Those in the market to buy nickel assets set to visit BHP Billiton’s operations

BHP Billiton has told its 1800 Nickel West employees that potential buyers are soon set to visit the operation.

In an email to workers, President of Nickel West, Paul Harvey, said the business still had a future if the right offer was made.

“As part of this process we will shortly be inviting third parties to visit our operations,” Harvey said.

"We will only pursue options that maximise value for shareholders and any potential course of action remains subject to a detailed analysis of the options before a final decision is made," he said

BHP Billiton confirmed plans yesterday to sell all or parts of the Nickel West business.

This includes the sale of the Mt Keith, Cliffs and Leinster mines and associated infrastructure with the Kalgoorlie smelter, Kambalda concentrator, and the Kwinana refinery also up for grabs.

The official announcement came just hours after BHP boss Andrew Mackenzie told a mining conference simplifying the company’s product portfolio was a “priority”.

BHP has previously said that a portfolio focused on major iron ore, copper, coal and petroleum assets would be part of its four pillar company, with everything else subject to structural changes.

This leaves aluminium, nickel and bauxite and zinc exposed to what BHP calls the next “phase of simplification”.

''Simplification will create a portfolio of unrivalled quality and be the catalyst for increased and accelerated productivity gains,” Mackenzie said.

''Value is our priority, and we will get it right.''

Speculation is mounting that the company will seek a demerger to its shareholders, that includes its aluminium, nickel and manganese assets, and create a new company worth $20 billion; but yesterday’s announcement suggests it will seek to offload underperforming assets first.

Potential buyers of Nickel West are said to include Glencore, who run the nearby Cosmos mine, Chinese nickel producer Jinchuan Group and former Xstrata boss and CEO of newly formed resource company X2, Mick Davies.

Nickel prices have risen by 40 per cent since January, and are expected to rise even higher with Citigroup predicting a value of $30,000 a metric ton next year.

However, with BHP’s Preservance mine shut in December due to safety concerns, the company is short of the ore it needs to keep costs low at its Kalgoorlie smelter.

Harvey told staff a recent review had "opened a pathway to future possibilities", The Australian reported.

This could mean bringing a mothballed mine back into production, supply deals with third-party producers or developing new discoveries.

Image: leighton.com.au

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