Betting on end to glut, miners hunt for new zinc deposits – by James Regan (Reuters U.S. – November 4, 2013)

SYDNEY – (Reuters) – A global hunt is on to find new deposits of zinc as China buys more of the metal to rust-proof new cars and coat steel used to build bridges and skyscrapers.

Multinationals such as Swiss-based Glencore Xstrata (GLEN.L), Belgium’s Nyrstar (NYR.BR) and China’s MMG (1208.HK) are funding new mines from Africa to the Yukon on expectations that an oversupply of zinc will turn into a deficit.

Along with mining veterans such as former Newmont (NEM.N) head Pierre Lassonde, who holds a stake in Canada’s Foran Mining (FOM.V), they are also investing just as ageing mines accounting for a tenth of world consumption start to shut.

Even old workings are being rehabilitated, including silver-zinc mines built by Hunt brothers Nelson and William in Canada in the 1970s. The Texan duo famously hoarded silver to corner the market and control global prices, only to go bust when silver prices crashed in 1980.

“After peddling the zinc story for so long I’m hopeful we’ll soon have our day in the sun,” said Jonathan Downes, who is managing director of Ironbark Zinc Ltd (IBG.AX).

The Australian prospector is digging a zinc mine in Greenland with help from international producers.

London Metal Exchange zinc prices have tumbled as much as 15 percent this year, one of the worst performers among base metals, but the outlook is turning, thanks in part to a growing appetite for the metal among China’s steel producers.

Within five years prices could almost double if the pace of Chinese demand growth continues.

Already the world’s largest consumer, China still needs more zinc to lift rust-proofing of its steel closer to international levels. Typically, steel manufactured in China contains only a quarter of the zinc found in western steel.

Chinese car makers need to buy more steel coated with zinc, known as galvanizing, to make their vehicles more rust resistant.

The issue of rust problems with Chinese-made cars was highlighted in a consumer program by state broadcaster CCTV.

The program drove home the idea that if Chinese automakers want to effectively compete against the global manufacturers they will have to use more zinc, said an auto-industry insider.

Headway is being made. Growth in China’s automotive sector, the world’s biggest, is already encouraging steelmakers to put more zinc in their steel.

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