Vale’s former iron man sets sights on Africa – by Silvia Antonioli and Clara Ferreira-Marques (Reuters U.K. – April 23, 2013)

LONDON (Reuters) – At the helm of Brazil’s Vale for a decade, Roger Agnelli turned the conservative iron ore producer into a global heavyweight. Now, he is back in the game.

The 53-year-old, ousted from Vale two years ago, is betting on the world’s hunger for resources, Africa’s potential and his team’s ability to operate where others fear to tread.

“You have a lot of financial guys looking to invest, looking for opportunities,” said the former banker, sitting back in the library of a smart central London hotel. “But guys who go into the middle of the forest, into the middle of the desert to implement a project, those are still scarce.”

Agnelli set up AGN Participacoes, a holding company, shortly after leaving Vale, to invest in biofuel. Last July, he teamed up with billionaire Andre Esteves’ investment bank BTG Pactual to set up B&A Mineracao, a mining group focused on fertiliser, iron ore and copper, in Latin America and Africa.

That $520 million venture – one of a handful of investment ventures set up by an outgoing generation of mining executives – has already put its cash to use, investing $160 million in fertiliser projects and copper.

Agnelli, however, says more cash can be raised, and he is betting B&A can capitalise on the opportunities thrown up as small miners struggle for cash and big players slim down in the face of investor demands.

So far, few buyers have flocked to those unwanted projects, particularly those in tougher, riskier regions. Agnelli, however, is happy to look at Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast – where he sees phosphate potential – and beyond.
“We are cherry-picking the best assets, the best locations to be, analysing risk, returns. We are not in a hurry,” he said.

B&A is not looking for minority stakes. Agnelli instead describes himself as an operator, backed by an experienced team, many of whom followed him from Vale.

“We are looking to put together high quality assets, projects, or to acquire some companies with cash-flow generation in order to build a strong platform to grow in the future,” Agnelli, who serves as B&A’s executive chairman, told Reuters.
Unlike many, held back by uncertain markets and rising costs, B&A has not shied away from projects built from scratch.

B&A last month completed the acquisition of fertiliser group Rio Verde Mineracao, motivated by the explosive growth of the middle class in Brazil, China and beyond – millions who will consume ever more grain and meat. Its phosphate project in Rio Bonito, in the northern Brazilian state of Para, will produce 150,000 tonnes a year from September.

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