Cuba closes oldest nickel processing plant – by Marc Frank (U.S. – December 28, 2012)

HAVANA, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Cuba has closed the oldest of three nickel plants in the country, a local Communist Party leader said, a looming event that had become the talk of the mountain town of Nicaro, in eastern Holguin, where it is located.

Nickel is Cuba’s most important export and one of its top foreign exchange earners after technical services and tourism.

“This plant’s productive role is completed and now it will dedicate its efforts to services,” Jorge Cuevas Ramos, First Secretary of the Holguin Communist Party, said in an interview with the provincial television station on Thursday evening.

A local radio report earlier in the week had also indicated the plant was closed. “After the closing of the René Ramos Latourt plant, its director said only the mineral transportation system would be maintained so it is ready to be transferred to Moa or for a foreign company that might be interested in investing in the area,” the report said.

The Cuban nickel industry is cloaked in secrecy. National media and officials have yet to mention the plant’s closure after operating for around 70 years.

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Vale Is Staring At A Q4 Loss On Impairments And Additional Tax Charges – by Trefis Team (December 27, 2012)

Vale (NYSE:VALE) seems all but certain to report a loss in the fourth quarter of the ongoing financial year. The company has suffered two major setbacks in the last few days. Firstly, it announced that it will book a $4.2 billion fourth-quarter pretax charge after lowering the valuation of a nickel mine and its stake in aluminum producer Norsk Hydro ASA. Also, last week the company announced tax losses of nearly $483 million relating to cases in Brazil and Switzerland. Of this, $451 million will be booked in the balance sheet for Q4 and the rest of the amount will be adjusted in the next financial year. [1]

These two setbacks are only recent additions to a long list. Tumbling iron ore prices on a weak demand outlook, failure to begin docking Valemax ships in China due to permission issues, and the shelving of the Simandou project in Guinea due to an uncertain and adverse operating environment are some issues which have been highlighted frequently in the past. The company has been forced to contract its capital expenditure plans for next year and announce sale of non-core assets in order to reduce costs and improve efficiency. However, any gains due to these are certain to be negated due to the latest charges as far as earnings are concerned. [2]

What Is The Reason For A Writedown In The Nickel Business?

Vale will take a $2.85 billion pretax writedown on its Brazilian nickel project Onca Puma. The problems in its nickel business have been festering for some time.

As reported in its third quarter earnings results, lackluster performance of the nickel segment has been one of the largest drags on profit. Vale has been trying to diversify away from iron ore and hopes that nickel would reduce its dependence on iron ore.

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[New Caledonia] Koniambo nickel commissioning support – control infrastructure – by International Mining (December 27, 2012)

Xstrata Nickel’s Koniambo project in New Caledonia is commissioning as it prepares for first ore by the end of 2012. The project design relies heavily on the use of Profibus DP, a digital communications bus, to link field instrumentation and electrical motor controls to the ABB Distributed Control System that is used for control and monitoring of the facilities. Ian Pearce, Chief Executive of Xstrata Nickel, said in November: “We are very excited about the progress being made at Koniambo, including the successful delivery of Line 1.

It is a testament to our dedicated project and operation teams at Koniambo Nickel that we can now focus on moving to first production. “With the completion of Line 1, the majority of our construction resources will now be devoted to the second production line, which is forecast to be complete in the second quarter of 2013. Koniambo Nickel will ramp up to a steady state annual production run rate of 60,000 t of nickel in ferronickel within two years, by the end of 2014.

“Koniambo Nickel’s mine is already operating with the geological integrity of our resource forecasts intact. The ore-preparation plant and overland conveyer are in operation and the team is working to ensure we have 30,000 t of on-spec ore ready for the metallurgical plant by the end of the year.”

Gary O’Connell, Project Technical Director, along with Thierry Bonnet de Larbogne, KNS Process Control Manager, requested XPS Process Control group to assist in troubleshooting of the Profibus installations when problems were experienced during pre-operations testing. The Process Control group has two certified Profibus professionals (Alan Hyde & Phil Nelson) within the group.

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Vale’s massive $4.2 bn write-down on Onca Puma and Norsk Hydro stake – by Dorothy Kosich ( – December 21, 2012)


After selling a majority stake of its bauxite and aluminum assets to Norsk Hydro 22 months ago, Vale is now taking a $4.2 billion write-down on its Hydro shares and its Onca Puma ferronickel ops.

