China's Huayou pulls out of Congo cobalt mine investment after price slump

BEIJING, Aug 16 (Reuters) - China’s biggest cobalt refiner Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt said on Thursday its overseas unit is pulling out a deal to invest $66.3 million in a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after prices of the metal slid.

Huayou International Mining had agreed to take a 51% stake in Lucky Resources Holdings Co Ltd, whose wholly owned subsidiary New Minerals Investment holds the DRC’s 13235 mining licence, in December 2017.

“After signing, the market environment has undergone quite a big change,” Huayou said in a filing to the Shanghai Stock Exchange. “The price of cobalt products has fallen sharply and profitability has dropped sharply.”

Prices of cobalt, a key ingredient in batteries for electric vehicles, have fallen by around two-thirds from their April 2018 peak of near $100,000 a tonne, and currently stand at $32,600 a tonne on the London Metal Exchange.

They have however shot up more than 25% this month, driven largely by Glencore’s confirmation on Aug. 7 that it was shutting its Mutanda copper and cobalt mine, also in DRC, the world’s biggest cobalt producer, for two years.

“After friendly consultation with the other party, the two sides agreed to terminate this outward investment cooperation,” Huayou said.

The company had so far paid only $9.95 million of the agreed price, half of which will be returned by September 2020 and the remainder by June 2021, according to the filing.

Huayou, primarily a cobalt refiner that makes chemical products such as cobalt hydroxide and cobalt sulphate, operates the PE527 copper-cobalt mining permit in the DRC. (Reporting by Tom Daly and Yilei Sun; Editing by Jan Harvey)