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Message: Juniors may benefit from uncertain zinc supply!

Juniors may benefit from uncertain zinc supply!

posted on May 18, 2008 12:27PM

The Northern Miner, 5/15/2008

Global zinc supply uncertain after massive earthquake in China; labour dispute in Namibia

The fate of zinc mining and smelting operations in China remains unknown after a massive earthquake devastated much of Sichuan province on Monday leaving more than 10,000 people dead.

News agencies are reporting that up to 510,000 tonnes of zinc smelting capacity in China has been affected after production was halted at more than 10 zinc smelters in Sichuan province, as well as in neighboring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

China is the world's major zinc producer with a smelting capacity of more than 4 million tons, according to news reports.

Meanwhile in Africa, a strike at Anglo American's (AAUK-Q, AAL-L), Skorpion zinc mine that started on May 10 will disrupt world zinc supply too. Skorpion is Namibia's biggest zinc producer, churning out about 150,000 tons of special high-grade zinc per year.

The events in China and Namibia have combined to push up prices. Official zinc prices on the London Metal Exchange closed at US$2,270 per tonne for cash and US$2,280 per tonne for three months on May 14, up from US$2,159 per tonne cash and US$2,190 per tonne for three months on May 12.

About 46% of China's total zinc smelting capacity lies in tremor-stricken regions. Reuters reported that as much as 11% of the nation's smelting capacity was probably affected by the quake.

China's Sichuan province—the epicenter of the earthquake-- produced 130,000-140,000 metric tons of zinc concentrate last year and its output makes up about 7% of the country's total, according to Interfax news agency.

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake was China's worst in 58 years and has caused massive damage – disrupting roads and power plants. Major safety issues remain with reservoirs, hydropower stations and lakes.

Some of the Chinese companies that were shut down include: Sichuan Hongda Chemical Industry (100,000 tons); Gansu Baohui Zinc Co. (60,000 tons); Gansu Chengzhou Metallurgical Group Co. (50,000 tons); Hanzhong Bayi Zinc Industry Co. (120,000 tons); Huidong Zinc & Lead (50,000 tons) and Xichang Zinc Industry Co. (30,000 tons).

Some analysts say the temporary closures at the Chinese smelters aren't likely to have a long-term impact on zinc supply and prices. Stockpiles of the metal monitored by the London Metals Exchange have gained 40% this year to 124,775 tons, according to Bloomberg.

In Namibia, striking workers who are paid about US$388 per month want wage increases of 14%, more than the 12% being offered by the company. They also want a housing allowance that exceeds what the company is willing to pay. In addition, the workers are demanding transportation to the capital city, Windhoek, when they go on leave. The majority of workers at the mine come from northern Namibian villages near the Angolan border.

The Skorpion mine, which consists of an open pit and a hydrometallurgical refinery, is 25 km north of Rosh Pinah in southern Namibia.

James Wyatt-Tilby, a London-based spokesman for the company, told The Northern Miner that "the majority of production is still happening" but declined to give a figure.

The disruption of zinc supply out of China and Namibia have helped buoy the stock price of zinc players like Teck Cominco (TCK.B-T, TCK-N).

Since the earthquake struck, Teck's shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange have climbed from $47.99 to $49.35 apiece.

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