RENO (MINEWEB) – Vale has decided to take a US$4.2 billion write-down on its Onça Puma ferronickel operation, along with the company’s aluminum assets, increasing its fourth-quarter write-downs to US$4.65 billion.

Issues with Onça Puma’s two smelters halted operations since June 2012. After analysis, Vale decided to rebuild one of the furnaces at an estimated cost of US$188 million in 2013 with start-up planned for the fourth quarter of 2013.

“Given this event and in the face of the current market environment for ferronickel, the valuation of Onça Puma determined the need to recognize an impairment charge before tax of $2.848 billion,” the company said Thursday in a news release. “The book value of Onça Puma was US$3.778 billion as of September 30, 2012.”

Meanwhile, Vale observed, “The downward volatility of aluminum prices and the macroeconomic uncertainties about the European economy have contributed to reduce the market value of our 22% stake in Norsk Hydro ASA, a Norwegian aluminum producer, to a level below the book value of our investment.”

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Calls for New Caledonia’s nickel profits to be shared – Radio Australia (October 18, 2012)

But the benefits aren’t reaching many New Caledonians; in particular, young indigenous Kanaks, among whom unemployment is 38 per cent.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Professor Catherine Ris, University of New Caledonia

RIS: New Caledonia is a quite rich country, especially compared to other countries in the Pacific Islands, but it’s a very unequal country. Income distribution, experience, [there are] big, huge disparities. Even people, even different ethnic groups and also between areas even, if you are living in the south of New Caledonia you are not living in the same conditions than if you are living in the north, or in the islands province.

And one of the reasons for that is the school achievement already defers according to ethnicity. School achievement, if we split the population between Kanaks – that’s the indigenous people of New Caledonia – and non-Kanak people, we see for example that only three per cent of Kanak people graduate from higher education, compared to 23 per cent from non-Kanak people. And this disparity in school achievement also implies of course disparities in access to employment, labour market outcomes and to income distribution.

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NEWS RELEASE: Koniambo Nickel completes construction of first production line and readies for first molten metal by year end Koné, 23 November 2012

Xstrata Nickel, the industrial partner in the Koniambo Nickel Project, is pleased to announce that the construction of the first production line of the smelter (Line 1) is complete. The necessary support services and operational infrastructure are undergoing pre-operational testing and commissioning. First molten metal is expected before year end and we anticipate the first metal being tapped from Line 1 in January 2013.

Ian Pearce, Chief Executive of Xstrata Nickel, said: “We are very excited about the progress being made at Koniambo, including the successful delivery of Line 1. It is a testament to our dedicated project and operation teams at Koniambo Nickel that we can now focus on moving to first production.

“Our journey to this point has been a long and complex one, but Koniambo Nickel is finally close to becoming a reality and bringing mutual benefit to all the stakeholders who have a keen interest in its success. I am proud of the role Xstrata has played in making Koniambo Nickel a reality – including continuing construction throughout the global financial crisis – and the support we have received from our many partners in New Caledonia and France.”

With the completion of Line 1, the majority of our construction resources will now be devoted to the second production line, which is forecast to be complete in the second quarter of 2013.

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Nickel Mining Like its 1864 – by Richard (Rick) Mills ( – November 2012)

Nickel Sulphide Project Pipeline Empty

Nickel is present in over 3000 different alloys that are used in over 300,000 products for consumer, industrial, military, transport/aerospace, marine and architectural applications.

Nickel’s biggest use, about 65%, is in alloying – particularly with chromium and other metals to produce stainless and heat-resisting steels. Its primary function is to stabilize the austenitic (face-centered cubic crystal) structure of the steel. Normal carbon steel will, on cooling, transform from an austenite structure to a mixture of ferrite and cementite. When added to stainless steel nickel stops this transformation keeping the material fully austenite on cooling. Austenitic stainless steels have high ductility, low yield stress and high tensile strength when compared to carbon steel – aluminum and copper are examples of other metals with the austenitic structure.

Another 20% is used in other steels, non-ferrous alloys (mixed with metals other than steel) and super alloys (metal mixtures designed to withstand extremely high temperatures and/or pressures or have high electrical conductivity) often for highly specialized industrial, aerospace and military applications.

