Vale SA, the worst performer among major mining companies this quarter, is poised to reduce investments to the lowest in three years as prices for iron ore slump on slowing Chinese demand.
The biggest producer of the steel-making ingredient will approve a 2013 budget of $16.8 billion, 22 percent less than this year’s $21.4 billion, according to the average estimate from six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. Analysts cut estimates for Rio de Janeiro-based Vale’s 2013 adjusted profit by 19 percent in the past four weeks, more than BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Chief Executive Officer Murilo Ferreira is selling coal, manganese and logistics assets and considering suspending projects as iron ore, which accounts for 90 percent of earnings before items, trades near three-year lows. Vale must respond to reduced Chinese demand by reining in expansions, said Rafael Weber, who helps manage $3 billion at Geracao Futuro Corretora.
“Not having a reduction at a time of trouble in commodity prices would send a message of uncertainty to investors,” Weber said by telephone from Porto Alegre, Brazil. “Vale has mobilized a lot of resources to some projects that aren’t giving returns.”
Ferreira, who took over from Roger Agnelli in May 2011, said Aug. 16 that he will postpone a $3 billion potash project in Canada and may delay other investments to focus on expanding the company’s biggest mine. Vale has announced about $1.2 billion of divestments this year.
“The new economic scenario will be reflected in our investment plan when we announce it in December,” Vale said in an e-mailed response to Bloomberg questions. “Projects that were on a conceptual stage of development will be postponed.”
Vale, whose profit missed analysts’ estimates in four of the past five quarters, lost 10 percent for investors this quarter. That’s the worst performance among the world’s top five mining companies by market value. Melbourne-based BHP, the biggest, returned 5 percent, Rio Tinto gained 3.2 percent, Xstrata Plc gained 30 percent and Anglo American Plc lost 3.2 percent in the same period.
Vale advanced 3 percent to close at 35.10 reais in Sao Paulo, the highest since Aug. 22, on speculation Chinese government spending and European Central Bank bond purchases will benefit commodities producers.
The company’s underperformance may see it overtaken by Rio Tinto as the world’s second most valuable miner. The gap between the two companies’ market value shrank to a four-year low of $531 million on Aug. 23, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
An investment program of $16.8 billion next year, as forecast by the analysts, would be the lowest for Vale since 2010, when it spent $12.7 billion excluding acquisitions. Vale, which is set to release its 2013 capital expenditure figure in December, invested $7.96 billion in the first half of the year, or about 37 percent of the plan budgeted for 2012.
Vale’s profit excluding some items will drop to $12.5 billion this year and to $12.8 billion next year from $22.9 billion in 2011, according to the average estimate compiled by Bloomberg. Analysts reduced their 2012 profit estimates by $1.83 billion and $3.08 billion for 2013 in the past four weeks.
Vale agreed to sell 10 vessels for $600 million and lease them back from South Korea’s Polaris Shipping Co. as part of its strategy of “improving capital allocation and further strengthening” its balance sheet, according to an Aug. 31 statement. The announcement followed the sale of a thermal-coal project in Colombia for $407 million, ferromanganese alloy operations in Europe for $160 million and kaolin mineral business in Brazil for $30.1 million.
The Brazilian company will continue selling assets, including its oil and gas business and a stake in aluminum producer Norsk Hydro ASA, said Marcos Assumpcao, an equity analyst at Banco Itau BBA SA.
“They may obtain about $9 billion with these divestments, which combined with lower investments and delays at some projects would be enough to stand this market slowdown,” he said by telephone from Sao Paulo. “We expect iron-ore prices to recover next year, and that will give Vale stronger revenues.”
BHP last month delayed about $68 billion of projects, including an iron-ore port expansion, amid sluggish global growth. Fortescue Metals Group Ltd., Australia’s third-biggest iron-ore producer, cut its full-year spending forecast by 26 percent to $4.6 billion. Rio said Sept. 4 that it plans to cut some jobs at the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia to reduce costs and improve efficiency amid a plan to sell its diamond businesses.
Mounting evidence of an economic slowdown in China, the biggest iron-ore consumer, has seen prices of the steel-making ingredient slump 51 percent over the past year through Sept. 7. Iron ore for immediate delivery to the Chinese port of Tianjin, a benchmark for Asia, rose 6.7 percent to $95 per ton today after falling to the lowest since October 2009 last week, according to a price index compiled by The Steel Index Ltd. Brazil exported 27.5 million tons of iron ore in August, down 15 percent from a year ago, the Trade Ministry said Sept. 3.
“When iron-ore is in a turmoil, as it has been in the last three or four weeks, that impacts Vale faster and much more than BHP,” Eric Conrads, who helps manage $1 billion in stocks at ING Groep NV in New York, said in a telephone interview Sept. 4. “BHP has enough different projects in different commodities to compensate for it. For Vale, it’s more complex. You have to see where the price of iron ore stabilizes.”
Vale, whose A- rating from Standard & Poor’s is the highest among Brazilian companies, on Sept. 4 sold $1.5 billion of dollar bonds due in 2042. The 5.68 percent yield on the bonds, Vale’s first 30-year offering since 2009, is the lowest the company has paid on similar-maturity debt, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Vale has less room than other iron-ore producers to reduce investments because it increased output the least since 2008, Geracao Futuro’s Weber said. The company probably will focus on delaying less profitable nickel and copper projects, he said.
“Not to do these iron-ore projects means that it may have difficulties in supplying the market in any potential recovery,” he said. “Vale will take advantage of that to remove from its pipeline some unprofitable projects.”