Thursday 17th August 2017

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Posts tagged ‘australia’

Who gets a stake in this strategic U.S. asset—the Russian billionaire, the Chinese company or both?

June 16th, 2017

by Greg Klein | June 16, 2017

Efforts to reduce U.S. dependency on Chinese rare earths took an uncertain turn on June 15 as a group representing three American firms and a Chinese REE producer placed the winning bid for Mountain Pass. But the sale of bankrupt Molycorp Minerals’ former California mine, until its 2015 shutdown the only REE operation in the U.S., faces a number of challenges.

Who gets a stake in this strategic U.S. asset—the Russian billionaire, the Chinese company or both?

Mountain Pass: Could one rival bidder get the
mine while another holds the mineral rights?

The US$20.5-million top bid came from MP Mine Operations LLC, which “includes two noteholder groups from Molycorp’s original bankruptcy as well as Chinese investor Shenghe Resources Shareholding Co Ltd,” reported Law360.com. Shenghe Resources Holding is a Chinese company engaged in smelting, deep processing and sales of rare earths and other metals, according to Bloomberg, which notes Shenghe is a subsidiary of the China Geological Survey Institute of Multipurpose Utilization of Mineral Resources.

The bid surpassed a US$20-million stalking horse from ERP Strategic Minerals, part of the U.S.-based ERP Group of companies headed by Tom Clarke. The American billionaire credits his group with “a strong track record of restarting mines acquired out of U.S. bankruptcy and Canadian CCAA situations.” ERP planned to work with Pala Investments, headed by Russian-born billionaire Vladimir Iorich, and ASX-listed Peak Resources for financial, technical and operational support of the Mountain Pass mine and processing facility.

ERP had challenged the rival bid in court, saying the offer could be blocked by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment or other regulators, Law360.com stated. The journal quoted ERP arguing that, without a pre-bid review, “the stalking horse bidder will be prejudiced by having to compete against unfair, non-complying bids, and there is a real risk of a flawed auction and a failed sales process.”

Who gets a stake in this strategic U.S. asset—the Russian billionaire, the Chinese company or both?

Bankrupt Molycorp’s former assets include an REE processing facility.

A judge allowed the auction to proceed, “setting the stage for a sale hearing on June 23,” Law360.com added. The site previously reported that the hearing was scheduled to consider objections from three federal regulatory agencies that say the former operation’s permits can’t be transferred through the auction.

According to Peak Resources, ERP will file an objection to the auction by June 19 “and may consider other legal remedies” prior to the June 23 hearing.

But members of the winning group already hold the mineral rights, according to the Financial Times. Last month the paper stated the rights are held by MP Mine Operations members JHL Capital Group and QVT Financial, both Molycorp creditors, along with Oaktree Capital. The American firms planned to work with Shenghe, the Chinese REE processor.

Contemplating a successful ERP bid prior to the auction, “Mr. Clarke said his group could still use the mine site to process material from elsewhere if they did not get the mineral rights—but he hoped to negotiate for them if he wins,” the paper added.

Mountain Pass went on care and maintenance in 2015 after Molycorp piled up some US$1.7 billion in debt. That left Lynas Corp’s Mount Weld operation in Western Australia as the world’s only significant source of rare earths outside China, which produces and processes about 90% of global supply.

The U.S. Geological Survey considers rare earths critical to the country’s economy and defence. Under the proposed METALS Act, a bill before U.S. Congress, the federal government would support the development of domestic sources and supply chains for critical minerals including rare earths.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation quotes academic J. Michael Cole suggesting China is a paper tiger

June 12th, 2017

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Numismatic news: Loonie turns 30, Rio Tinto unveils precious metal/diamond coins

June 8th, 2017

by Greg Klein | June 8, 2017

Its size and weight wore out pockets, its value raised panhandlers’ expectations and its name puzzled foreign visitors. But following its appearance 30 years ago this month, the loonie “found its way into our hearts,” the Royal Canadian Mint maintains. To celebrate this anniversary, the Mint released a limited edition set of two silver dollars. One depicts the loon, the other shows the originally intended canoe, a design that graced Canadian silver dollars from 1935 to 1986. The two $1 coins will cost collectors $79.95.

