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Mining Week 6/’13: Government actions in South Africa and Argentina

February 10, 2013 Comments off

Top Stories:

  • Anglo and government clash in South Africa
    • Anglo announces mine closures resulting in thousands of job losses in its South African operations. In response the president threatened to review Anglo’s mining licenses, trying to force the company to keep the mines open. Mark Cutifani, Anglo’s new CEO, reacted with fierce criticism of the government’s attitude.
    • Mining companies in South Africa see a shift of union membership from the moderate NUM to the more radical Amcu, leading up to further wage negotiations this year.
    • Sources: Financial Times; Reuters; Financial Times 2
  • Vale and government clash in Argentina
    • Vale’s $6bln Rio Colorado potash project in the Mendoza project of Argentina is rumored to be delayed by up to 3 years, mainly driven by large rail investments. Vale announced it is reviewing the project economics and has therefore extended the holiday of the workers, but the company denies the project has been suspended.
    • The governor of the province told media that Vale has asked for delay of a sales tax implementation from construction to extraction phase, and argues that this would imply a tax break of $1.5-2.0bln. He also stressed that the government will make sure the project moves forward irrespective of Vale’s plans.
    • Sources: Vale press release; Financial Times; Mineweb

Trends & Implications:

  • The business environment for mining in South Africa remains very unstable. Not only the government’s ambition to get as much revenue out of mining as possible, resulting in top decile effective taxes, but also the radical approach of unions fighting to increase membership levels, create a situation in which long-term planning for any mining company in the country is almost impossible.
  • The business environment in Argentina has deteriorated quickly and appears to move into the direction of nationalization of business quickly. The government tries to get projects going in an attempt to stimulate the economy, but at the same time makes it impossible for companies to repatriate profits from those projects in an attempt to limit inflation. As a result there is no incentive for any foreign company to invest in the country for any short to mid-term gains. In the Rio Colorado case: A delay of the effect of sales tax to the extraction phase is unlikely to reduce tax paid by Vale by $1.5bln, as the company only starts selling its product in large quantities in that extraction phase.

2013 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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Mining Week 45/’12: PotashCorp and Rothschild on the offensive

November 4, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • PotashCorp in talks to acquire ICL for $14bn
    • PotashCorp, the Canadian phosphate miner that was subject of a $39bn takeover attempt by BHP Billiton in 2010, is in talks with the Israeli government to acquire Israel Chemicals (ICL) and merge it with its own operations. PotashCorp already holds a 14% stake of ICL. The remaining share is worth roughly $14bn.
    • In an initial reaction the Israeli government, which holds a golden share in ICL’s mother company, indicated that the sale of ICL to PotashCorp would not be in the best interest of the country. In a later statement the government did indicate it would be open to a formal bid.
    • Sources: Wall Street Journal; BusinessWeek; Fox Business
  • Rothschild aims to increase Berau interest
    • In response to Bakrie’s proposal to buy out Bumi plc, Nathan Rothschild, the company’s founder, is said to look for partners to make a counterbid for Berau’s Indonesian coal assets.
    • Bumi Resources and Berau are the two key asset groups of Bumi plc, the result of a deal between Vallar plc and Bumi. Following falling call prices minority shareholder Bakrie has proposed a deal in which it would buy Bumi plc’s assets and thus separate Rothschilds and Bakrie’s interests.
    • Sources: Wall Street Journal; Financial Times; Bloomberg

Trends & Implications:

  • The Israeli response that selling ICL would not be in the country’s interest might be preliminary. Although 60% of ICL’s mining activity takes place in Israel, centered around the Dead See, it is unlikely that PotashCorp would want to tune down those activities. Only a very small part of ICL’s production is actually sold in Israel, and those products could be seen as global commodities, making it hard for the government to justify a case in which a sale would be rejected based on national security. The issue that PotashCorp and Israel will need to figure out is how much overhead jobs to leave in the country and/or how to compensate for the potential loss of jobs in office activity (similar to the negotiations undertaken by BHP Billiton with the Canadian government when trying to acquire PotashCorp).
  • Rothschild’s attempt to find new partners to continue his Indonesian activities with Berau does not seem te be a step that is in the interest of shareholders. Entering in a bidding contest with Bakrie for the assets it already controls is not going to improve the financial position of a company plagued by dropping commodity prices. If Bakrie actually manages to secure the funds required to execute the buy-out proposal it is likely that Rothschild will be able to find other, less politically sensitive, cheaper assets to work with. Whatever the result of this power struggle, it appears that Bakrie and Rothschild will not continue to own stakes of the same company.

2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto growing in potash

October 6, 2011 Comments off

“Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian mining group, is re-entering the potash business through a joint venture with a Russian fertiliser producer which holds extensive exploration permits in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Rio will initially acquire a 40 per cent stake in nine blocks covering an area of 241,000 hectares currently held by North Atlantic Potash, a subsidiary of Russia’s JSC Acron. Under the deal, Rio can eventually raise its stake as high as 80 per cent.”

Source: Financial Times, September 28 2011

“Mining heavyweight BHP Billiton is “aggressively” pursuing potash projects in Saskatchewan along with its Jansen asset, the company said on Wednesday.

