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Big miners eye copper assets

By Hou Qingyang  (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-19 10:06
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BEIJING: Central State-owned miners will accelerate acquisition of copper assets this year to capitalize on the price rally as the government encourages mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to streamline the industry.

The nation's top two copper producers, Jiangxi Copper Corporation (JCC) and Anhui-based Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group Holdings Co Ltd, have received a series of M&A proposals recently.

Many central State-owned enterprises including China Minmetals Corporation and Aluminum Corporation of China Ltd (Chalco) have expressed interest in acquiring Tongling, said Wei Jianghong, the company's president.

Wei said the State-owned assets regulator of Anhui province will make a final decision on the lucky suitor.

The biggest shareholder of Minmetals and Chalco is the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, while local provincial governments own Tongling and JCC.

Cooperation between Jiangxi provincial government and Chalco was entrenched after they signed an agreement to develop rare metals in Jiangxi in March.

As part of the agreement, Chalco will take control of Jiangxi Rare Earth & Rare Metals Tungsten Group Holding Co Ltd and facilitate its initial public offering.

The next step in this cooperation will be Chalco's restructuring of JCC, according to industry insiders.

Chalco, the nation's largest aluminum producer, said it wants to be a leading copper producer. "We must expand into copper and other metals as this is the key to our survival," said Chalco Vice President Lu Youqing.

Chalco bought 49 percent stake in the nation's third- largest copper producer Yunnan Copper for 7.5 billion yuan ($1.10 billion) in 2007.

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Copper prices soared and shares of companies surged after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit the world's largest copper producer Chile in February.

"Low interests rates and a weaker dollar have boosted copper stocks," said Peng Bo, an analyst at Guosen Securities.

Peng said central State-owned miners are aiming to build up scale and enhance competitiveness in the copper sector.

Kang Yi, president of China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association, said the Tongling and JCC deals are in stagnation: "I haven't seen any concrete progress because the assets are huge and there are local interests involved, though M&As are in line with the government policy and will help upgrade the industry and build mining giants."

In December, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology drafted a plan to upgrade the raw materials sector in Central China and called for provincial governments to support large central State-owned businesses in their M&A efforts.