Numismatic news: Loonie turns 30, Rio Tinto unveils precious metals/diamond coins

The originally intended design for Canada’s dollar coin
distinguishes one of the anniversary set’s two silver pieces.
(Photo: Royal Canadian Mint)

The original voyageur design’s fate comprises a minor legend of numismatic history and bureaucratic bungling. The dies disappeared in November 1986 en route from Ottawa to Winnipeg, where they were supposed to generate an initial 450 million coins. But the Mint did save nearly $80 by using regular courier instead of an armoured courier.

According to media reports at the time, federal officials covered up the suspicious loss and made excuses for the new coin’s delayed appearance. Finally, to foil counterfeiters, the Mint replaced the canoe with an uninspiring Plan B.

The missing dies never did turn up, Mint spokesperson Alex Reeves informs ResourceClips.com.

With no embarrassment in calling the loonie one of Canada’s “most recognizable symbols,” Mint president/CEO Sandra Hanington said it’s “also known around the world as an innovative trailblazer for its composition and cutting-edge security features.”

Additionally the loonie “changed stripping forever,” according to the National Post. Those who’ve experienced pre-1987 peelers’ bars might agree. But the NP writer’s expertise sounds less certain when he claims the loonie amounts to a hidden tax because “banknotes get spent almost immediately, whereas coins get stashed into jars and piggy banks.”

Australian icons got more majestic treatment when Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO teamed up with the Perth Mint to produce three magnificent coins celebrating that country’s unique fauna and rich resources. Although declared legal tender, they’re not likely to see circulation. Weighing a kilo each, respectively made of gold, platinum and rose gold (an alloy used in jewelry) and set with coloured diamonds from Rio’s Argyle mine, the three-coin Australian Trilogy comes with a price tag of AU$1.8 million.

Just one set has been struck.

Argyle, by the way, “produces virtually the world’s entire supply of rare pink diamonds, and yet less than 0.1% of the diamonds produced by the Argyle mine are pink,” Rio stated.

Numismatic news: Loonie turns 30, Rio Tinto unveils precious metals/diamond coins

Gold, platinum and rose gold combine with pink, violet and
purple-pink diamonds in this one-of-a-kind set. (Photo: Perth Mint)

Related:

China’s “disgusting” behaviour disrupts conflict diamonds meeting

May 3rd, 2017

by Greg Klein | May 3, 2017

An indigenous welcoming ceremony at a meeting to address illicit gems might command dignified respect. But not on May 3, not from the Chinese delegates.

The scene was a Perth conference of the Kimberley Process hosted by Australia’s foreign minister. Australia acts as this year’s chair of the group formed in 2000 by governments, industry and activists to fight the trade of rough diamonds used to undermine legitimate governments.

China’s “disgusting” behaviour disrupts conflict diamonds meeting

“It was disgusting,” the Sidney Morning Herald quoted an unnamed senior Australian official. “It was extraordinary, so uncalled for and so inappropriate, and so disrespectful.” The paper said the Chinese government delegation shouted over the indigenous speaker, forcing proceedings to a halt. Order wasn’t maintained until after Taiwanese observers were “ejected.”

The SMH reported that the Chinese “used the microphone at their table to speak over the chairman of the meeting, senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Robert Owen-Jones, as he tried to introduce the foreign minister Julie Bishop and the indigenous welcome ceremony, attendees said. The Chinese delegation said they had a point of order and demanded to know if everyone in the room had been ‘formally invited.’ The interruptions continued until the agenda was changed to address the so-called ‘point of order’ as the first item. Only then was the welcome to country permitted to go ahead, followed by Ms. Bishop’s speech.”

But more outbursts erupted later, according to the article. “Fairfax Media understands that another session later in the morning involving a panel discussion with executives from mining companies was abandoned altogether because of continual interruptions by various African delegations in support of the Chinese position.”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that an attendee said “he had heard the Chinese were sending WhatsApp messages to their allies in the room, asking for support.”

