrick Gold and Vale – which were expected to invest billions of dollars in the sector over the next five years. The jitters are caused partly because Mr Sata, 74, and his Patriotic Front are relatively unknown quantities. Mr Sata has gained a reputation for populist attacks against investors and complaints that Zambia’s resource wealth has not been adequately distributed.”

Source: Financial Times, September 25 2011

Observations:

  • Some of the largest mining operations and prospects in Zambia are Barrick/Equinox’ Lumwana copper projects; Metorex Chibulama copper mine; Vale’s Konkola north copper project; CNMM Muliashi copper mine; and Collum coal mine.
  • Tensions against foreign, and especially Chinese, ownership of mines rose after two Chinese mine managers allegedly shot a group of protesting miners at Collum coal mine last year.

Implications:

  • It is likely that the new government will try to increase taxes to make the state benefit more from high copper prices. Additionally regulation of working conditions might be strengthened, as much of the unrest in the country’s sector was driven by dissatisfaction about labor rights.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Australia warned over mining job squeeze

July 1, 2011 1 comment

“Growing manpower shortages in Australia’s booming resources sector are weighing on productivity and could prompt some big companies to shift some operations to other countries, the industry’s key employer group has warned. Nearly 90 per cent of companies in Australia’s resources sector face problems recruiting workers, according to the Australian Mines and Metals Association. …

He urged the government of prime minister Julia Gillard to step up efforts to help tackle the labour shortages by further relaxing criteria – on everything from language abilities to length of stay – so that resource companies can bring more foreign workers into the country and boost skills training. At the moment it can be expensive and take a long time to get approval to bring in foreign workers.

Acknowledging the critical role of resources in Australia’s economy, the government this year launched a scheme to facilitate the entry of foreign workers to resources projects worth over A$2bn and allocated a substantial part of a $3bn package for skills training to resources sector jobs.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, June 30 2011

Observations:

  • Interest in mining education on all levels is declining around the world. Highly skilled employees in the industry have historically been very mobile geographically, but various countries have stepped up the entry barriers to stimulate domestic employment levels.
  • For most jobs Australian companies are obliged to first search in the domestic market for a suitable candidate before being allowed to recruit international talent, following a strict and lengthy process.

Implications:

  • Companies will not be able to move the production work to other countries, and will therefore probably mainly look to move the more skilled employees in project management and corporate functions to (regional) headquarters. A potential solution for shortages of on-site personnel for some companies could be to bring in more contract workers from abroad.
  • The shortage of employees will be one of the key themes of the development of the mining industry in Australia. The ability to recruit internationally and the skill in designing attractive FIFO rosters for the remote operations will determine the success of companies.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Lex: Nationalisation of South African mines

June 30, 2011 Comments off

“Calls for the nationalisation of South Africa’s mines by Julius Malema, recently re-elected leader of the ruling African National Congress’s Youth League, are raising concerns in the industry. Lex’s Edward Hadas and Richard Stovin-Bradford discuss the threat, and whether mine nationalisation is good for the nation.”

Source: FT: Lex – video, June 29 2011

Observations:

  • Julius Malema, a leader of the Youth League of the ANC, has been calling for nationalisation of South African mines to increase control over resources and make the country benefit more from the earth’s riches.
  • Though not set up to facilitate nationalisation, this year’s launch of a state mining company (AEMFC) is seen by many industry experts as a threat to a free mining market in the country.

Implications:

  • An internal power struggle in the ANC party could take long before any moves for nationalization would be taken. However, due to the long horizon of mining projects investors will certainly take this risk in account when looking at South African opportunities.
  • A potential compromise demanded by the ANC to satisfy the demands for more mining benefits for the South African people would be a royalty or tax increase. This would prevent a take-over of control of mining assets by inexperienced and overloaded government institutions, while transferring a larger portion of mining profits to the population.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Top 10 Priorities of Vale’s new CEO Murilo Ferreira

June 22, 2011 Comments off

Murilo Ferreira

The world’s second largest mining company has changed the man at the top. Roger Agnelli, who led the company for almost 10 years, was replaced by Murilo Ferreira last month. Though Agnelli grew the company into a global force in the industry, he did not manage to please the Brazilian government sufficiently. As a result the new president, Dilma Rousseff, pushed for a change. What is on top of the “To Do”-list for the new CEO?

An analysis of Vale’s latest annual and financial reports, the press conference to introduce the new CEO, investor presentations, and the news about the company in the latest months yields a list of 10 issues that are likely to be at the top of Ferreira’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 to build strong government relationships; priority 10 is to expand the metallurgical coal business in Latin America. Read on for the full list of priorities. For those readers working with Vale: don’t hesitate to forward the list to mr. Ferreira.

1. Build government relationships

Mr. Agnelli grew the company, but he did not manage to please the Brazilian government. The government controls the majority of the voting shares, and hopes to use Vale as a means to stimulate the domestic economy. The key task for mr. Ferreira will be to build strong government relationships without giving in to government requests which would hurt general shareholder value.

2. Develop strategic messages

A first step for each CEO after taking office is to get the key messages to be repeated over and over again to investors and employees. Especially Vale’s communication to the investor world has historically been poor. Selecting the key points to tell to the world the coming year(s) and tuning the communication and communication support is an important task during these first months.

