The world’s mines and steel plants got so devalued during the commodity slump that some were just given away by owners struggling to cut losses or debt. But there’s at least one metal that’s been attracting a lot of attention.
Niobium — named for a Greek goddess who became a symbol of the tragic mourning mother — is used to produce stronger, lighter steel for industrial pipes and aircraft parts. It is mined in only three places on Earth, and the price of every kilogram is seven times higher than copper.
China Molybdenum Co. outmaneuvered at least 15 companies last month to purchase Anglo American Plc’s niobium and phosphate unit in Brazil, agreeing to pay $1.5 billion, or 50 percent more than the valuation by some analysts. The buying frenzy that included Vale SA, Apollo Global Management LLC and X2 Resources showcased the growing appeal of a market that may be worth $4 billion for a soft, silvery metal many experts don’t know much about.
“I didn’t know what niobium was, and I had been in the minerals industry for 20 years before this opportunity came across my desk,” said Craig Burton, the chairman of Cradle Resources Ltd., which is seeking to develop the $200 million Panda Hill niobium project in Tanzania. “I had to actually open up the periodic table just to double-check that it was an element. It definitely is a boutique space.”
Niobium is hard to find and hard to value. More than 80 percent of global supply comes from one company — Cia. Brasileira de Metalurgia & Mineracao in Brazil. Metal Bulletin Ltd., which publishes prices for metals as obscure as bismuth and germanium, says there’s not enough liquidity to report one for niobium.
For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-17/the-commodity-that-no-one-knows-about-but-everybody-wants-to-buy