Articles in Category: Company News

MetalMiner welcomes guest contributor Carlos Tromben, executive editor at America Economia in Santiago, Chile. Carlos has an MA in communications from the ESCP-Europe in Paris, France.

The world’s mining industry looks increasingly like the opening sequence of “Game of Thrones,” the popular HBO saga. It’s like a map where bellicose and greedy Houses wage wars and forge tactical alliances between one another. No one is to be trusted; everyone is needed in the quest for total dominance.

Take Ivan Glasenberg, the secretive South African “Hand” who may well become the next King if he succeeds merging Xstrata and Glencore. Will he then go after embattled Anglo American? There you have sword-wielding Cynthia Carol, fighting off the beast of nationalization in South Africa and refusing Codelco as Chilean consort. Take Murilio Ferreira, Vale’s new Hand, courting the Middle Kingdom with large ships to form the biggest alliance of them all.

In this “Game of Thrones,” Codelco seems the lesser of the big Houses. Neighboring Vale was sold like a beautiful virgin to private suitors and is now a global powerhouse. Codelco stayed in the hands of Motherland Chile. Mind you, Codelco is still powerful, but looks rather withered. The Motherland’s strict moral code has kept it single, shielded from the lust of investment bankers, but also unable to reinvest its profits in expanding capacity of its vast yet dwindling deposits.

How To Explain This?

Well, in the first place, Codelco is young. It was born out of the kingdom’s wounds. Salvador (the Savior) Allende, the so-called comrade-king, nationalized the foreign-owned mines in the name of his people and the military later overthrew him. Since then the Motherland has forced Codelco to give 10 percent of its revenue to the kingdom’s righteous warriors. A significant royalty, when all the other Houses were allowed to exploit Chile’s copper almost for free.

The Motherland may have kept Codelco away from the banker’s greed and the stockbroker’s wickedness, but it opened the doors to the local politician, the power broker, and of course, the military-industrial complex (or Chile’s version of it). Now all of them want to keep things just as they are.

They’ve been able to do so because of the particularities of Chile’s psyche. Even after decades of neo-liberal and Chicago-inspired economics, Chileans are deeply identified with the State. That explains why any serious politicians, any consensus-builders have never attempted to explain to them how much would they benefit from a Codelco IPO. How their personal and national wealth would dramatically increase if pension funds could invest in the nation’s copper company.

There is also an identity issue here. Codelco and Chile’s mining policy are dictated by civil engineers, by logistics magicians and productivity geeks. No room for the bold global strategist, the financial maverick and the bold political leader to shake the status quo.

New “Hand” Sergio Hernandez was the man to do so. He knew Codelco could no longer afford to keep silent and humble, and he designed a battle plan. His first quest was a leveraged bid for Los Bronces, Anglo American’s half share of La Mina sin Nombre. The mine without a name is one for the fairest jewels of the Realm. It would have increased Codelco’s output by 10 percent. But mean Cynthia Carol said no. She brought in the lawyers and sold half Anglo American’s stake at the mine without a name to Mitshubishi, one of the big Houses of the Rising Sun.

Codelco could now be the most coveted middle-aged knight in the Realm, a $30 billion beau. But it needs a severe yoga, workout and soul-searching plan to be eligible and fashionable again. Or it will remain a respected middle-aged gentleman — cultured, but rather dull.

–Carlos Tromben

Rick Blume, GM Commercial for Nucor’s steelmaking group, strode on stage to the muscular sounds of steel pedal as a video played in the background, showing how Nucor is at the forefront of the steel industry in many ways.

But all the awesome bluster aside (thanks for your sponsorship, Nucor!), Rick got down to brass tacks and uncovered a rather tough (if not outright grim) picture for producers these days. He began exemplifying how a producer must approach these uncertain times by diversifying their product lines, production processes, DRI plant investments and energy (natural gas) sourcing.

It’s not easy for workers or companies.

Not only were there dramatic falloffs in GDP and other economic metrics post-2008, there have been more job losses following the most recent recession than in any recession between 1974-2001. In terms of unemployment rates, underemployment is not good enough, and there is a sizable portion of folks who have given up looking for a job. If you include all these categories, Rick said, the rate is closer to 15 percent. Ultimately, over 25 million jobs are needed to get back to where we were.

There are several challenges for producers that Rick outlined, among them and regulations and permitting climate and raw materials prices. As far as commodity pricing goes, the increases since 2001 or 2002 have been dramatic for scrap #1 Busheling Chicago (372%), metallurgical coal (282%), iron ore fines (625%), and zinc (roughly 60%), among others.

However, the H.E.A.T sector (Heavy Equipment, Agriculture, and Transportation) will continue growing in the coming years, and demand for the steel and other finished products that are necessary to drive the sector will continue to be relatively strong. On a base level, population growth will push steel consumption and emerging market demand won’t be going away anytime soon.

Although we’re seeing an improving picture here, buyers will still remain cautious, Rick said. Inventory will also be strictly managed. To “navigate turbulent times” in the future, companies must take care of their customers and maintain a strong balance sheet, he said.

Registration begins now for Commodity EDGE: Sourcing Intelligence for the New Normal at the InterContinental Chicago (O’Hare).

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–The Editors

The best things come to those who wait.

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This commentary follows on the heels of yesterday’s post on the Sesa Goa-Sterlite merger. 

Few believe that Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal’s planned merger of his sprawling empire of oil, gas, metals and iron ore mining firms into one coherent whole is solely about debt consolidation, simplification of shareholdings and some $200 million in cost savings. UK-based Agarwal has proved to be highly acquisitive in recent years, building Vedanta and its various majority- but not totally-owned subsidiaries into major players in a host of industries, but notably aluminum, zinc, silver, copper, iron ore; and with the completion of a $9-billion purchase of Cairn India last year, a major oil and gas producer.

Reuters reports that as a first step, Vedanta would merge non-ferrous metals producer Sterlite Industries into sister concern and iron ore miner Sesa Goa to create Sesa Sterlite, the eventual umbrella unit for other subsidiaries. Continuing the changes, Vedanta’s unlisted unit Vedanta Aluminum, along with Madras Aluminium Co., will be transferred to Sesa Sterlite, once the first consolidation is complete.

Vedanta’s 38.8-percent holding in oil and gas producer Cairn India will also be transferred to Sesa Sterlite, along with related debt of $5.9 billion, which is incurring a $500 million interest charge at the corporate level and making further borrowing difficult. The group’s holding in Hindustan Zinc and Bharat Aluminium Co. Ltd., in which the Indian government also holds a minority share, will remain unchanged for the time being, but Vedanta is negotiating to buy the shares it does not already own. The firm made a fresh cash offer last month, but is still waiting for a reply from the government.

Vedanta owns more than 50 percent in each of its group companies, but does not hold 100 percent in any, making the process more protracted than otherwise may be the case, as minority shareholders need to be brought along. But with Vedanta’s share price underperforming the mining sector of the UK stock market by 25 percent this last year, shareholders are keen for action to lift the share price.

The combined group could be valued at some $20 billion. The only part of the group that will remain part of Vedanta (but not part of Sesa Sterlite) will be Konkola Copper Mines in Zambia, in which Vedanta owns 79 percent, but with no cross-shareholdings between Konkola and any other Vedanta company, according to the Telegraph newspaper. Rumors have it that Vedanta may seek to list Konkola as early as next year to raise cash for further acquisitions elsewhere.

And this brings us to the nub of Mr. Agarwal’s strategy: the complicated cross-shareholdings and level of corporate debt following the acquisition of Cairn India have left Vedanta with an underperforming share price, high levels of debt and a complex shareholding structure. Simplification would yield some savings, but more importantly, easier access to capital and transfer of the debts to the operating units best able to service them.

This would free Agarwal to go back on the offensive. KPMG speculated in the Financial Times that the group could expand into new business areas — notably coal mining — where it is bidding on government mining rights, infrastructure, power and other areas in the oil and gas value chain, as it lays out plans to invest some $6 billion in Cairn India’s assets to boost production over the next three years.

For a former scrap dealer from Mumbai who left school at age 15, you can’t say Anil Agarwal lacked ambition. The drive that has seen him create a natural resources group in the top 15 companies in India by market capitalization, and the world’s seventh-largest diversified miner by core profit, according to the FT, is likely to see plenty more growth in the years to come.

London-listed Vedanta Resources is planning to merge two of its units in India, Sesa Goa and Sterlite Industries, reports Business Standard. Sesa Goa is a leading producer and exporter of iron ore with a current market capitalization of around Rs 214.41 billion ($4.2 billion), while Sterlite Industries is involved in copper and aluminum production with a current market capitalization of Rs 431.58 billion ($8.6 billion).

Vedanta Resources had acquired Sesa Goa for Rs 40.70 billion ($814 million) in 2007 from Japan’s Mitsui & Co. Limited.

Until December 2011, the promoters owned 53.3 percent of Sterlite Industries and 55.1 percent in Sesa Goa, held through various investment and finance companies of Vedanta. Sterlite, in turn, owns 64.9 percent in Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL).

The proposed exercise, if it happens, will likely create a giant metals and mining firm with the third-biggest profit in the Indian private sector after oil giant ONGC and private giant Reliance Industries. It will have a combined market cap of Rs 660 billion ($13.2 billion).

Vedanta Resources attempted a similar merger exercise in September 2008, when it had decided to restructure its three commodity businesses of copper, aluminum and iron ore under a single umbrella. However, it had to withdraw the proposal following widespread resistance from investors.

