The expansion, which will cost something in the region of $1.5 billion, has "raised concerns about shipping through the Great Barrier Reef." This is because the project is now entirely in the hands of the federal government. The approval has been granted provided that the company follows strict rules and regulations in terms of its operating procedures. This development also means that the life span of the nearby Weipa bauxite mine, which is located nearby, will also be extended for about another four decades.
This is great news for the company, especially following the fact that the decision was significantly delayed by the federal government, which voiced concerns regarding shipping procedures through the Great Barrier Reef. The entire situation has been a matter of some controversy it would seem, but now Rio Tinto is finally one step closer to achieving its bauxite goals in the area. However, the company still requires approval at a federal level and this may take up to another year. This will delay the revenue generating project for both Rio Tinto as well as for Queensland in general as this is a project that will create numerous new jobs in the area. Once it has this approval and once it has gathered all of the permits it needs, operations will begin. In addition to the official approval needed, an internal go ahead inside the company itself will also have to be achieved. So, although this is very good news for Rio Tinto, there is still a long way to go before investors begin to see the fruits of this endeavor.
In addition, it appears that environmentalist groups remain opposed to the operations. This is not surprising at all as far as I am concerned. The area where mining operations will be conducted is being considered by the government for World Heritage Nomination. Clearly, this conflicts rather badly with the aims of Rio Tinto. This may also delay the final decision until the question of whether or not a World Heritage Site will be proposed is resolved. On top of that, a species of crab has been discovered in the area. The survival of this species will most likely be threatened by the advent of new mining operations in the area. These objections are raised despite the company's promise to leave the creek where the species was discovered completely untouched. Hopefully, for the sake of stockholders, these delaying issues will be resolved soon.
At the same time, Rio Tinto, as well as the largest mining company, BHP Billiton (BHP), are suffering severely under the pressure from the huge mining slump. Both companies recently announced that they plan to "ration capital spending because of escalating costs and a slower-than-expected global economy." Naturally we can expect most other mining companies in the industry to follow a similar pattern as these are factors that will have widespread effects. The aforementioned project in Queensland, is possibly one of the best ways for Rio Tinto to get itself out of the deep water it is currently in. Fortunately the problems it is facing are affecting its competitors as well.
BHP has also been in the news because of its plans for its TEMCO manganese alloy plant in northern Tasmania. Basically the company remains open to the option of selling the plant. BHP has already cut a number of jobs in order to recoup is losses from the plant. In addition the company has entered into a deal with Hydro Tasmania. The significance of this deal is that it could return the plant to its previous levels of profitability. Despite this, BHP may still decide to close the plant. A final decision will be reached soon.
Vale's (VALE) natural gas asset sale has drawn the attention of Cia Energetica de Minas Gerais, a Brazilian company. In short CEMIG wants to buy some of Vale's natural gas reservoirs. This will allow the Brazilian company to have access to "more fuel for power generation." The Brazilian company is in need of additional supplies if it is to continue to be successful. Vale has the opportunity to benefit substantially from this need. However, if the company feels that it needs to sell off its assets in order to stay in the game then it seems to me that other options may be better ones to back.
Competitor Anglo American (AAUKY.PK) is involved in an asset dispute with the Chilean company Codelco. Investors hope that this means that the end of the damaging dispute is soon coming. The two companies have been locked in battle regarding Codelco's "long-standing option to buy a minority stake in the coveted Anglo American Sur." If these resumed talks still come to nothing then we can expect a huge and expensive legal battle to ensue. A lot is riding on the outcome of these talks, and therefore investors should keep a close eye on the stock.
In the meantime Alcoa (AA) seems to be doing fairly well. Recently, it announced the start of the construction of its greenfield aluminum lithium expansion project of Lafayette, Indiana. This enormous and expensive facility will most likely begin operating within the next two years and represents a positive step forward for the company. As it will produce state-of-the-art aluminum lithium alloy this could be a real money maker for the company. This is a stock that I really feel is worth keeping an eye on in the months and years to come.
The expansion project should help Rio Tinto moving forward, and it can use this help to push past its struggling competitors and keep ahead of its successful ones.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.