Posts Tagged ‘bhp billiton’

More pain for the dollar as China & Australia line up FTA ?

Australia China Free Trade AgreementWith China having superceded Japan as Australia’s biggest trade partner last year, the proposed Chinalco investment in mining giant Rio Tinto, could soon be part of a much larger strategic effort by the two nations, that ultimately could be a threat to the US dollar. Today, The Australia China Business Council released an independent study that shows a successful bilateral trade agreement with China would boost Australia’s gross domestic product by A$146bn ($114bn) over 20 years.

China has been on an extended spending spree for the last 18 months, with it making strenuous efforts to acquire shares in strategic assets regarding mineral & energy deposits. With China making investments in operations in South America, Africa, Australia & Central Asia, all paid for with USD from its estimated $1 Trillion cashpile.

“The Australia China Business Council has long advocated increased liberalisation between Beijing and Canberra, and this report confirms our view that a comprehensive agreement would yield major results for the Australian economy,” ACBC national chairman Frank Tudor said in a statement.

China became Australia’s largest trading partner in 2008, with two-way merchandise trade totaling A$57.92 billion. Australian exports of agricultural, mineral & energy products were valued at A$26.93 billion while imports from China of A$31.00 billion comprised manufactured products including computer & electrical equipment, industrial products & clothing. Canberra and Beijing have held 13 rounds of talks on a trade agreement over the past four years, with both parties seemingly keen to expand trade.

As we reported a few weeks ago, China is now looking to accelerate its nuclear energy program, with officials announcing they would begin construction of an additional five extra power plants this year on top of the 24 already under construction and 11 already in operation. As we previously noted, both Rio Tin to & BHP Billiton would be the major benefactors in any increase in uranium requirements from China. With uranium channeling higher on global markets, analysts are bench marking $70 per pound later this year, uranium exports from Australia could be worth $12 Bn a year in the near future.

Beijing has recently put in place currency swaps with Hong Kong, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Argentina & now Brazil. The purpose of the swaps varies from county to country. But the main benefit is that China can conduct more of its trade using its own currency and not the USD. It could also be argued that it is operating vendor financing deals in which China supplies currency to countries from which it buys a huge amount of commodities. Nouriel Roubini wrote an interesting piece recently in the New York Times, where he argues that the renminbi, although not an internationally traded currency, seems to have aspirations to become one.

Any uptick in Ozzie-Sino trade would seem to make a currency swap deal a foregone conclusion, Australia is now inextricably tied to the Chinese economy, as exports to China have increased on average by 24.8 percent annually over the last 10 years. Lets not forget that Chinalco is a government owned operation & the proposed deal would be China’s largest Foreign Direct Investment, worth a potential $19.5 Bn.

To conclude, each factor on it’s own is not enough to spark off fears that the renminbi will be all powerful in the very near future. However, where I come from there is a saying “many a meikle makes a muckle” & the Chinese strategy should not wholly be ignored. If, as I contend, Australia & China head down the path of trading in each others currency, this will be the start of something big.

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Chinese steel market warms up, Vale is perfectly placed

valeCompanhia Vale do Rio Doce (Vale) has recently been climbing back from lows caused by the severe drop in demand for its principle feedstock, iron ore. However, there are signs that the Brazilian mining giant may be turning the corner, as the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) has begun to show some activity off the back of speculation that the steel industry is picking up, particularly in Asia.

Vale said steel output across Asia declined by only 8.9% in the first quarter, despite the Japanese recession. This would indicate continuing strength in Chinese demand, compared to North American steel output falling by 52% & European output declining by 44%. Furthermore, Vale said its first-quarter copper output was unchanged year-on-year, aided by Chinese consumer demand for durable goods.

Steel demand is set to stabilize in the latter part of 2009, leading to “mild” recovery in 2010, according to the World Steel Association. German car registrations in March rose to the highest since 1992 after the government began paying owners to trade in old vehicles for new models. Sales in China of cars, minivans and multipurpose vehicles rose to a record in April. Car makers are the fourth-biggest steel consuming indutry, according to the association.

