JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Aluminium was losing its appeal, BHP Billiton chief commercial officer Alberto Calderon said on Wednesday.
Calderon told Citigroup analyst Clarke Wilkins during a marketing briefing that the long-term issue with aluminium was that China was not only self-sufficient in the metal, but would also become a long-term exporter of aluminium.
BHP Billiton's glowing reports on copper, iron-ore and energy minerals had prompted Wilkins to ask whether the company's omission of any reference to aluminium and nickel in the briefing signalled that it was less optimistic on the outlook for those two metals.
Calderon replied that China, being an exporter of aluminium rather than importer, limited aluminium to being a good business, "but certainly not one with great potential".
BHP Billiton operates large aluminium smelters in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and at Mozal in Mozambique.
"We are happy with the aluminium assets that we already own. There are tier-one opportunities with aluminium assets in Mozal and the mandate of the president of aluminium is try to expand into tier-one opportunities, but clearly the house view is that aluminium is not in the league of coking coal, iron-ore, copper, potash or petroleum," Calderon said.
On nickel, he said that the "massive presence" of pig iron nickel had put a structural ceiling on the nickel market.
In China, 80 000 t of pig iron nickel had come into the market, as a reaction to the high nickel prices of the boom period.
"What we already have in Cerro Matoso and Nickel West are tier-one assets. If we could get similar assets, we would be happy to do so, but we probably would not go the route of more Ravensthorpe-type downstream investments," Calderon added.
Cerro Matoso is in Colombia and Nickel West is in Western Australia.