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The Economist on Vale: Brazil’s mining giant

September 27, 2010 Comments off

The Economist published a strong article describing the rise of Vale:

“It is perhaps the biggest firm you have never heard of. The Boston Consulting Group says it has created more value than any other large firm in the world over the past decade. Yet few people know how to pronounce Vale’s name (it’s “vah-lay”).

This giant Brazilian miner has stayed out of the spotlight even as ravenous demand from China has propelled it from insignificance ten years ago to a market capitalisation of $147 billion. It is now the world’s second-largest miner: smaller than BHP Billiton, but bigger than Rio Tinto and other better-known rivals.

That Vale has kept its success quiet is partly an accident of history. It is not the product of a headline-grabbing mega-merger. Rather, it was a staid state-owned firm until it was privatised in 1997. It hatched plans to build itself into a big, diversified mining company only in 2001.”

Source: The Economist, September 23, 2010

Where the Economist is right:

  • Vale has grown steadily organically and by small acquisitions from a state-owned local player to a state-backed global player.
  • The company is still heavily depending on its iron ore production (65% of revenues, at times an even larger part of profits), diversifying into other metals mainly to hedge risks. Only the fertilizer business is set up to become a future star performer, but this might be frustrated by BHP’s Canadian plans.
  • The capital expenditure of the company in the coming years will by far be superior to the competitors’ investments. Rio Tinto is bound to a $5bln capex for this year, while Vale is said to invest around $100bln in the next 5 years.

Where the Economist might be wrong:

  • The vertical integration into transportation is more a necessary evil than a strategic asset. The company started the railway expansion because it could not trust the government to provide the infrastructure required for its operations and it bought bulk tankers mainly because its geographic locations makes ownership of the ships a better option than contracting the shipping. However, the ownership of a fleet might make Vale an interesting partner for various commodity trading houses that are looking to strengthen their upward ties.
  • The pressure of the Brazilian government for local investments is certainly not on top of the management’s mind. Although the government should be kept satisfied to keep te current royalty structure, expansion abroad is crucial for the company’s success, which leads to increased international prestige and tax income for the government.
  • The strong presence in the Brazilian iron ore market is a strategic asset rather than a hinderance. In the shadow of China, Brazil is developing an enormous appetite for steel. Vale is not only the most suitable cultural supplier; its domestic production ensures it is by far the lowest cost supplier to the developing Latin American market too.

©2010 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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Top 10 Priorities of Vale’s CEO Roger Agnelli

September 2, 2010 2 comments

Roger Agnelli

What are the things the CEO of the world’s second largest mining company is worried about? What is Vale’s CEO Roger Agnelli doing to catch up with BHP Billiton? What is on top of his “To Do”-list?

An analysis of Vale’s latest annual and financial reports, investor presentations and the news about the company in the last months yields a list of 10 issues that are likely to be at the top of Agnelli’ 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 trying to prevent BHP’s acquisition of PotashCorp. Priority 10 is managing breakthrough innovation of copper processing in Carajás. Read on for the full list of priorities.

1. Assess opportunities to prevent BHP Billiton’s PotashCorp acquisition

BHP Billiton has made a hostile $39bln acquisition offer for PotashCorp, thus following Vale’s move of entering the potash business as a diversified miner. However, the potential changes to the market and to potash pricing (currently controlled by regional cartels) are likely to make Vale’s potash assets uncompetitive. Although the company has denied being in talks with PotashCorp to find alternatives, Agnelli will certainly devote a large portion of his time to finding a response to BHP’s offer.

2. Manage integration programs to reduce costs

Vale has grown rapidly partly because of a large number of acquisitions. Insiders comment that many of the acquired companies have never been integrated completely, creating operational inefficiencies and a lack of corporate culture. To sustain growth, Agnelli will be working hard on realizing the synergies from acquisitions by building global businesses. Part of this assignment is the carve-out of the aluminium business, which has been sold to Norsk Hydro this year.

3. Anticipate on Brazilian election results

Brazil will elect a new president, senate and governors on October 3rd 2010. Both economic policy and environmental policy on federal and state level could be impacted significantly by election results. Agnelli is certainly developing scenarios to react on post-election regulatory changes.

4. Study increase of gearing in order to accelerate growth

The company has traditionally grown by M&A, but is currently guarding its gearing carefully. However, in order to enable further acquisitions, Agnelli will be discussing increasing the gearing and accessing debt with the new CFO Cavalcanti, who took over from Fabio Barbosa at the end of June, and banking partners.

5. Compete for position in China

Compared to BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, transportation distance poses a disadvantage to Vale in supplying iron ore to China. While Rio Tinto is creating strong ties with Chinese government via its partnerships with Chinalco, Vale will need to find alternative ways to improve relationships with clients and government in the country that is responsible for most of the growth in demand of its products.

6. Manage development of Guinean iron ore deposits

An important part of the growth of the iron ore production in the next decade should be coming from Guinea, where Vale will develop the Simandou South deposit. Vale will need to get infrastructure in place and start development soon in order to please the government, which recently took development rights away from Rio Tinto because the company was not proceeding fast enough.

7. Reduce iron dependence

Growing the copper business unit and building a fertilizer business are two of the ways in which Vale tries to reduce its dependence on iron ore. Although the iron ore business is a star business with solid growth perspectives, the volatility caused by the dependence on one single commodity will worry Agnelli. Diversification into other business units is crucial for the long-term stability of the company.

8. Gain access to coal in Latin America

Although a lot of iron ore is shipped to China, Brazil is booming too. In order to produce steel for the domestic market, Vale needs to develop coal capacity in Latin America, which will require strategic acquisitions and targeted exploration.

9. Manage employee relations after Vale Inco strike

The board will need to prevent repetition of strikes like they experienced at Vale Inco during the last two years in Canada. Reviewing and improving international employee relations is both crucial for the company’s productivity and to improve the image in labor market, where Vale still has difficulties to attract international management talent.

10. Manage technological processing innovation for copper in Carajás

The company is trying to scale hydrometallurgical copper processing technology to commercial level in the Carajás UHC plant. Success in this project would have significant profit impact and would position Vale with the current deposits in development as one of the most competitive copper producers globally.

Sources: Vale annual report 2009, Vale summary review 2009, Vale investor presentation February 2010