Sumitomo Metal to Slow Investments, Shift Focus to Raw Materials

Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Japan’s top nickel producer, will slow the pace of investments in the next three years and shift focus to spending on raw material assets as competition for resources intensifies.

Total investments to March 31, 2016, will be 170 billion yen ($1.8 billion), compared with 193 billion yen in the previous three fiscal years, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement today. Spending on current mineral assets will more than triple to 48 billion yen, the highest of the company’s three business lines from the lowest in the previous three-year plan.

Sumitomo Metal, which also refines metals and makes material for batteries and wires, plans to spend about 45 billion yen on buying stakes in copper and other metal deposits to expand its resource base, Chief Executive Officer Nobumasa Kemori told reporters in Tokyo today.

A scarcity of high-quality copper mines globally prompted Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsui & Co., Japan’s two biggest trading houses, to pay double the original valuation for stakes in Chile’s Anglo-American Sur SA in separate deals in 2011 and 2012. Resource nationalism, or state demands for higher taxes, royalties or stakes, was the primary concern among mining executives in 2011, replacing capital allocation, Ernst & Young LLP said in its annual risk survey published in August 2012.

“Resources in good condition are becoming rarer and resource nationalism is continuing to evolve” even as the global business climate improves and currency volatility slows, according to the statement.

Expand Output

Sumitomo Metal, the second-biggest copper smelter in Japan, will seek partnerships with Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., Vale SA, and Teck Resources Ltd. for access to new copper projects, Kemori said.

The investments will help Sumitomo Metal expand its nickel output to 150,000 metric tons by 2021 from 70,000 tons, according to a company presentation. Copper output will grow to 300,000 tons from 120,000 tons and gold to 30 tons from 17.5 tons in the period.

The company may spend 30 billion yen to build a nickel smelter with a capacity of 50,000 tons a year, Kemori said. It may build the plant outside Japan, he said.

The refiner expects to boost profit to 100 billion yen in the year ending March 31, 2016, it said in the presentation. That compares with 65 billion yen last fiscal year.

Separately, Sumitomo Metal plans to raise its dividend payout ratio to at least 25 percent of profit from next financial year, compared with about 20 percent now, Kemori said.