(Recasts throughout, adds CEO comments)
By Arathy S Nair
Feb 21 (Reuters) - Gold and silver miner Hochschild Mining Plc, which has been scouting for early-stage mining projects, is interested in moving into other metals including copper and zinc, the company’s chief executive said on Wednesday.
Miners around the world have been looking to take advantage of demand for minerals used in car batteries and new electric vehicles, forecast to soar in coming years as governments crack down on pollution and fossil fuel engines.
“There are other metals that could be interesting to us. Copper is one of them. Zinc is another one,” Chief Executive Officer Ignacio Bustamante told Reuters, adding that the company might also go for other minerals linked to electronics and batteries.
Although not widely regarded as an electric vehicle commodity, some research has found that zinc, predominantly used to galvanize steel, could be used in batteries if other minerals become too rare or expensive.
However, Hochschild cautioned that gold and silver would remain its top priority and would continue to be the strongest part of its metal mix for the foreseeable future.
The company, which operates in Peru, Chile and Argentina, said on Wednesday it was setting aside $10 million for greenfield exploration projects in 2018.
Hochschild hopes to drill 4-6 projects in Peru, Chile and the United States this year, Bustamante said, with Canada, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Peru also top priorities for exploration.
The company, which also reported an 8.6 percent fall in core earnings on Wednesday, said it was looking at three gold projects in Nevada and would try to drill at least two in 2018.
In August, Hochschild agreed to invest about $500,000 in Cobalt Power Group Inc, a Canadian company which produces silver and cobalt.
The company has also been spending on brownfield exploration and discovered high-grade resources adjacent to the main Pablo vein at its Pallancata mine in Peru.
The miner forecast total sustaining and development capital expenditure of about $125 million to $135 million for 2018.
Hochschild’s adjusted core earnings fell to $300.8 million in the year ended Dec. 31, 2017 from $329 million in 2016, hurt by higher costs and its continued spending on brownfield exploration projects. Revenue rose about 5 percent to $722.6 million.
It forecast all-in-sustaining-costs (AISC) of about $960-$990 per gold-equivalent ounces for 2018, above the $910 it recorded last year.
Hochschild said it expected attributable production to rise marginally to 514,000 gold-equivalent ounces this year from 513,598 gold equivalent ounces in 2017. (Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and David Evans)