Xstrata greenfields projects deemed too risky

WITH Ivan Glasenberg’s distaste for greenfields projects well-known, it comes as little surprise that the Glencore Xstrata boss has scrapped at least four of Xstrata’s major greenfields projects, saving up to $US21 billion ($A22.5 billion) in capital expenditure.
Xstrata greenfields projects deemed too risky Xstrata greenfields projects deemed too risky Xstrata greenfields projects deemed too risky Xstrata greenfields projects deemed too risky Xstrata greenfields projects deemed too risky

At its investor day in London overnight, Glasenberg said Xstrata's greenfield projects had been deprioritised with a material reduction in scope and costs.

"We're fearful of greenfield projects," he said, describing them as disproportionately risky.

Glasenberg said greenfields projects of recent years had been subject to cost overruns averaging around 35%.

As an example he pointed to the Koniambo nickel project in New Caledonia, inherited from Xstrata, with the project's capital cost blowing out by a further $1 billion to $6.3 billion from an initial capital cost of $3.9 billion.

Of 88 Xstrata projects reviewed since the merger was completed in May, 44 have been suspended, with seven projects where scope and costs have been reduced.

Glencore highlighted the Tampakan copper project in the Philippines, the El Pachon project in Argentina, the Frieda River project in Papua New Guinea and the Wandoan coal project in Queensland as greenfields projects under scrutiny.

In the fine print on one of the copper presentation slides, it confirmed that Tampakan and Frieda River were up for sale, along with Las Bambas in Peru, which has to be divested as part of Chinese conditions on approving the merger.

At Tampakan, the 2013 budget has been slashed by $40 million and Glencore's Australian partner Indophil confirmed last month that up to 85% of workers and contractors had been reduced at the site.

The $5.9 billion project had already been pushed back by Xstrata to at least 2019.

In recent weeks, speculation has been rife that Australia's PanAust may look at Glencore's majority stake in the $5.6 billion Frieda River project.

"PanAust does not comment on specific assets or processes," a spokesman said last week.

"However, the company continually reviews potential acquisitions as part of its discipline of evaluating both internal and external growth opportunities."

Highlands Pacific owns a 28% stake in the project.

"This may be an opportunity for buyers such as First Quantum [Minerals], which has a higher risk appetite," analysts from SP Angel in London said in a morning note.

"Most of these greenfield projects are likely to have had a significant amount of investment under the old Xstrata management and could offer a better entry point then starting from base one on greenfield exploration and development."

El Pachon, which has a resource of 3.3 billion tonnes grading 0.47% copper for a contained 15 million tonnes copper, was not listed for sale but had reduced its headcount in Argentina.

The $7 billion Wandoan coal project in the Surat Basin was confirmed as being on hold.

Wandoan, which would have been a mining powerhouse in the newly emerging Surat Basin coal mining province, was still awaiting a mining licence from the Queensland government and had unresolved legal issues with local landowners.

The company said other early-stage Australian coal projects that would be left on the shelf included the Pentland and Sarum projects in Queensland and the Running Stream project in New South Wales.


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