“Although these are at an early stage, the data acquired suggests they have the ability to support significant potential developments,” spokesperson Ruban Yogarajah said, adding that the combined properties could “at least” match Jansen’s planned output of eight-million tons a year.

BHP Billiton in June said it approved a further $488-million to develop Jansen, bringing its total investment in the project to $1.2-billion.”

Source: Mining Weekly, September 29 2011

Observations:

  • Approx. 33mln tons of potash are mined annually, with Canada accounting for approx. 30% of global production. With price per ton of around $400-$500 the global market totals $13-17bln annually.
  • Both BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are planning to move or expand in the Potash industry. BHP Billiton already is operating in Saskatchewan and tried to make a big move by taking over PotashCorp last year. Rio Tinto sold its potash exploration projects in 2009, but tries to re-enter in a JV with a small Russian player.

Implications:

  • The potash market it currently dominated by 2 marketing ‘cartels’: Canpotex (PotashCorp, Mosaic, Agrium) and BPC (Belarusian Potash Company: Silvinit & Uralkali), which control close to three quarters of global sales and typically copy each others pricing agreements with large customers. The rise of the large diversified players in the business (apart from BHP and Rio, Vale is also building its potash business) could break the power of these cartels and might move the market to pricing based more on spot prices.
  • From a technology and production standpoint it makes a lot of sense to have diversified mining companies, specialized in running large scale extraction projects, operate potash mines. Only on the marketing and sales side of the business synergies will be hard to realize, but companies like BHP and Rio Tinto have the experience and size required to set up a strong marketing presence.

©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

The Most Influential People in Mining 2010

December 30, 2010 4 comments

2010 has been an exciting year for the mining industry. The Australian Super Profits Tax debate came to a climax; the iron ore pricing mechanisms was changed to a system related to the spot market after 40 years of benchmark pricing; the Western Australian Iron Ore Joint Venture between Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton was cancelled; BHP attempted to acquire PotashCorp; 33 Chilean miners were at the center point of global media attention when they were rescued after 68 days underground. Who have been the world’s most influential people in the mining industry this year?

The Business of Mining.com gives a top 25. Based on a combination of metrics on ‘Opinion Impact’ (both public opinion and boardroom opinion) and ‘Decision Impact’ (both for 2010 and for the future). The list features a combination of industry leaders, politicians, journalists, advisors and regulators. 24 men; 1 woman. 5 Australians; 4 South Africans; 3 Chinese, 3 Americans; 2 Indians; 2 Canadians; 2 Brits; 1 Guinean; 1 Kazakh; 1 Mongolian; 1 Brazilian. The figure below gives an overview of the 25 most influential people in mining in 2010.

(Blue dots: industry leaders; green dots: journalists; orange dots: advisors; red dots: politicians; black dots: regulators)

1. Marius Kloppers – CEO BHP Billiton

Heads the world’s largest mining company. Tried to add potash to the portfolio of the company by (unsuccessfully) offering $39bln for PotashCorp of Saskatchewan. Earlier in the year not only played an active role in the debate about the Australian super profits tax, but also in the attempt to form a Joint Venture for iron ore export from Western Australia. Is furthermore seen as one of the key drivers behind the change of the iron ore pricing scheme.

2. Tom Albanese – CEO Rio Tinto

Heads the world’s third largest mining company. Worked with Kloppers on the Pilbara iron ore JV, the new pricing mechanism for iron ore, and the lobbying against the super profits tax as proposed by Kevin Rudd. Used 2010 to restructure the capital structure of his company and to strengthen the ties with Chinese industry and government via various deals with Chinalco.

3. Roger Agnelli – CEO Vale

Heads the world’s second largest mining company and largest iron ore producer. Less well-known in the west than Kloppers and Albanese, but certainly a powerful leader in the mining industry. Secured development opportunities in Guinea and in potash production expansions while carefully building relationships with the Brazilian government and the new president: Dilma Rousseff.

4. Tony Clement – Industry Minister Canada

The man that killed BHP Billiton’s hopes of acquiring PotashCorp by imposing unacceptable conditions in order to secure the deal’s ‘benefit for Canada’.

5. Cynthia Carroll – CEO Anglo American

The only women in the list, heading the fourth largest diversified miner in the world. Led the company back to profits after a dramatic 2009. Was appointed chairman of related Anglo Platinum this year and holds directorships of De Beers and BP. Furthermore plays a role in the debates about the future of the industry at the World Economic Forum.

6. Graeme Samuel – Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

Head of the regulating body that was the key obstacle for the Joint Venture between BHP Billiton and Anglo American to export iron ore from Western Australia as the JV would have given the two companies a position that would threaten global competition.

7. Michael (Mick) Davis – CEO Xstrata

Heads the world’s fifth largest diversified mining company, build rapidly by acquisitions under the helm of Davis. Proposed a merger with Anglo American in 2009, and continues to look for expansion options. Plays an important role in the debate around a potential merger of Xstrata with trading house Glencore, the company’s largest stakeholder.

