Price Briefing 21-28 February 2013

By Siobhan Lismore-Scott
Published: Thursday, 28 February 2013

Soda ash markets good for FMC, but not Penrice; TiO2 prices hiked

Toronto’s CN Tower was once the tallest building, tower and freestanding structure in the world. At 553.33 metres tall it retains the title of the world’s tallest tower but is no longer the tallest building or structure in the world (now, the 829.8 m Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates).

 
 The CN Tower: the tallest of them all no longer
The CN Tower took 1,537 workers almost four years (1973-1976) to build , cost $63m and, when it was finally finished, with a giant Erickson Air-crane Silorsky helicopter placing the final piece of the antenna into place, it made history.

This Sunday the mining community will descend on Toronto in droves. 50,000 people are expected to attend the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), along with the IM team. These companies and these people will all, in their own way, be vying to make their own piece of history. Each company believes, or has believed at one point, that it holds the biggest, the best, and the most profitable deposit.

But what is a mineral deposit without a market? A geological anomaly. Which is why this week, more than most, all eyes are on mineral markets.

Good news then for those with soda ash deposits – as long as it’s not in Australia. While FMC Corp. proclaimed it was happy for other companies to continue “ burning money” in soda ash markets   while it makes a “significant” earning in the market, Penrice Soda said that it would now import soda ash rather than producing its own.

Admitting that soda ash imports could be up to 40% cheaper than producing its own, CEO Guy Roberts said it would be mothballing its plant.

“While it is unfortunate that the plant closure will cause a number of staff redundancies, we will maintain service standards and profitably supply our customers with a quality product. Importantly, the restructure is expected to enable the soda ash business to generate a profit from FY 2014,” Roberts explained.

Titanium dioxide markets meanwhile looked a little more positive – despite a spate of disappointing 2012 results recently – as Cristal became the latest producer to hike prices.

The chloride-route titanium dioxide ( TiO2) pigment producer Cristal became the third of the big five TiO2 producers to increase its prices for 2013, leaving just DuPont and Tronox yet to take a position on prices for this year.

The Saudi Arabia-based company will be increasing the prices on all anataseand rutile Tiona and Cristal TiO2 products sold in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Asia Pacific sub-regions effective 1 April 2013 or as contracts allow.

“These price increases are necessary to compensate for the escalation of raw material feedstock and other input costs that have significantly compressed operating margins to unsustainable levels,” the company said.

Agri mineral markets meanwhile have looked decidedly bearish. The latest set of results from Vale, Agrium and PotashCorp all pointed to reduced demand in Asia, but reported higher prices.

This runs contrary to reports from Intrepid, the largest US potash producer, which told analysts at the Goldman Sachs 17th Annual Agribusiness Conference that the company expects a positive spring driven by high grain prices and increased potash demand from India.

The average price of potash for the fourth quarter increased to $552/tonne from $534/tonne in the third quarter Valesaid, although volumes fell quarter-on-quarter to 143,000 tonnes from 146,000 tonnes.

Phosphate revenues for the fourth quarter 2012 fell by 21% to $622m down from third quarter revenues of $783m.

Agrium meanwhile said that it had placed its price of potash lower in Q4 2012, at an average of $216/tonne, compared to $169/tonne in Q4 2011. Phosphate sales prices were pegged at $722/tonne in Q4 2011, compared to $813/tonne in Q4 2012. Production costs increased   for the company meanwhile, to $556/tonne, from $500/tonne in Q4 2011.

One sector which is definitely booming is in oilfield minerals, as US Silica reported record earnings for the fourth quarter 2012 on the back of a strong oil and gas sector.

Meet the IM team at PDAC – follow @slismore_indmin and @sdmoores on twitter for updates

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