“The first-half will be pretty poor, but by the third or fourth quarter demand will improve,” said Peter Fish an analyst at UK based metals consulting company MEPS International Ltd. “The time is approaching when so-called destocking, in which customers use up inventories, ends and new orders will be made”

China’s imports of iron ore also spiked dramatically in February & March,  as larger iron ore producers such as Vale & Rio Tinto have been selling their iron ore to Chinese customers at a discount. Based on comments from the China Iron & Steel Association, it’s possible that small Chinese steel mills are taking advantage of the opportunity to buy higher-grade imported ore at attractive prices. Previously, imported ore was only available to large mills.

A recent report in Tradewinds shows that Vale chartered 25 Capesize vessels last month for chinese delivery, which should point to flows of iron ore resuming, although a base price for 2009 has still not been agreed with Chinese steelmakers. At present, iron ore is being sold on the spot market at roughly 20-40% discount from 2008 highs of $200 per tonne, by Rio Tinto & BHP Billiton. Valke on the other hand has dropped production & delivery in step with falling demand & has maintained last years benchmark pricing.

Chinese negotiators from Bao Steel had tried to force prices down to 60% of last years benchmark, however it would seem that Vale’s stance regards shipment may have forced China’s hand, as demand for steel is growing. Vale (NYSE : VALE) finished trading on Friday at  $17.42 off of a YTD low of $11.90 on heavier than norma buying activity.

For me Vale is in a much more enviable position than its two main competitors, Rio Tinto & BHP, as they have expended a lot of energy in last years failed takeover bid. Rio Tinto in particular is saddled with huge amounts of debt & no doubt is coming under a lot of political pressure form its would be Chinese bail out “sugar daddy”. I firmly belive that Vale will be able to add at least 50% to its stock price this year & is one of the best value buys in the commodities sector right now.

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BHP & Rio Tinto to extract billion dollar contracts as well as uranium

australian-flagAustralia could be looking at a new multibillion-dollar export market as China looks for a steady supply of uranium, which it needs to underpin a massive expansion in its nuclear power industry. Chinese officials this week announced they would start building five extra power plants this year on top of the 24 already under construction and 11 already in operation. Australia could add A$17 billion ($12 billion) to gross domestic product by 2030 by maximizing suppliers to meet rising global demand for nuclear energy, the Uranium Association said last month.

The acceleration of China’s nuclear programme stems from mounting concerns about climate change, energy security and the more immediate task of kick-starting the economy as part of the Government’s 4 trillion yuan stimulus plan.

Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang announced at a Beijing conference this week that China would “accelerate the development of nuclear power and increase the ratio of clean energies like nuclear power”.

Analysts say the country’s dearth of uranium is “the tiger in the road” to fulfilling its nuclear power ambitions and that Australia is the most obvious solution.

“There are not enough uranium resources in China to support the aggressive nuclear power development plan for the next 20-30 years,” said Professor Liu Deshun, of China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology. “Australia has the uranium resources that could be exported and in China we have the demand,”

Chinese companies are lining up to invest directly in Australian uranium mining & exploration companies and have begun signing long-term supply contracts with Australia’s established mining companies, betting on the expansion plans receiving Government approval.

Australian Minister for Resources, Martin Ferguson, indicated the Federal Government was unlikely to stand in the way, subject to environmental and investment tests. Today, ERA (Energy Resources Australia), a Rio Tinto (NYSE : RTP) subsidiary, is expected to say more about a new plant to extract uranium from low-grade ore and an exploration pit for the expansion of its Ranger Mine in Kakadu, which already produces 10% of the world’s uranium.

Next week BHP Billiton (NYSE : BHP) will move a step closer to a massive expansion of its Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, the world’s biggest proven uranium reserve , with the release of an environmental impact assessment. Extending into the Yeelirrie deposit in Western Australia, which is estimated to  have a 10 to 12-year lifespan and a resource of 35,000 tonnes of uranium, will put BHP at the head of the pack, when it comes to talks with the Chinese buyers. This as a result of the WA government lifting a siy year ban on uranium extraction in the state.