8. Kevin Rudd – Former Prime Minister Australia

The brain behind the Australian super profits tax, designed to skim the ‘excessive profits’ of mining firms. The public debate around the tax was one of the reasons Rudd was not re-elected. Although not in the office anymore, the idea of the super profits tax was implemented by the new government in an adjusted form.

9. Julia Gillard – Prime Minister Australia

Benefited from the drop in popularity of Kevin Rudd to take over the position of Prime Minister of Australia. Did involve the miners in redesigning the law into the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), eliminating its major shortcomings. However, the new law, which will become active in 2011, will drastically increase profits for the mining operations in Australia, forcing many mining firms to re-evaluate investments.

10. Jacques Nasser – Chairman of BHP Billiton

The man behind the scenes at BHP Billiton. Worked with Kloppers on all major events this year, including the super profits tax, the Pilbara JV, and the PotashCorp offer. Appointed former British Minister Shriti Vadera on the company’s board and prepared the decision to restart high dividend payments to shareholders.

11. Xiong Weiping – President Chinalco

12. Anil Agarwal – Executive Chairman Vedanta Resources

13. Partha Bhattacharyya – Chairman Coal India

14. Ivan Glasenberg – CEO Glencore

15. Mahmoud Thiam – Minister of Mines and Geology Guinea

16. Sukhbaatar Batbold – Prime Minister Mongolia

17. Brad Wall – Prime Minister Saskatchewan

18. Xi Jinping – Trade Minister China

19. Vladimir Kim – Chairman Kazakhmys

20. Duncan Sloan – Global Mining Lead Accenture

21. Mike Elliott – Global Mining & Metals Lead Ernst & Young

22. William MacNamara – Mining Analyst Financial Times

23. Robert Friedland – Founder Ivanhoe Mines

24. John Chadwick – Editor International Mining

25. Chen Yan – Governor China Development Bank

 

©2010 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Technological Risk in Mining: Biotech replacing Potash?

December 3, 2010 Comments off

“Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.”

“If this bacterium can exist without phosphorus, it’s possible we could create new kinds of fertilizers as phosphorus continues to run out on this planet. Scientists have been searching for a synthetic alternative to phosphorus-based fertilizer, the basis for modern agriculture, so far with little luck. It’s also possible that we now have a new tool to battle toxic arsenic dumps: new organisms that could incorporate all that poison into their genetic structure. Pretty clever creatures, all and all.”

Source: NASA; TBD.com, December 3 2010

Observations:

  • A new type of bacteria found by NASA is said to open new areas of research that could potentially lead to alternative forms of (biotechnological) fertilizer. However, during the press conference the scientists stressed that these potential applications should be regarded as long term opportunities.
  • During the press conference by NASA in which the discovery and the potential applications were revealed the shareprice of PotashCorp of Saskatchewan, supplier of raw material to the fertilizer industry, dropped by over 1%.
  • Drop of PotashCorp share price during NASA's press conference

Implications:

  • This invention is a good example of the technological risk the mining industry is facing. Technological innovations could either result in completely new methods of production or make the mining of certain minerals redundant (e.g. by providing other sources of fertilizer, replacing applications of aluminium by polymers).
  • PotashCorp did not mention any risk in this area in its annual report. It is hard to believe for most people in the conservative mining industry that anything might radically change the business environment.
  • In some cases the mining industry will have to redefine the purpose of the business. Is PotashCorp mining potash, or is it providing the world with fertilizer? What business are they in? And will it be possible to shift to radically new technologies? The oil business is facing similar questions regarding renewable energy technologies.

©2010 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Canada Splits on Foreign Bid for Potash

November 2, 2010 Comments off

“Canada’s impending decision on the fate of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan has ignited a fierce national debate in a country known for its championship of free trade and laissez-faire attitude toward foreign takeovers.

Politicians from a wide spectrum are saying the government should not only veto the proposed sale of Potash to Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton, but also re-examine how Canada handles natural resources and foreign investment generally.

Some observers say that in its broadest sense, the debate reflects a much-needed discussion on how Canada should oversee the natural resources—such as oil and uranium—on which its economy is so dependent. Others say the disagreement highlights a dangerous wave of protectionism and nationalism fed by the global economic downturn.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, November 1 2010

Observations:

  • The main reason for the provinces to resist the acquisition is the loss of tax revenue, estimated to be $5bln over the next 10 years.

Implications:

  • A secondary argument used by the provinces is that BHP Billiton would gain a too large share of the market by the acquisition. However, as BHP doesn’t currently own a significant fertilizer business, this argument doesn’t hold for regulators. Furthermore, the potential changes to the pricing system that BHP would like to introduce would promote free trade rather than keep the current cartel system (from which the provinces are benefiting) in place.
  • Rumors of an increase of the bid by 10% in order to win over the required threshold of investors were smothered by other rumors that BHP would not increase its bid before the Canadian government would give its approval to the deal. In this way BHP manages to increase the pressure on the government via the shareholders of PotashCorp, that would get a good deal.
  • Most likely Harper will try to find a compromise by giving a conditional approval, with conditions including job security and arrangements to secure income for the provinces. In this way he will be able to defend the acquisition to the political audience while not setting international markets up against Canada.

©2010 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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