MOSCOW. Aug 23 (Interfax) - The Renova group of companies has already invested as much as $400 million in the major manganese deposit United Manganese of Kalahari (UMK) in the Republic of South Africa, member of the Renova supervisory board Vladimir Kremer, who oversees the development of the group's business in the republic, said during an interview given to Interfax.
That sum includes investment in UMK and expenditures on the purchase of, and modernization of, the manganese alloy and ferrosilicate plant Transalloys. The further expansion of Transalloys production capacity is estimated to cost more than $200 million. Those monies will be needed for two new furnaces and an sintering plant.
Renova plans to raise funds for building the two furnaces from Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa. Transalloys was bought from Evraz Highveld Steel & Vanadium in 2007. Renova's stake in UMK is 49%.
Transalloys output amounts to more than 170,000 tonnes of silicomanganese with the processing of roughly 300,000 to 350,000 tonnes of ore annually. The building of the two new furnaces and the sintering plant is predicated on increasing the deposit's output, which has reached 2.5 million tonnes per year. If the project goes successfully, Transalloys output will rise to 350,000 tonnes of silicomanganese per year with the processing of about 700,000 tonnes of ore. "Or even higher, since with the new furnaces we will be able to produce both silicomanganese and ferromanganese," Kremer said.
The completed construction of own-infrastructure facilities at the deposit will open new opportunities for increasing mining output, Kremer said. But the program minimum is stabilizing UMK production at the current level, which is optimal from the standpoint of world manganese prices, the exchange rate of the South African rand, and infrastructural capacity. "Mining infrastructure allows for the further expansion of production, but a restraining factor is railway throughput capability. We are already shipping [by rail] to the nearest port, Elizabeth, just fifty to sixty percent of production volume, and the rest we move from the deposit in other directions, including by air transport, which is less profitable," Kremer said.
Renova works with the state-run Transnet, a monopoly transport infrastructure operator in the country, which is expanding the throughput capacity of lines to Port Elizabeth. Expectations are that in 2016 a manganese terminal will be moved to the neighboring deepwater port Ngqura.
In Kremer's view, the prospects for new projects in the mining of manganese at Kalahari, where 80% of the world's manganese is located, are unpredictable, considering manganese price dynamics. "Prices are extremely volatile. The most recent drop, which happened in the fourth quarter of 2011, made most of the projects being readied for launch economically inefficient. UMK is among the most low-cost deposits in the world, it successfully operates at the current price level [more than $4.5 per metric unit, meaning the manganese content in the ore] and maintains mining profitability even in the event of prices collapsing to the level of $3.5-$4 per unit. However, we think that development of events unlikely," Kremer said.
Renova does not rule out future consolidation in the manganese segment, and is prepared to consider such opportunities. "But the current priority is the organic development of existing assets, as well as transport infrastructure," Kremer said.
Best for Renova is the possibility of expanding its business in the Southern Sahara region (Southern African Development Community - Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, and elsewhere). Renova is not limiting its search for projects that down the road could play a substantial role in the company's portfolio, and is thinking not only about hydrocarbons and bauxites, Kremer said. "We think that such opportunities definitely exist in the sphere of extracting gold and platinum group metals, as well as copper, nickel, and coal," he said.
The purchase of the South African gold and uranium deposit Ezulwini from Canada's First Uranium, Inc. was not forthcoming, as the company was unable to do the necessary due diligence, Kremer said. Ezulwini "is a complex asset, the problem with which, in our view, is in the qualifications of management precisely in the context of mining work," he said. Nonetheless, South Africa remains for Renova "a core country," where the company is ready to consider assets with interesting characteristics and potential not only in gold, but also other resources, he said.
The production of precious metals in Africa will for now be developing separately - without consolidation with Kamchatka Gold (KamGold) - although that option is considered a possibility, he said.
Renova manages the assets of Vekselberg and his partners Yevgeny Olkhovik, Alexander Zarubin and Kremer. The largest of these assets are stakes in TNK-BP (RTS: TNBP) and UC Rusal, as well as Swiss companies Oerlikon and Sulzer. Renova also owns IES Holding, telecommunications operator Akado, several regional airports, construction assets, and a producer of materials for metallurgy called Energoprom.
In the field of gold mining, the group is carrying out the KamGold project. According to Russia's Union of Gold Industrialists, the company was 16th in Russia in terms of extraction volume last year, producing 2.027 tonnes of gold (65,200 ounces, down 2.7% from 2010) at the Aginskoye deposit.
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