This time, too, the company intends to put all its operations under a single operating arm, but even now the investors are responding negatively to the news of a merger.

Shares of Sterlite Industries and Sesa Goa plunged sharply amid speculation of a merger between the two companies. In a volatile day of trading, Sterlite shares fell by as much as 7.48 percent to touch an intra-day low of Rs 118.80 ($2.37) on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). The stock finally closed at Rs 119.90 ($2.39), down 6.62 percent.

Sesa Goa’s stock also slipped by 5.55 percent to Rs 233 ($4.66) a share during the day. Later it recovered some of the losses and closed at Rs 236.40 ($4.72), down 4.18 percent. Shares of other Vedanta Group firms — Hindustan Zinc and Cairn India — also closed in the red on Feb. 22.

It is understood that under the new structure, Sterlite would hold all Vedanta’s metals businesses — aluminum, copper, zinc and iron ore — in India. Even Sesa’s iron ore operations will come under it. According to market sources, a share swap in the ratio of 2:3 is being talked about. In other words, a shareholder will get two shares of Sterlite Industries for every three shares of Sesa Goa.

Reports suggest that Vedanta has been considering various options to simplify the unwieldy structure under which three of the six Indian companies are directly owned by the global parent. The rest are either co-owned with Indian subsidiaries or the government.

Vedanta Resources has posted its comments on the company website. A statement of Vedanta’s reads: “Vedanta Resources plc (Vedanta) notes media speculation regarding a potential group restructuring. Vedanta’s stated strategy is to simplify and consolidate its corporate structure. Management reviews options to deliver this strategy on an ongoing basis and will update the market as appropriate.”

While General Motors and its European counterparts have been having some overcapacity problems in Europe, Volkswagen, Europe’s leading carmaker, is the shining star as far as Eurozone manufacturing — and sales success — goes.

VW reported record profits last week, amid speculation that the European auto market will contract once again in 2012 — the fifth consecutive year of contraction. Volkswagen’s profits doubled from the previous year to €15.4 billion ($20.6 billion), and revenue increased about 26 percent to €159 billion, according to this New York Times new hit.

In at least one way, it doesn’t matter to Volkswagen that the Eurozone is suffering: The company reported that its “two Chinese joint ventures, Shanghai Volkswagen and FAW-Volkswagen, together sold 2.26 million vehicles in 2011, up nearly 18 percent from 2010,” according to the article. Overall, the company broke the 8-million-vehicles-sold threshold for the first time, led by its VW and Audi brands; it clocked 8.27 million total sales.

While GM has been forced to begin talks with Peugot to cut costs (as my colleague Stuart reported on last week), VW seems to be sitting pretty with its extra stash of cash — but will the fuzzy feelings last for long?

The company has yet to fully report what happened in Q4 2011 for all ten of its brands — not just the high-flying Audi and VW marks — on March 12. A report in the Wall Street Journal maintains that 2012 will be a challenging year for all automakers, not just because of the down Eurozone economy (Moody’s forecast sees a 6.2 percent decline in 2012 y-o-y).

While the article quotes a Morgan Stanley analyst as saying that only VW and Hyundai should be profitable in 2012, a separate report indicates China’s not buying cars like it used to — auto sales fell 24 percent in the wake of the Lunar New Year, but potentially more worrisome, rose only 2.5 percent in 2011 to 18.5 million, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

Interestingly, VW may stand to gain a bit of a cash infusion from the European Central Bank (ECB) in the form of cheap loans to boost the Euro auto industry, according to BusinessWeek. (Peugot is also in line for the handout, but arguably, they need it much more.) In an interview, Stefan Rolf, VW’s head of securitization, said that the company is “considering accessing the LTRO” — an ECB program that is a cheaper source of cash than selling bonds.

Looks like even VW is hedging against another global downturn any way it can.

Continued from Part One.

In another twist to the tale, a report in the FT says GM seems to be at an advanced stage of discussions with France’s Peugeot, also a struggling carmaker with excess capacity, to jointly develop engines, transmission systems and entire vehicles that would be sold under their respective brands. While this could have design and production cost savings, it would really only make sense if between them they closed excess production capacity.

While no shares will change hands in the proposed cooperation between GM and Peugeot, it has similarities to Chrysler’s cooperation with and later 53.5-percent takeover by Italy’s Fiat, the loss-making carmaker that owns the Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands in addition to Fiat. That merger could be said to be timely for Fiat, as the combined company reported a small net profit for 2011 and projected $1.5 to 2 billion net profit for 2012, largely on the back of a resurgent North American market for Chrysler brands.