If Australia had decided not to give into Chinese pressure on Monday I would be mightily surprised if China stopped buying Australia’s natural resources as a result because China desperately needs them for its economical development.—J. Michael Cole, quoted by ABC

The SMH stated a foreign affairs spokesperson said Australia had invited the Rough Diamond Trading Entity of Chinese Taipei “in line with earlier precedent.

“Continual disruption to the proceedings in the opening session was regrettable and the Australian government’s concerns with respect to the behaviour of Chinese delegates have been raised with the Chinese ambassador,” she added.

ABC spoke with J. Michael Cole of the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, who noted that Australia’s one of the countries economically dependent on China. But he added, “I also want to emphasize that China needs those countries as much as those countries need China.

“If Australia had decided not to give into Chinese pressure on Monday I would be mightily surprised if China stopped buying Australia’s natural resources as a result because China desperately needs them for its economical development.”

More critical than ever

April 13th, 2017

The USGS promotes awareness about essential resources and their supply chains

by Greg Klein

Let’s call it Critical Minerals Awareness Month. The U.S. Geological Survey hasn’t actually labelled April that way, but the agency does have a “big push” underway to inform American decision-makers and the general public about the country’s often tenuous hold on commodities vital to the economy and security of that country. Of course those concerns apply to its allies as well.

The USGS promotes public awareness about essential resources and their supply chains

“We decided to do a big push on critical minerals in April largely because we’ve got several big publications coming out on the subject,” USGS public affairs specialist Alex Demas tells ResourceClips.com.

“One of the things we’ve been focusing on is supply chain security, so with the sheer number of mineral commodities that are used in the United States, and the number of them deemed critical, we felt it was important to emphasize where a lot of those mineral resources are coming from and if there are any potential issues in the supply chain, getting them from the source to the United States.”

Computers provide an obvious example, increasing their use from “just 12 elements in the 1980s to as many as 60 by 2006,” points out one recent USGS news release. Smartphones offer another example. Looking back 30 years ago, “‘portable’ phones were the size of a shoebox and consisted of 25 to 30 elements,” states another USGS release. “Today they fit in your pocket or on your wrist and are made from about 75 different elements, almost three-quarters of the periodic table.”

Larry Meinert, USGS deputy associate director for energy and minerals, pointed out some of the sources. “For instance, the industrial sand used to make the quartz in smartphone screens may come from the United States or China, but the potassium added to enhance screen strength could come from Canada, Russia or Belarus. Australia, Chile and Argentina often produce the lithium used in battery cathodes, while the hard-to-come-by tantalum—used in smartphone circuitry—mostly comes from Congo, Rwanda and Brazil.”

That brings an ominous warning. “With minerals being sourced from all over the world, the possibility of supply disruption is more critical than ever.”

The campaign also reveals the agency’s methods for tracking this essential stuff. A USGS-designed early warning system described as “mathematically rigorous and elegant” helps the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency monitor a watch list of about 160 minerals. Not all have been labelled critical, but those so defined can change due to technological development and geopolitical conflict.

The USGS itself tracks something like 90 minerals important to the American economy or security but sourced from about 180 countries. For last year the agency identified 20 minerals on which the U.S. relied entirely on imports and 47 on which the country imported more than half its supply.

Not all the source countries are always best buddies with the West. China supplies most of America’s mined commodities, including 24 of the 47 minerals supplied 51% or more by imports. Among the critical items are rare earth elements, 100% imported, over 90% directly from China and much of the rest through supply chains originating there.

As a supplier, Canada came a distant second, the chief provider of 16 minerals, not all of them critical. Runners-up Mexico, Russia and South Africa were each chief suppliers for eight American mineral imports.

Among the research reports coming soon will be “a compendium of everything the USGS knows about 23 minerals critical to the United States,” Demas says. “It’s going to cover the industry side of things, the reserves, production, shipment, etc. It’s going to cover geology and sustainability. Each chapter on each mineral will have a section on how this can be mined sustainably so we can meet our needs not only today, but also in the future.”

