Building North America's Next Primary Cobalt Mine

August 27, 2014

Umicore Livens Up Cobalt Space with Acquisition and Partnership


Umicore Livens Up Cobalt Space with Acquisition and Partnership

The cobalt space has been fairly quiet this past month, with few companies releasing news. But breaking up the monotony earlier this week was Belgian materials technology and recycling firm Umicore, which announced two interesting transactions on Monday.

First, the company said it has acquired Ohio's CP Chemicals and will be integrating the business into its Cobalt & Specialty Materials business unit. CP refines secondary materials containing cobalt and nickel, transforming them into "chemicals for the catalyst and petrochemical refining industries." It also recycles rhenium from superalloy turbine blades.

Umicore believes the deal will allow it "to establish new cobalt and nickel recycling capabilities in North America," a move that fits with its "strategy to strengthen its position along the cobalt and nickel value chain, from recycling and to transformation and distribution."

Second, Umicore announced a long-term agreement under which it will recycle cobalt-containing hard metals scrap from Global Tungsten and Powders, then supply the company with cobalt fine powders. According to Jan Vliegen, senior vice president of Umicore's Cobalt & Specialty Materials business unit, that transaction is also part of the company's plan to grow its position in North America.

Vliegen said, "together with the recent acquisition of Palm Commodities this confirms our ambition to further strengthen our North American presence. It also underlines Umicore's commitment to contribute to the recycling of scrap in the hard metals industry." Global Tungsten & Powders states in a press release that it anticipates "finalizing this transition" in mid-2015.

Price Update

Though cobalt companies put out little news in August, the metal's price activity has been comparatively exciting, with both low- and high-grade cobalt prices reaching their highest level in 29 months at the end of July. As Metal Bulletin reported, low-grade material was trading between $14.45 and $15.50 per pound, while high-grade material was moving between $15 and $15.50.

That's pretty impressive, but what's perhaps even more significant is the fact that prices have managed to stay at roughly those levels since then. Most recently, Metal Bulletin pegged high-grade cobalt prices as sitting at $14.90 to $15.90, noting that low-grade prices are stable.

The news fits in with comments made last month by Erin Chutter, president and CEO of Global Cobalt (TSXV:GCO,OTCBB:GLBCF). She emphasized during a company conference call that cobalt prices have been seeing a "sure, steady increase" over the last 18 to 24 months and noted that "we're getting very, very close to market equilibrium." The next step, of course, will be "market deficit."

It's also in line with CRU's recent Cobalt Market Outlook, published last month. In it, senior consultant Panos Kotseras states, like Chutter, that while the cobalt market has been plagued by oversupply for the past three years or so, "the market may now be turning a corner."

Though he notes that demand is "subject to significant risks" and points out that China's role in the market can be tough to determine, Kotseras also notes that a variety of factors --- including the uptrend in cobalt prices, the nickel price rally and "the prospect of a booming Electric Vehicle market" --- support the idea that the tide is indeed about to turn.

Cobalt market watchers would thus do well to keep a close eye on prices and not be discouraged by this month's slow news flow. It appears the best is yet to come.

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