On the other side of the coin, Tata’s Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has been investing something like $1 billion per year for the last few years and is set to double this next year as it expands production in the UK and overseas, and takes on more staff to meet record demand. Tata Motors bought Jaguar Land Rover from Ford in 2008, for £1.5 billion, in a move some derided as a mistake. Last year, JLR made a profit of £1.1 billion and this year’s profits are expected to be even higher still.

GM probably missed the boat in selling its European operations back in 2009.

Who would buy them in today’s market is unclear. GM could still make the operations profitable; they have great research and design resources and some plants that are highly efficient. Arguably, in a world where smaller cars are likely to be a long-term trend, a European design and production base is a strategic asset that could be of considerable benefit to the global GM corporate.

However, GM as a group will not be willing to carry the cost of a loss-making European division for long, and unpopular as it will be among European governments and unions, plants are going to have to close.

Europe’s car companies could be said to mirror the European economies in the sense that there’s a stark contrast between the haves and have-nots, or between the profitable and the loss-making.

Unlike the US, where all carmakers were pulled down post-2008 and some teetered on the edge of bankruptcy while others actually went into Chapter 11, European carmakers are much more of a mixed bag. And before I get comments about government subsidies, let me say this: while they have over the years detrimentally impacted the structure of the European car industry, today’s winners and losers do not split neatly down the line between beneficiaries of state largesse and not.

In stark contrast to its parent, now (free of onerous pension obligations and high union pay rates) a highly profitable enterprise, General Motors’ European operations (which includes Vauxhall in the UK and Opel in Germany) lost $747 million last year, with $562 million of that coming in the final quarter of the year and including a restructuring charge of $200 million.

It has lost money in Europe for a decade, but targeted breaking even in 2011 as talks broke down to sell the business to Magna a year back. Even so, the loss is a marked improvement from the $2 billion deficit in 2010, the Telegraph reports, but is in stark contrast to a year of record global profits for GM group, where profits surged to $9.19 billion from $6.17 billion.

Perversely, GM’s rescue plan may include the closure of Europe’s most efficient car-making plant, Ellesmere Port in the UK, because GM is prevented from closing German plants until 2014 due to union agreements — even though the Bochum plant in Germany, which has a capacity of 160,000 cars but is said to need 3,100 employees to operate, compared to Ellesmere’s 187,000 capacity with only 2,100 employees.

Continued in Part Two.

India’s biggest blast furnace would be made operational at the Orissa based Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) by the end of July this year, according to the Hindu Business Line. The announcement was made by Chandra Sekhar Verma, the Chairman of Steel Authority of India (SAIL). Indian news agency PTI quoted Verma as saying that the country’s biggest blast furnace having a 4,060-meter cube would be operational at the RSP in June-July.

According to the report published in Business Line, during a meeting with the state’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the SAIL chairman said that the expansion and modernization work at RSP will be completed much before the scheduled time frame.

SAIL is spending about Rs 120 billion ($2.4 billion) on the modernization of RSP, with a target to take its production capacity of hot metal to as high as 4.5 million metric tons from its existing capacity of 2 million tons.

The capacity of the RSP would be increased from 2 million to 4.5 million tons per year and later to 5 million tons per year, Verma was quoted as saying. RSP modernization is part of SAIL’s plan for expanding capacity in its existing major plants. All together, SAIL has decided to pump in Rs 720 billion ($14.4 billion) to raise production from 14 million tons to 24 million tons per year by the end of 2013.

SAIL produces iron and steel at five integrated plants and three special steel plants, located principally in the eastern and central regions of India.

As per the plans, all modernization and expansion work would be completed in a phased manner in all SAIL’s steel plants; the company seeks to raise its capacity to 40-60 million tons per year after eight years, as per its 2020 vision document.

Out of Rs 720 billion ($14.4 billion), an amount of Rs 105 billion ($2.1 billion) would be spent in the Raw Material Division (RMD), while Rs 560 billion ($11.2 billion) will be spent on purchasing machinery for expanding and modernizing units.

RSP, the first integrated steel plant in the public sector in India, was set up by SAIL with German collaboration with an installed capacity of 1 million metric tons. Subsequently, its capacity was enhanced to about 2 million tons.

The plant was modernized in the mid-1990s with a number of new units having state-of-the-art facilities. Most of the old units were also revamped for effecting substantial improvement in the quality of products, reducing cost and ensuring a cleaner environment.

RSP was the first plant in India to incorporate LD technology in steel-making. It is also the first steel plant in SAIL and the only current one where 100 percent of slabs are produced through the cost-effective and quality-centric continuous casting route.

RSP currently has the capacity to produce 2 million tons of hot metal, 1.9 million tons of crude steel and 1.67 million tons of saleable steel. It is SAIL’s only plant that produces silicon steels for the power sector, high quality pipes for the oil & gas sector and tin plates for the packaging industry. Its wide and sophisticated product range includes various flat, tubular and coated products.

TC Malhotra contributes to MetalMiner from New Delhi.

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