In part the publications target “decision-makers in Congress, as well as the Defense Department and others who use mineral resources,” Demas adds. But he emphasizes the campaign wasn’t motivated by the proposed METALS Act (Materials Essential to American Leadership and Security). Currently before U.S. Congress, the bill calls on government to support domestic resources and supply chains of critical and strategic minerals. On introducing the bill, Rep. Duncan Hunter argued the risk of foreign dependence to national security “is too great and it urgently demands that we re-establish our depleted domestic industrial base.”

As Demas notes, “Since we are a non-regulatory, non-policy agency, we don’t directly influence policy. But we do want policy-makers to have our tools available so they can make the best science-informed decisions.”

And while this month will see special attention to critical minerals, Demas says the subject’s an ongoing concern for the USGS. Some of the reports coming out now will be updates of annual publications.

“We’re really trying to promote the idea that USGS has a lot of really useful information that we put out all the time,” he adds. “This information will hopefully be useful to people when they’re considering where their resources are coming from.”

Follow USGS news here.

Read about the West’s dependence on non-allied countries for critical minerals here and here.

USGS: Possibility of supply disruption more critical than ever

April 5th, 2017

by Greg Klein | April 5, 2017

USGS: Possibility of supply disruption more critical than ever

Many and various are the sources of smartphone minerals.
(Map: U.S. Geological Survey)

 

In another article warning of foreign dependency, the U.S. Geological Survey uses smartphones as a cautionary example. Looking back 30 years ago, “‘portable’ phones were the size of a shoebox and consisted of 25 to 30 elements,” pointed out Larry Meinert of the USGS. “Today they fit in your pocket or on your wrist and are made from about 75 different elements, almost three-quarters of the periodic table.”

USGS: Possibility of supply disruption more critical than ever

Smartphones now require nearly 75% of the periodic
table of the elements. (Graphic: Jason Burton, USGS)

The increasing sophistication of portable communications results from a “symphony of electronics and chemistry” that includes, for example, “household names like silicon, which is used for circuit boards, or graphite used in batteries. Then there are lesser known substances like bastnasite, monazite and xenotime. These brownish minerals contain neodymium, one of the rare earth elements used in the magnets that allow smartphone speakers to play music and the vibration motor that notifies you of new, funny cat videos on social media,” the USGS stated.

Almost as varied are the sources. “For instance, the industrial sand used to make the quartz in smartphone screens may come from the United States or China, but the potassium added to enhance screen strength could come from Canada, Russia or Belarus. Australia, Chile and Argentina often produce the lithium used in battery cathodes, while the hard-to-come-by tantalum—used in smartphone circuitry—mostly comes from Congo, Rwanda and Brazil.”

Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also sources of conflict minerals.

“With minerals being sourced from all over the world, the possibility of supply disruption is more critical than ever,” Meinert emphasized.

The April 4 article follows a previous USGS report on an early warning system used by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency to monitor supply threats. In January the USGS released a list of 20 minerals for which the country relies entirely on imports. Whether or not by design, the recent awareness campaign coincides with a bill before U.S. Congress calling on government to support the development of domestic deposits and supply chains for critical minerals.

See an illustrated USGS report: A World of Minerals in Your Mobile Device.

Read about the West’s dependence on non-allied countries for critical minerals here and here.

A 2016 retrospect

December 20th, 2016

Was it the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

by Greg Klein

Some say optimism was evident early in the year, as the trade shows and investor conferences began. Certainly as 2016 progressed, so did much of the market. Commodities, some of them anyway, picked up. In a lot of cases, so did valuations. The crystal ball of the industry’s predictionariat often seemed to shine a rosier tint. It must have been the first time in years that people actually stopped saying, “I think we’ve hit bottom.”

But it would have been a full-out bull market if every commodity emulated lithium.