Chinese analysts have said the country’s nuclear power expansion plans will not succeed unless China secures the necessary uranium supplies. Australian analysts say the local mine expansions are unlikely to proceed without the certainty provided by long-term supply contracts to China.

“The two go hand in hand,” said John Wilson, uranium analyst at Resource Capital Research.

Uranium was trading at $41 per lb yesterday & now analysts are benchmarking the yellow cake as being able to reach the $70 per lb mark in the near future.

South America : Copper cartel on the horizon ?

blackboard_copper22With global copper prices sinking from a 2008 high of $4 per lb, down to todays miserly, $1.25 per lb, it is hardly surprising that the two major copper producing countries in South America are looking at ways to buoy up their operations. Last week, Peruvian president Alan Garcia dropped some strong hints that Peru & Chile should coordinate on copper production , in order to achieve greater control of prices on international markets.

“I believe that as countries with a strong mining presence in the world we must work in a joint manner, because when brotherly countries produce and compete with the same metal, the only thing we achieve is a fall in the price of copper, and we are both losers”, said Garcia

Demand growth in China, the world’s largest user of the metal used in plumbing and wiring, slowed to an estimated 9.8 percent in 2008 from 26 percent in 2007. Freeport-McMoran amongst others has shelved projects including a $450 million expansion at its Chilean copper mine El Abra. Freeport owns 51 percent of the mine and Codelco the remainder. The decline cut net income at Chile’s state-run Codelco, the world’s top copper miner, by nearly half to $4.5 billion in 2008.

In December, Jose Pablo Arrelano, CEO of Codelco stated copper prices will be “depressed” next year and demand almost “stagnant” as the international economic crisis leads to higher stockpiles of the metal. This will undoubtedly hurt other players in the commodities market, including BHP Billiton (NYSE – BBL) & Freeport McMoran (NYSE – FCX), Freeport McMoran have made some inroads to looking at the problem, the board announced in early December ,a  Revised Operating Plan in Response to Weak Market Conditions. Which is basically a slow down in extraction & refining in both its North & South American operations.

In Chile & Peru, copper extraction looks like a loss leader at the moment, in aggregate across all units, costs in 2009 are predicted to range from between $0.85 – $1.45 per pound. BHP have similarly looked at cutbacks regards copper extraction, the world’s biggest mining company, has delayed plans for an energy plant in Chile that it planned to build to supply two of its existing copper mines.

As discussed in an earlier post, Aussie-Canuck operator Equinox opened the largest copper mine in Africa last year, at Lumwana in Zambia, which when it comes fully online in early 2009, will be churning out 172,000 tonnes of high yield concentrate per year, which can only bring about additional competition for Codelco, BHP & Freeport, especially as Equinox has hedged production at $2.00 for the first three years of operation at Lumwana & have an estimated existing extraction cost of $0.80.

Chile may be able to weather the storm as Otto at Inka Cola puts forth in this article, the country has one of the highest per capita reserves in South America, totalling $26.49Bn, he further argues that Chile has an additional  $23Bn “tucked away in overseas accounts to call on.” Which is a considerable cushion to see out 2009, as Codelco & Arrelano await  global copper demand to turn positive in 2010.

Peru on the other hand does not look as if it will fare so well, although looking at Otto’s chart, they have a reasonable level of foreign reserves, the Andean nation is beset by rising unempolyment & a lack of foreign investment. Peru’s largest miner Southern Copper (NYSE – PCU) posted  a $125 million net loss in the fourth quarter, compared with a $311 million profit in the year-ago period, due to demand destruction. It is estimated that more than 9,000 miners have been laid off in Peru, whilst new projects have been suspended, including Southern Copper‘s plan to invest $1 billion in the Tia Maria mine. These cutbacks have already helped slow Peru’s growth rate to a projected 5% in January.

