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Norilsk Nickel Hires Citigroup to Sell Mines in Australia

OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel, the largest producer of the metal, hired Citigroup Inc. to help sell its Australian portfolio that includes four nickel mines currently idled because of low prices and high production costs.

The company has sent out fliers to prospective buyers to acquire the assets, an Australia-based company spokesman, who asked not to be named citing company policy, said by phone. Norilsk in 2010 said it had plans to divest most of its Australian assets it acquired in 2007 through the C$6.8 billion ($6.5 billion) acquisition of LionOre Mining International Ltd.

Nickel producers are struggling with falling prices for the metal used to make stainless steel after demand from steelmakers declined. Prices have fallen 19 percent this year to $13,825 a metric ton at 12:22 pm. Sydney time, while at the time of the LionOre acquisition, they traded around $40,000 a ton.

Norilsk’s assets comprise the Honeymoon Well nickel project as well as the Thunderbox gold mine in Western Australia. Thunderbox alongside the Lake Johnston, Cawse, Black Swan and Waterloo nickel mines are currently on care and maintenance, according to the company’s website. There was no timeline for an agreement to finalize a sale of Norilsk’s Australian assets, the company spokesman said. Interfax yesterday reported the company hired Citigroup to help with a sale of the mines, citing an unidentified source.

Norilsk acquired LionOre after prevailing during a bidding war with Xstrata Plc. The Russian company bought Toronto-based LionOre to access its Activox technology, which helps produce metal from low-grade ore, and to gain mines in Australia, South Africa and Botswana. Norilsk ended the Activox project in Botswana in 2009, saying it wasn’t economic.

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