By February Benchmark Mineral Intelligence reported the chemical’s greatest-ever price jump as both hydroxide and carbonate surpassed $10,000 a tonne, a 47% increase for the latter’s 2015 average. The Macquarie Group later cautioned that the Big Four of Albermarle NYSE:ALB, FMC Corp NYSE:FMC, SQM NYSE:SQM and Talison Lithium had been mining significantly below capacity and would ramp up production to protect market share.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

That they did, as new supply was about to come online from sources like Galaxy Resources’ Mount Cattlin mine in Western Australia, which began commissioning in November. The following month Orocobre TSX:ORL announced plans to double output from its Salar de Olaroz project in Argentina. Even Bolivia sent a token 9.3 tonnes to China, suggesting the mining world’s outlaw finally intends to develop its lithium deposits, estimated to be the world’s largest at 22% of global potential.

Disagreeing with naysayers like Macquarie and tracking at least 12 Li-ion megafactories being planned, built or expanded to gigawatt-hour capacity by 2020, Benchmark in December predicted further price increases for 2017.

Obviously there was no keeping the juniors out of this. Whether or not it’s a bubble destined to burst, explorers snapped up prospects, issuing news releases at an almost frantic flow that peaked in mid-summer. Acquisitions and early-stage activity often focused on the western U.S., South America’s Lithium Triangle and several Canadian locations too.

In Quebec’s James Bay region, Whabouchi was subject of a feasibility update released in April. Calling the development project “one of the richest spodumene hard rock lithium deposits in the world, both in volume and grade,” Nemaska Lithium TSX:NMX plans to ship samples from its mine and plant in Q2 2017.

A much more despairing topic was cobalt, considered by some observers to be the energy metal to watch. At press time instability menaced the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces an estimated 60% of global output. Far overshadowing supply-side concerns, however, was the threat of a humanitarian crisis triggered by president Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate on December 20.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

But the overall buoyant market mood had a practical basis in base metals, led by zinc. In June prices bounced back from the six-year lows of late last year to become “by far the best-performing LME metal,” according to Reuters. Two months later a UBS spokesperson told the news agency refiners were becoming “panicky.”

Mine closures in the face of increasing demand for galvanized steel and, later in the year, post-U.S. election expectations of massive infrastructure programs, pushed prices 80% above the previous year. They then fell closer to 70%, but remained well within levels unprecedented over the last five years. By mid-December one steelmaker told the Wall Street Journal to expect “a demand explosion.”

Lead lagged, but just for the first half of 2016. Spot prices had sunk to about 74 cents a pound in early June, when the H2 ascension began. Reaching an early December peak of about $1.08, the highest since 2013, the metal then slipped beneath the dollar mark.

Copper lay at or near five-year lows until November, when a Trump-credited surge sent the red metal over 60% higher, to about $2.54 a pound. Some industry observers doubted it would last. But columnist Andy Home dated the rally to October, when the Donald was expected to lose. Home attributed copper’s rise to automated trading: “Think the copper market equivalent of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network that takes over the world in the Terminator films.” While other markets have experienced the same phenomenon, he maintained, it’s probably the first, but not the last time for a base metal.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

Nickel’s spot price started the year around a piddling $3.70 a pound. But by early December it rose to nearly $5.25. That still compared poorly with 2014 levels well above $9 and almost $10 in 2011. Nickel’s year was characterized by Indonesia’s ban on exports of unprocessed metals and widespread mine suspensions in the Philippines, up to then the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore.

More controversial for other reasons, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte began ordering suspensions shortly after his June election. His environmental secretary Regina Lopez then exhorted miners to surpass the world’s highest environmental standards, “better than Canada, better than Australia. We must be better and I know it can be done.”

Uranium continued to present humanity with a dual benefit—a carbon-free fuel for emerging middle classes and a cautionary example for those who would predict the future. Still oblivious to optimistic forecasts, the recalcitrant metal scraped a post-Fukushima low of $18 in December before creeping to $20.25 on the 19th. The stuff fetched around $72 a pound just before the 2011 tsunami and hit $136 in 2007.

Infographic: Countries of origin for raw materials

November 16th, 2016

Graphic by BullionVault | text by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | November 16, 2016

Every “thing” comes from somewhere.

Whether we are talking about an iPhone or a battery, even the most complex technological device is made up of raw materials that originate in a mine, farm, well or forest somewhere in the world.

This infographic from BullionVault shows the top three producing countries of various commodities such as oil, gold, coffee and iron.

