Freeport to sell Congolese copper mine to China Molybdenum for US$2.65 billion

Deal is Chinese company’s second acquisition in as many weeks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 May, 2016, 9:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 May, 2016, 9:24pm

US miner Freeport-McMoRan has agreed to sell its majority stake in the Tenke Fungurume copper project in the Democratic Republic of Congo to China Molybdenum for US$2.65 billion in cash, handing the Chinese company one of the world’s most prized copper assets.

The deal marks China Molybdenum’s second back-to-back acquisition in as many weeks and is a big vote of confidence in copper, which many see as a bright spot among base metals. It is also the biggest copper deal since Glencore sold its Las Bambas copper mine in Peru for US$6 billion in 2014.

China Molybdenum’s decision comes just days after Rio Tinto gave the green light for a US$5.3 billion expansion of the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia.

Even though copper is languishing near its lowest price in seven years due to a supply glut, the recent corporate activity is a sign that some investors are willing to the call the bottom on the commodities cycle.

Tenke is well positioned to generate strong cash flow throughout the commodity cycle
Li Chaochun, China Molybdenum

Freeport, like other big miners, has been selling assets to cut debt, while China has been snapping up commodity assets around the world to feed its massive economy. The deal takes China’s announced outbound merger and acquisition tally to about US$100 billion so far this year, just shy of the record US$104 billion for all of last year.

Freeport, the world’s biggest listed copper producer, has debt of nearly US$21 billion. It is also has one of the world’s largest copper-cobalt deposits. Since start of this year, it has sold about US$4 billion worth of assets.

“We are committed to our immediate objective of reducing debt while retaining a large portfolio of high quality assets and resources and a leading position in the global copper industry,” Freeport chief executive Richard Adkerson said in a statement.

China Molybdenum looks for more overseas mining acquisitions

China Molybdenum chairman Li Chaochun said Tenke was a “renowned copper and cobalt mine that is uniquely large-scale, low-cost and long-lived”.

“Tenke is well positioned to generate strong cash flow throughout the commodity cycle and, by virtue of its substantial mineral endowment, to continue producing high-grade copper for decades to come,” he said in a statement. “In addition, as a leading cobalt producer, Tenke positions [China Molybdenum] to benefit from the highly favourable near-term and long-term fundamentals of the cobalt market.”

The Chinese company said it expected the transaction would be completed in the fourth quarter of this year.

Chart of the day: Bull run in Shanghai copper futures unlikely to sustain

China Molybdenum shares were suspended on Monday, ahead of the release of an announcement. The shares fell 4.7 per cent in Hong Kong before they were halted.

Tenke Fungurume, in the southern Congolese copper belt, is one of the largest copper deposits in the world. Producing since 2009, it is 56 per cent owned by Freeport, with a 24 per cent stake held by Canada’s Lundin Mining and a 20 per cent stake by Gecamines, Congo’s state mining firm.

China Molybdenum agreed last month to pay US$1.5 billion to buy Anglo American’s niobium and phosphates business in Brazil.

Freeport also said it had agreed to negotiate exclusively with China Molybdenum for the sale of its interests in Freeport Cobalt, including the Kokkola cobalt refinery in Finland and the Kisanfu exploration project in Congo.