Brazil's Batista brothers to invest $1bn to boost iron-ore mines

19th October 2023 By: Bloomberg

Brazil's Batista brothers to invest $1bn to boost iron-ore mines

The billionaire Batista brothers behind Brazilian beef giant JBS are preparing to invest more than $1-billion to expand production at mines they acquired last year from Vale.

J&F Investimentos, the family holding, emerged as the surprise buyer of Vale’s iron-ore and manganese mines in the central west state of Mato Grosso do Sul, their first foray into the metals business. The $1.2-billion assets also included logistics operations.

Since taking over, J&F has already managed to double 2021’s output to 4-million tons and the 5.5-billion reais ($1.1-billion) to be invested going forward should help get output up to 10-million tons by the end of next year and improve logistics, according to a company spokesperson.

Brothers Joesley Batista, 51, and Wesley Batista, 53, have grown the family fortune created by JBS’s global expansion to diversify interests at the holding. They own one of the world’s biggest pulp producers, a bank and companies focused on energy and cosmetics. The family’s biggest holding is a nearly 49% stake in JBS, which is worth about $4.1-billion at the moment.

The budget earmarked for mining is part of a broader 38.5 billion-real investment plan the group unveiled for Brazil between 2023 and 2026.

J&F Mineracao, as the mining unit is called, is planning to build 50 km of rail lines to connect the mines to its Gregorio Curvo port, a route currently made by truck, the spokesperson said. A distribution center was opened last month in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.

It will also grow its fleet of barges by adding another 400, according to the spokesperson. Loaded with iron ore, the barges go to Uruguay’s Nueva Palmira port along the Paraguay and Parana rivers. In March, J&F Mineracao performed a transshipment operation that allowed it to export 175 000 t of iron-ore to China in a single vessel — a Capesize, the largest commodity carrier — for the first time, a strategy to reduce freight costs.

Similar to Vale, J&F has a strategy to focus on its higher-grade ore that requires less energy to process as the industry looks to cut emissions. The firm is developing the so-called “natural pellet” that it says could replace up to 30% of iron ore pellets in the “direct reduced iron” method for steelmaking, allowing a drop of 6% to 15% in carbon dioxide emissions.

The Batistas have made a career out of expanding rapidly through acquisitions in the meat business while also eyeing distressed assets that can be recovered through turnaround strategies. It’s not clear yet if the family plans to grow the mining portfolio further, the spokesperson said.