About 9% is used in plating to slow down corrosion and 6% for other uses, including coins, electronics, in *batteries for portable equipment and hybrid cars, as a catalyst for certain chemical reactions and as a colorant – nickel is added to glass to give it a green color.

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Cuba convicts 12 of corruption in nickel industry – by Laura Kane (Toronto Star – August 22, 2012)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

A Cuban court has convicted a dozen people of corruption in the nickel industry, including two employees of a Cuban-Canadian joint concern, state media announced Tuesday.

Accounting executive Alfredo Barallobre Rodriguez and deputy production director Orlando Carmenaty Olmo of Empresa Moa Nickel SA, a joint operation of Cuba and Toronto-based mining company Sherritt International Corp., were sentenced to six and five years, respectively. Company officials didn’t return requests for comment, and the nationality of the two men couldn’t immediately be confirmed.

High-ranking government officials and an executive at a state-run nickel company were also sentenced in the case, involving a contract for the expansion of the Pedro Soto Alba nickel and cobalt processing plant at the Moa mine. The convictions are the first in a wider crackdown on corruption that has already seen several foreigners, including two Canadians, detained.

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Sherritt as Cuba’s CP – by Peter Foster (National Post – June 29, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Once a catalyst, underperforming miner needs one now
When the recent proxy fight broke out over CP — whose repercussions continued this week with the resignation from the CP board of Rick George — my colleague Terence Corcoran cited another all-too-rare example of a catalyst investor taking on the Canadian corporate establishment. It was Ian “the Smiling Barracuda” Delaney’s successful 1990 fight for control of Sherritt, an historic but failing fertilizer and nickel-refining company based in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
In fact, the CP link doesn’t end there. Mr. Delaney subsequently guided Sherritt into Cuba, where he declared that he would make the company the island’s answer to … CP! Unfortunately, he spoke truer than he knew. Although Cuba now accounts for only a fifth of its assets, Sherritt has been a less than stellar performer over the past two decades. Meanwhile Mr. Delaney’s adventures as Fidel Castro’s “favourite capitalist” remain one of the more controversial aspects of the company’s recent history.

After Mr. Delaney expanded his Cuban ambitions to embrace a joint venture at Moa Bay, a cucaracha appeared in the ointment in the form of Helms-Burton, U.S. legislation that allowed its citizens, including naturalized Cuban-Americans, to sue anybody “trafficking” in assets expropriated by the 1959 Castro revolution.

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Record Nickel Supply Expanding Glut Thwarts Bull Market Rally: Commodities – by Jae Hur and Ichiro Suzuki – February 22, 2012)

Mining companies and refineries are producing more nickel than at any time in history, expanding a glut that threatens to reverse this year’s rally.

Production will exceed demand by 45,000 metric tons, a 73 percent jump from 2011, Barclays Capital estimates. That’s equal to 46 percent of stockpiles tracked by the London Metal Exchange. Refined output will rise 12 percent, the most in at least eight years, according to Morgan Stanley. Prices, which rose 7.8 percent to $20,170 a ton this year, may fall as much as 13 percent to $17,630 a ton by Dec. 31, the median of 11 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg shows.

Metals have returned to a bull market from a 22 percent slump last year on an improving outlook for global growth with manufacturing in the U.S. capping the biggest two-month increase in more than two years in January and unexpectedly gaining in China. With new supply expected from Australia to Madagascar to Brazil, consumption still won’t expand fast enough to absorb the extra metal. Most markets for stainless steel, accounting for 76 percent of nickel demand, remain “depressed,” Deutsche Bank AG said in a report Feb. 15.

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Sherritt CEO [Ian Delaney] reflects on 40 years in the capitalism game – by Jennifer Wells (Toronto Star – January 1, 2012)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

“You do understand it’s a lottery,” says the fired executive. “You know the whole damn thing’s a lottery.” The fired executive is talking about life, that damn thing, that single ticket you’re given. Punched once, you’re done. Adios.

So the executive, who enjoyed the benefits that come along with a multimillion-dollar salary and a chief executive officer’s title, up and fired himself four weeks ago, an act that has put him in the mood to reflect on the past 40 years playing the capitalism game.

It’s a good year for reflection.

The year the eurozone went to hell in a handbasket. The year of the Occupy movement. The year of economic foreboding. There’s 1 per cent. There’s 99 per cent. There’s one-tenth of 1 per cent. Like this guy. So.

