As anyone who has looked into this knows, the producers always
lag the commodities in any recovery, and base materials lag precious metals.
China is showing remarkable foresight in using its dollars to secure supplies
of key industrial commodities and oil now.
China Feasts on Miners as
‘Bank of Last Resort,’ as Metal Falls
By Helen Yuan and Rebecca
Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Wuhan Iron & Steel Group and Jiangsu Shagang Group
Co., China’s third- and fifth-largest steelmakers, are shopping for
iron ore mining stakes in Australia and Brazil, executives said in
“We are evaluating and selecting” candidates in Australia and
Brazil, said Shen Wenrong, Jiangsu-based Shagang’s chairman.
“Going overseas is the government policy, so I believe we will get
financing from Chinese banks.” Wuhan spokesman Bai Fang said his
company is “looking for opportunities” amid lower acquisition
costs for iron ore assets in Australia and “won’t rule out other
The world’s top metal user, China already has acquired $22 billion
worth of commodity assets this year after a 70 percent drop in metal and oil
since July ended a six-year boom in raw materials. With U.S. and
Australian banks still hesitant to lend, Rio Tinto Group and OZ Minerals
Ltd., laboring under combined debt of $40 billion, agreed this month to sell
stakes to Aluminum Corp. of China and China Minmetals Corp., respectively.
“China has turned out to be the bank of last resort,” said Glyn
Lawcock, head of resources research at UBS AG in Sydney. “China is a
net importer of copper, bauxite, alumina, nickel, zircon, uranium. China is
looking for ways to secure supply of these raw materials.”
Commodity acquisitions by China would put increasing amounts of the
world’s raw materials under control of their biggest consumer and may
allow it to influence prices. The investment by Aluminum Corp. of China,
or Chinalco as the state-owned entity is known, into Rio may bolster
China’s bargaining power to set iron ore prices, China Iron and Steel
Steel Prices Surge
China’s plan to boost the economy with 4 trillion ($585 billion)
yuan in spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure has pushed up
prices for steel and iron ore by as much as 37 percent and the cost of
shipping commodities has more than doubled.
State-owned China National Petroleum Corp., the country’s largest
oil producer, also is looking overseas in search of oil fields. China
this week agreed to provide $25 billion of loans to Russia in return for oil
supplies for the next 20 years.
Australia already has signaled concern that China is buying strategic
assets on the cheap. Treasurer Wayne Swan last week tightened takeover
laws when Chinalco announced its investment in London-based Rio Tinto, the
world’s third-largest mining company.
Swan has the power to reject both that deal and Minmetals’ proposition
with Melbourne-based OZ Minerals on national interest grounds. When Peter
Costello was Australia’s treasurer in 2001, he blocked Royal Dutch
Shell Plc’s bid for Woodside Petroleum Ltd. In 2004, Minmetals failed to
reach an accord to buy Noranda Inc. amid objections from Canadian
China’s acquisition hunt is happening as the government ponders
where to invest its currency reserves, which increased 27 percent in the past
year to $1.95 trillion, about 29 percent of the world’s total. The
country already owns $696.2 billion in Treasuries, about 12 percent of the
U.S.’s outstanding marketable debt and has been stung by losses of more
than $5 billion on $10.5 billion invested in Blackstone Group LP and Morgan
Stanley in New York and TPG Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas, since mid-2007.
“China has burnt its hands in the past buying liquid assets like
Blackstone, but here they have the chance to buy tangible, useful assets,”
said Professor Liu Baocheng at the University of International Business &
Economics in Beijing. “There’s no point putting money in the bank
or in deposits with low returns.”
China consumes over a third of the world’s aluminum output, a
quarter of its copper production, almost a tenth of its oil and it accounts
for more than half of the trading in iron ore. Last year, China bought
$211 billion worth of iron ore, refined copper, crude oil and alumina....
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