The question is, will Garcia’s plan, if it comes to fruition be timely enough ? We have seen how long it has taken OPEC production cuts to start to have an effect on the market price of crude. Of more concern for Garcia will be the new productive mines being opened in Zambia by Equinox at Lumwana & also the the Chinese backed Chambishi mine, which is operated by China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation (CNMC). The expected copper ore output is one million tons per annum, with a projected service life of 25 years. China has also embarked on an acquisition spree of late, which had also brought it interests in Australian miners such as Rio Tinto. Garcia will also have to play a careful game, as China is estimated to have committed to investing over $6 billion in Peru’s mining sector over the next five years. Politics come into play of course & the Chinese are expert in this field, my gut is that production cuts will come, although China will no doubt be exempt from any surging price changes in the near future.

My feel is that the copper mining stocks will remain low for a good time to come, much has been made of the Chinese stimulus bill, however, there is no guarantee that this will come to fruition any time soon, as & when it does kick in, China will be adequately supplied by its current investments in South America & Africa, as discussed in this piece. I am however, a little more bullish on the mining sector in general & have just initiated a position in the S&P Metals & Mining Index (ETF –  XME ,) which looks as though it may be building momentum for a bullish 2009.

Copper prices leave producers feeling “wired”

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Copper futures for March delivery fell 2.35 cents to $1.4050 a pound on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange today. Copper, which reached a record $4.2605 a pound on May 5, has dropped 54 percent this year. Copper had more than quadrupled in the six years through 2007. The decline over the last six months,gives copper the worst- performance among metals tracked on the Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index of 19 commodities.

 

Copper prices will be “depressed” next year and demand almost “stagnant” as the international economic crisis leads to higher stockpiles of the metal, Chilean  state owned Codelco Chief Executive Officer Jose Pablo Arrelano was quoted in Bloomberg today

Demand won’t recover until 2010, Arellano said today in a speech in Santiago. Prices for the metal, will return to “normal” in 2011 as the surplus declines, Arellano said, without specifying a price. Codelco is the world’s largest copper producer by 2007 output. Global stockpiles are rising as wordlwide economic expansion slows to 2 percent or less this year and next. Before a “violent drop” cut copper prices by two-thirds since May, Codelco had forecast a gradual decline, he said. The company has sold a smaller share of its production for 2009 than the 80 percent usually committed by this time.

This will undoubtedly hurt other players in the commodities market, including BHP Biliton (NYSE – BBL) / (ASX – BHP) & Freeport McMoran (NYSE – FCX), Freeport McMoran have made some inroads to looking at the problem, the board announced in early December , Revised Operating Plan in Response to Weak Market Conditions. Which is basically a slow down in extraction & refining in both its North & South American operations. In Chile & Peru, copper extraction looks like a loss leader at the moment, in aggregate across all units, costs in 2009 are predicted to range from between $0.85 – $1.45 per pound. BHP have similarly looked at cutbacks regards copper extraction, the world’s biggest mining company, said yesterday that it has delayed plans for an energy plant in Chile that it planned to build to supply two of its copper mines.

As discussed in an earlier post, Aussie-Canuck operator Equinox have just opened the largest copper mine in Africa, at Lumwana in Zambia, which when it comes fully online in early 2009, will be churning out 172,000 tonnes per year, which can only bring about competition for BHP & Freeport, especially as Equinox has hedged production at $2.00 for the first three years of operation at Lumwana & have an existing extraction cost of $0.80.

Chile, the world’s biggest copper supplier, and the rest of the world will weather “tough” months ahead, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet  said last week. Copper demand in the U.S. may weaken further, while the pace of demand growth in China may be cut by almost half to between 5 percent and 6 percent, Eduardo Titelman, EVPof the Chilean Copper Commission, said in an interview last week.

Demand growth in China, the world’s largest user of the metal used in plumbing and wiring, slowed to an estimated 9.8 percent this year from 26 percent in 2007, the commission said. Freeport-McMoRan has shelved projects including a $450 million expansion at its Chilean copper mine El Abra. Freeport owns 51 percent of the mine and Codelco the remainder.