Ian Delaney often reaches for small words and sprinkles them over the boardroom table as if they were full sentences.

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Long-time Sherritt chief Ian Delaney to retire – by Brenda Bouw (Globe and Mail – November 25, 2011)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Ian Delaney, the “Smiling Barracuda” of Bay Street who transformed Sherritt International Corp. into a multifaceted mining company with reaches into Cuba and Madagascar, is stepping down, again, as its CEO.

The 68-year-old business maverick, who still exchanges notes with Fidel Castro and shrugs off his ban from the United States, said he can comfortably relinquish the chief executive officer’s role now that his successors are primed to take over during what he sees as a prolonged period of market volatility.

“They are all firing on eight cylinders, they don’t need me,” Mr. Delaney said in an interview on Thursday after announcing his retirement effective at the end of the year, three years after being “drafted” back to the position. He will be replaced by chief financial officer David Pathe on Jan. 1.

The provocative former Merrill Lynch investment banker will remain as chairman of the diversified Toronto-based resources firm he won control over in a hostile proxy contest in 1990, turning it into Canada’s largest coal producer and the largest independent energy producer in Cuba.

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HudBay sells Guatemala mine to stick to mining techniques it knows well – by Mary Gazze (The Canadian Press – August 8, 2011)

TORONTO – HudBay Minerals Inc. (TSX:HBM) sold a promising nickel mine in Guatemala to focus on Canadian and Peruvian projects the company can develop using mining techniques it has been using for more than eight decades.

Analysts said Monday the sale was a long time coming because the Guatemala project had a different geology than HudBay’s other mines and prospects.’ “We have been expecting a sale of the project for some time – admittedly,” said TD Newcrest analyst Greg Barnes .

“We are somewhat pleasantly surprised that management was able to secure a price for the project that is very close to the value for the asset.” Late Friday, Toronto-based HudBay announced the sale of its 98 per cent stake in the Fenix project to global miner Solway Group for US$170 million.

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Papua New Guinea [Ramu nickel laterite project] and China’s New Empire – by Geoffrey York (Globe and Mail – January 3, 2009)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous impact and influence on Canada’s political and business elite as well as the rest of the country’s print, radio and television media. Please note that this article was orginally published January 3, 2009.

MADANG, Papua New Guinea

When Chinese engineers landed in Papua New Guinea in 2006 to inspect their latest mineral acquisition, they faced an arduous journey through the tropical wilderness. They drove over crumbling roads to the Ramu River, then found natives with dugout canoes to paddle them upstream. Next, they hired another team of locals with machetes to slash a rough trail for eight hours through the steamy jungle, dodging poisonous snakes and malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

“It was terrible,” recalls Wang Chun, the chief engineer. “You couldn’t breathe.”

Today, less than three years later, a series of small Chinatowns has emerged in the jungle — complete with Chinese food, Chinese satellite television channels and crews of Chinese migrant labourers living in cheap dormitory huts. Where once was wilderness, you find the workers of China Metallurgical Group Corp., toiling seven days a week and chattering about their families back home in Beijing and Sichuan.

It hasn’t been easy. The state-owned mining company has dealt with violent clashes with local landowners, striking workers, attacks from the media and unfriendly police who arrested more than 200 Chinese technicians on charges of illegally entering the country.

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NEWS RELEASE: Sherritt Provides Revised Estimates for the Ambatovy [Nickel Laterite] Project

TORONTO, June 14, 2011 – Sherritt International Corporation (TSX: S) today announced, following completion of a review of the estimated schedule and associated capital cost of the Ambatovy Project, that the Board of Directors has approved a revised schedule that anticipates first metal in first quarter 2012 and an associated capital cost estimate of US$5.5 billion, excluding financing charges, foreign exchange and working capital requirements. Sherritt will fund its 40% of the capital cost increase directly from funds on hand.

The 16% (US$740 million) increase from the prior estimate is attributable to:

• inaccurate bulk material quantity estimates (including piping and electrical materials), the additional cost to procure, ship and install the materials, as well as the impact of poor performance by certain contractors (US$300 million, or 41% of the increase);
• additional service costs associated with the extension of the schedule, including site support services (which include food and accommodation), and additional EPCM services (US$195 million, or 26% of the increase); and

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