Posts Tagged ‘rio tinto’

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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Miners to benefit from change to Indonesian law

copper-miningUnder Indonesian law, foreign mining companies operating in the country are required to sell 51% of their local holdings back to the government after 5 years of commercial operation. However, Newmont (NYSE : NEM), will only be asked to relinquish 17% of its subsidiary, PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara (PTNNT), as 20% of this entity is already held by a local partner. An international arbitration panel on March 31 gave Newmont and minority partner Sumitomo Corp. a 180-day deadline in which to divest 17% of PTNNT to local buyers, ruling that the companies were in default of their contract of work for failing to meet divestiture schedules in 2006-2008.

With the Indonesian government estimating the total value of PTNNT at $4.9Bn , Newmont & Sumitomo are locked ina valuation battle with the governmet & local companies, who are keen to pick up a share in the companies gold & mining concerns. Some 10% of PTNNT is earmarked for regional governments in Sumbawa, the location of the company’s Batu Hijau copper and gold mine, and the central government will have first right of refusal on the rest of PTNNT.

“We are still discussing the pricing formula” for the stake in PTNNT, with other government departments” Bambang Setiawan, director general at the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources “the department is also conducting preliminary negotiations with Newmont over the sale of the unit as yet it is unclear when a deal might be reached.”

It’s not all grim news for Newmont though. This week, Indonesian officials met regards mining rights in areas of protected forest. As we have written before, (Indonesia the long road back), The country has vast natural resources that Indonesia is keen to exploit, using the above formula to develop modern facilities in the country. Now ministers are expected to pass a decree that will allow mining companies to carry out underground mining activities in areas of protected rainforest.

“The presidential decree will give legal basis so that underground mining is allowed in protected forest areas.The existing law only forbids open-pit mining in protected forest areas,”  said Setiawan.

Information from the mining & energy ministry show that Indonesia has mineable nickel reserves of 547 million tonnes, 112 million tonnes of bauxite and 43 million tonnes of copper,  tin stand at 336,911 tonnes, measured in terms of refined tin, while gold reserves were 4,341 tonnes,

Two other mining majors that will also look to profit from this law change are Rio Tinto (NYSE : RTP) & Freeport-McMoran (NYSE : FCX).

Rio Tinto is currently looking to develop a new nickel operation on the island of Sulawesi, Rio estimate that the mine could produce up to 46,000 tonnes of nickel metal a year, estimated investment costs stand at $2 Bn. Sulawesi is densely forested & the change in law should mean that the company can expand its operations significantly.

Meanwhile, Freeport-McMoran has been active in Indonesia for a much longer time. PT Freeport Indonesia has operated the Grasberg mining complex since the early 70’s, Grasberg is one of the world’s largest single producers of both copper and gold & as Freeport claims, contains the largest recoverable reserves of copper and the largest single gold reserve in the world. Grassberg will continue surface mining until 2015, at which time it will then begin sub-surface mining, according to Freeport’s website.

Indonesia looks to be well on the way to attracting large amounts of FDI into its commodity sector, providing an economic boost to local populations spread across this vast country. India & The Emirates have already committed to investing $4Bn into an aluminium smelting plant, with fully integrated power & logistics last year, with the relaxation of the rules governing mining concessions, the country could well benefit from China’s projected expansion.

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.

Chinese raw material companies continue on acquisition trail

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