3. Discuss tax & royalty claims

Related to the first point of building government relationships: the government claims a total of $16.0bln tax over the period 1996 to 2008 plus some $4.7bln in royalties (CFEM). Furthermore, Vale’s current effective tax rate is some 10% below official tax rate because of various tax incentives, for which the continuation is not sure. Reaching agreement with the authorities about these claims and the future tax incentives is crucial for the share price to increase.

4. Build global culture, integrate & decentralize

One of the key points mentioned in mr. Ferreira’s first press conference as CEO was the change of the company style towards a more decentralized system in which team work is incentivized more. Next to driving execution mr. Ferreira will need to be the living example of a global cultural change, in which each part of the business feels equally valuable.

5. Manage vertical integration in Brazilian steelmaking

The next (potential) issue with the Brazilian government is Vale’s role in the Brazilian steelmaking industry. The government wants to create a strong vertically integrated player, and therefore needs Vale to cooperate with players like Gerdau and Usiminas. Although it is in Vale’s best interest to stimulate domestic demand for iron ore to offset the disadvantage in transportation costs to supply the Asian market versus Australian mines, the company wants to stay a pure miner. Developing and discussing strategic options for the domestic industry will be an important task for mr. Ferreira to demonstrate his leadership.

6. Solve roadblocks for development execution

Vale plans to invest $17.5bln in new project development this year, but various projects run the risk of delay. Most roadblocks have to do with demands by federal and regional governments (e.g. the temporary suspension of the Rio Colorado project in Argentina), signalling the requirement to more proactively involve governments in planning procedures.

7. Manage operating cost pressures

A key competitive advantage to Vale is the low cost base of its operations in Brazil. The risk of lower iron ore prices forces mr. Ferreira to try to keep costs down at a time of cost inflation. Especially the management of the energy matrix (energy costs account for over 15% of COGS) and of outsourced services, which are sensitive to Brazilian wage inflation, will require management attention.

8. Compete for position in China

A key task for any big mining firm this decade is to fight for pole position in supplying the number one growth market: China. Mr. Agnelli secured various lucrative supply deals, but Vale did not yet sign significant partnerships. Mr. Ferreira has limited experience with the Chinese market and will thus need to spend time on getting to know the key players and developing relationships which are important for both future development and future supply contracts.

9. Transform internationalization organization

Vale still is a very much Brazilian company: out of the 120 thousand workers (incl. 40% contractors) 80% is located in Brazil. However, this Brazilian focus is starting to hinder the company in attracting international investors, customers, and employees. Even press conference in which new CEO was presented was conducted in Portuguese, certainly posing an obstacle to some investors. Appointing CEO with experience of working in North America is step in the right direction, but mr. Ferreira will need to do more to improve the international image of his company.

10. Build metallurgical coal business in Latin America

Partly driven by the need to diversify the company’s revenue base (68% of revenue still comes from iron ore & pellets, with an even higher percentage when looking at profits), partly driven by the need to build the domestic steel industry, Vale needs to gain access to metallurgical coal close to home. The company operates thermal coal mines in Brazil, but metallurgical coals needs to be imported. Exploration in Colombia is promising, but more needs to be done to build the coal business.

Sources: Vale annual report 2010, Vale CEO press conference May 2011, Vale investor presentation February 2011

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Argentina suspends $5.9bln Vale potassium project

June 20, 2011 Comments off

“A $5.9bn potassium project in Argentina has gone into limbo after authorities in Mendoza province suspended development, alleging that Vale, the Brazilian miner, had failed to meet requirements to hire and buy supplies locally. The project, which includes the construction of a railway and a port on Argentina’s Atlantic coast to transport potassium, is still in its initial planning phase. In its first-quarter earnings report, Vale said it had pushed back the planned start of production to the first quarter of 2014 from the second half of 2013.

The company expects the project to have a nominal annual capacity of 2.1m tonnes of potash. A second phase would increase capacity to 4.3m tonnes. The Mendoza government said on its website that the decision had been taken ‘because of insufficient information supplied regarding the plan and the level of investment … The sanction will be lifted when the company complies with the request’.”

Source: Financial Times, June 18 2011

Observations:

  • One of Vale’s strategic priorities is to build a strong potash business. The Argentinian Rio Colorado project, which should start production in 2014 with some 20% of Vale’s current potash production, is key part of this strategy.
  • Argentina’s province of Mendoza is situated in the region del Nuevo Cuyo in the midwest of the country, bordering to Chile. The province has set strict ‘buy local’ and ‘hire local’ regulations in order to stimulate the economy, forcing Vale to hire 75% of total workforce locally.

Implications:

  • Both the provincial government and Vale are very polite in their communication, signalling the importance of the project to both of the parties. The province is using a rather uncertain moment in the development phase of the project to stress the importance of collaboration with local authorities. However, this discussion is not expected to seriously derail the project, unless governmental changes chance the standpoints of the provincial government.
  • In the worst case for Vale issues on development of a port for the same project in a different province will be made part of new negotiations with Mendoza province, indicating involvement of the national government.

©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

Read more…

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