By James Regan
SYDNEY (Reuters) – South32 (S32.AX) could be among the first to buy assets placed on the block this week by South Africa’s Anglo American (AAL.L), with the Australian company saying it was interested in its manganese unit.
The two companies share a manganese mining and smelting business located in Australia and South Africa, with Anglo American owning 40 percent of the division.
RBC last year valued South32’s stake in manganese at around $ 1.8 billion, though that was before the metal halved in price.
“As a JV partner with a deep understanding of their value, we would be a buyer if the price is right,” a South32 spokeswoman said in an emailed statement, confirming a report in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper website.
News of the interest from South32, the diversified minerals group spun out of BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.) last year, comes as Anglo American turns to widespread divestment to shore up a heavily indebted balance sheet.
South32 indicated negotiations had already started to acquire Anglo American’s manganese business.
“We have a good relationship with our joint venture partner and they’ve communicated their intentions,” the statement said.
Manganese can be found in drink cans to improve resistance to corrosion. Ahead of Anglo American unveiling plans this week to cut net debt in half, South32 had been mentioned as a potential buyer of Anglo American’s niobium business.
Anglo American on Feb. 16 detailed a drastic plan to hack and slash its sprawling empire of mining assets, paring it back to diamonds, copper and platinum.
Any acquisition, though, would come at a tough time for manganese producers.
Weak prices for the metal have already led South32 to suspend mining at its Hotazel mining division in South Africa This has removed around 700,000 tonnes of manganese ore production from the global supply chain.
South32 shares were nearly 5 percent higher at A$ 1.26 in late trading on Thursday, double the gains of the wider market (.AXJO). But the stock has still lost nearly half its value since listing in May.
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)