Noble is eyeing opportunities in the United States shale gas market and could see positive developments in its Mongolian mining joint venture by the end of this year, a senior executive said yesterday.
The Hong Kong-headquartered, Singapore-listed commodities group said it was also less exposed to Africa and that there were 'one or two' areas of interest it was investigating.
Will Randall, executive director and head of hard commodities, said the firm was continuing to explore opportunities with partner Xanadu Mines in Mongolia and expected progress in the third or fourth quarter this year. Noble announced a strategic alliance with Xanadu in February last year to explore and develop coking coal, iron ore and ferroalloys in Mongolia.
The venture has coking coal licences at Nuurstei and Javkhlant, where exploratory drilling started last year. Laboratory results have confirmed deposits of low-sulphur coking coal at Nuurstei, about 8 kilometres from the proposed northern Mongolian railway. The Javkhlant licence covers more than 1,000 sq km in Gobi Altai province, 200 km from the Chinese rail network at Hami.
Randall said Noble, which has interests in coal, metals, minerals, ores, agricultural and gas commodities, had been 'quite pleased' by the management of the operation.
Separately, opportunities in the US shale gas market are a 'real focus and priority for us', said chief operating officer Nick Brewer.
Their comments came after the firm posted a US$110.1 million net profit for the first quarter of this year. This compared with a net profit of US$203.2 million in the same period last year, but that included a gain of US$53 million from the sale of Fleet Management, Noble's third-party ship management company to vice-chairman emeritus Harry Banga.
Quarterly revenue jumped 14 per cent to a record US$22.8 billion, up from US$20 billion in the first quarter of 2011, driven mainly by Noble's energy division, said chief financial officer Robert van der Zalm.
Group operating income from the supply chain business, which included ship chartering and owning operations, soared to US$461 million, the second highest level in the firm's history, from US$456 million in the first quarter last year.
Van der Zalm said shareholders in Gloucester Coal, in which Noble has a 64.5 per cent stake, were due to vote on its proposed US$8 billion merger with mainland-owned Yancoal Australia on June 4. The two companies have extensive coal operations in Queensland and New South Wales. It is intended the merger would be implemented on July 3.
Noble's revenue for the first quarter, in US dollars - a quarterly record