LONDON Oct 24 Mining company BHP Billiton
said it was still in talks to sell its stake in a major
iron ore deposit in Guinea, despite lengthy negotiations that
have prompted questions over the potential for a deal.
Sources familiar with the matter said in December that BHP
had selected mining venture B&A Mineracao, co-founded by the
former boss of Brazil's Vale Roger Agnelli, as the
preferred bidder for its slice of the Mount Nimba iron ore
Their talks have now dragged almost a year. At least one
source familiar with the matter has since said interest on the
suitor's side had cooled.
"The discussions continue," BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie told
shareholders at the group's London annual general meeting on
Thursday, adding that B&A had not yet reached a decision.
Mount Nimba - like other major iron ore projects in Guinea
including the giant Simandou deposit - has faced questions over
the stability of the West African country and the possibility of
exporting through neighbouring Liberia, which is vital to making
mines profitable at current prices.
It has also been unclear whether BHP would continue the
talks, started under its previous management team, if buyer
appetite eased off and at a time when iron ore prices have held
Mackenzie said BHP was in no rush to sell assets cheaply if
they are not proving a problem to the company. Yet he also said
there was no change of direction in West Africa as BHP
concentrates on its Pilbara operations in Australia.
"We have over 100 years of resource in the Pilbara, and by
far and away the best opportunity for this company is, in a
capital efficient way, to grow the productive capacity of the
Pilbara - that overwhelms our strategy for iron ore," he said.
BHP, the world's largest miner, owns just over 40 percent in
the venture behind the Mount Nimba deposit, and gold miner
Newmont owns another 40 percent.
BHP decided last year to pull out of Mount Nimba as it exits
iron ore and other projects across West Africa.
B&A officials could not immediately be reached for comment.