Infographic Countries of origin for raw materials

 

The many and the few

The origins of the world’s most important raw materials are interesting to examine because the production of certain commodities is much more concentrated than others.

Oil, for example, is extracted by many countries throughout the world because it forms in fairly universal circumstances. Oil is also a giant market and a strategic resource, so some countries are even willing to produce it at a loss. The largest three crude oil-producing countries are the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia—but that only makes up 38% of the total market.

Contrast this with the market for some base metals such as iron or lead and the difference is clear. China consumes mind-boggling amounts of raw materials to feed its factories, so it tries to get them domestically. That’s why China alone produces 45% of the world’s iron and 52% of all lead. Nearby Australia also finds a way to take advantage of this: It is the second-largest producer for each of those commodities and ships much of its output to Chinese trading partners. A total of two-thirds of the world’s iron and lead comes from these two countries, making production extremely concentrated.

But even that pales in comparison with the market for platinum, which is so heavily concentrated that only a few countries are significant producers. South Africa extracts 71% of all platinum, while Russia and Zimbabwe combine for another 19% of global production. That means only one in every 10 ounces of platinum comes from a country other than those three sources.

Graphic by BullionVault | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Infographic: Eleven things every metal investor should know about zinc

October 20th, 2016

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | October 20, 2016

Certain commodities tend to fly under the radar for periods of time.

For example, it was only in the last couple of years that markets have been able to digest the potential impact of the electric vehicle boom and what it may mean for raw materials. The lithium, graphite and cobalt prices reacted accordingly, and suddenly these essential ingredients for lithium-ion batteries were hot commodities.

Another of those metals that comes and goes is zinc—and after shooting up in price over 35% this year, it definitely has the attention of many investors and speculators again.

Re-thinking zinc

Today’s infographic comes to us from Pistol Bay Mining, a company that also focuses on zinc, and it highlights 11 things that investors need to know about a metal that is gaining substantial momentum.

Eleven things every metal investor should know about zinc

 

Here’s why the metal is back in fashion:

1. Zinc is a $34-billion-per-year market.
It’s bigger than the silver ($18 billion), platinum ($8 billion) and molybdenum ($5 billion) markets combined. In fact, it is the fourth-most used metal worldwide.

2. Smelting and production technology came much later for zinc than for other metals.
The ancients were able to smelt copper, lead and iron, but it wasn’t until much later that people were able to work with zinc in any isolated state.

3. Even despite this, it was a crucial metal for ancient peoples.
They would smelt zinc-rich copper ores to make brass, which was used for many different purposes including weaponry, ornaments, coins and armour.

4. Zinc is also crucial to produce many alloys today.
For example, brass is used for musical instruments and hardware applications that must resist corrosion. Solder and nickel-silver are other important alloys.

5. The world’s first-ever battery used zinc as an anode.
The voltaic pile, made in 1799 by Alessandro Volta, used zinc and copper for electrodes with brine-soaked paper as an electrolyte.

6. The metal remains crucial for batteries today.
Zinc-air, silver-zinc, zinc-bromine and alkaline batteries all use zinc, and they enable everything from hearing aids to military applications to be possible.

7. Galvanizing is still the most important use.
About 50% of the metal is used in galvanizing, which is essentially a way to coat steel or iron so it doesn’t rust.

8. China is both a major producer and end-user.
China mined 37% of the world’s 13.4 million tonnes of zinc production in 2015. The country consumed 47% of the world’s supply that same year.

9. Major mines have been shutting down.
In 2016, China ordered the shutdown of 26 lead and zinc mines in parts of Hunan province for environmental reasons. Meanwhile, Ireland’s Lisheen mine and Australia’s Century mine both shut down last year after being depleted of resources. That takes 630,000 tonnes of annual production off the table.

10. Stockpiles are dwindling.
Warehouse levels are less than half of where they were in 2013.

11. Zinc has been one of the best performing metals in 2016 in terms of price.
It started the year around $0.70 a pound, but now trades for $1.04 a pound.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

An amateur armed with a metal detector finds a 132-ounce gold nugget in Australia’s Victoria state

September 19th, 2016

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