International News: Focus on Australia

April 1, 2001
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This edition details mergers, price increases and economic factors affecting the ceramic market in Australia.

BHP to Buy 20% of Caemi

Australia’s second largest iron ore producer, BHP Ltd., has agreed to acquire 20% equity in Brazilian iron ore, kaolin and transport group Caemi Mineracao e Metalurgia SA for US$332 million. The stake to be acquired from controlling shareholders, Mario and Guilherme Frering, represents 60% of the voting capital in Caemi, BHP said. The transaction would increase BHP’s share of iron ore production to 110 million tonnes a year from 70 million, making it the world’s second largest producer behind Brazil’s Cia Vale do Rio Doce. BHP also said that following completion of the acquisition, it will make a delisting tender offer for preferred shares, subject to Caemi shareholder approval. Assuming the tender succeeds, BHP expects the acquisition to be earnings accretive.

Millennium Increases TiO2 Prices In Asia/Pacific

Millennium Inorganic Chemicals recently increased prices by US$100 per metric ton on all Tiona® titanium dioxide (TiO2) products sold in the Asia/Pacific region.

“This increase is necessary to offset recent raw material price increases. Additionally this will support further capacity investments, which are needed to meet future customer demand requirements for titanium dioxide products,” said Michael D. Card, director of sales - Asia/Pacific. Card added that “demand for TiO2 products in 2000 was strong and exceeded Millennium’s projections both for Asia/Pacific and worldwide.”

The company maintains TiO2 manufacturing operations in Baltimore and Ashtabula, Ohio, in the U.S.; at Bahia in Brazil; at Stallingborough in the United Kingdom; at Le Havre and Thann in France; and near Bunbury in Western Australia.

Australia Faces Short-Term Recession

According to a recent Dun & Bradstreet survey, Australia faces at least one more quarter of negative growth, technically placing the economy in a recession. However, a rise across most indices offers hope that the economy will rebound in the second half of 2001.

The survey, taken in February, showed that for the second month in a row, businesses were expecting improved profits and sales growth across all sectors in the June quarter. However, both sales and profits currently remain close to their lowest level since the 1991 recession.

Dun & Bradstreet’s economic consultant, Duncan Ironmonger, said that at least one more quarter of negative GDP growth seemed inevitable. He said that the rise in expectations for the June quarter suggested a second half turnaround, but he conceded that this depends on global economic forces outside Australia’s control.

“The uncertainty is whether what is going on in America and Japan will start to hit us. But if nothing comes up there, we may have our heads above water,” Ironmonger said.

Woodside Boosts Ceramic Fuel Cells Investment

Woodside Petroleum Ltd recently boosted its investment in Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited (CFCL) by an additional $15 million. This follows Woodside’s initial $5 million investment in June 1999 and is an endorsement of the company’s confidence in the fuel cell technology being developed by CFCL. The investment will greatly assist CFCL in building its globally competitive position in this emerging area.

The CFCL program aims to develop commercial electricity generation products that provide high energy conversion efficiencies, greatly reduced greenhouse emissions, lower power generation noise levels and competitive electricity costs. The company is developing solid oxide fuel cell products that will enable customers to generate electricity on their own premises, using natural gas as the fuel source. This on-site power generation paradigm is gaining increasing attention throughout the world, particularly in the U.S., and market assessment studies indicate a major global market for this type of product.

The managing director of CFCL, Dr. Bruce Godfrey, said the investment would help the company build momentum in its first product development phase. “We now have over 90 staff and our product development program will require significant investment over the next three years in order to ensure our products can compete in the world market,” Dr. Godfrey said. “We’ll continue to seek other equity investors to enable us to continue our development program in a timely manner, with Woodside’s support as a major and active investor.”

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