Miner Freeport says no plans to sell Congo cobalt asset as buyers circle

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (Reuters) - Several parties are interested in buying Freeport-McMoRan Inc’s cobalt project in the Democratic Republic of Congo but not at a price that would interest the miner and so it is not planning a sale, Freeport’s chief executive officer said.

As a result, Freeport is looking at other options for the asset, including possibly a joint venture to develop the large cobalt project, CEO Richard Adkerson said.

Freeport last year tried to sell its cobalt assets, including the Kisanfu exploration project in Congo and the Kokkola cobalt refinery in Finland, to China Molybdenum Co Ltd, as part of its sale of a stake in its Tenke Fungurume copper mine in the Congo.

But the discussions on the cobalt assets ended without a deal in June.

Prices for cobalt have soared more than 150 percent in the past year as the once obscure minor metal has become a critical and sought-after ingredient in rechargeable batteries for electric cars.

Speaking at a mining conference in Florida, Adkerson also said discussions between Freeport’s joint venture partner at its Grasberg mine in Indonesia, Rio Tinto Plc, and the Indonesian government about a purchase of Rio’s stake are expected to occur “in the very near term.”

Freeport would not be involved in those discussions, he said.

The Indonesian government was doing a lot of work to prepare itself for negotiations with Rio, Adkerson said, including hiring technical experts and doing site visits.

On the outlook for the copper market, Adkerson said a global copper deficit was inevitable in the future due to underinvestment in new production combined with strong global growth. Freeport is the world’s biggest publicly traded copper miner.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio