Sibanye-Stillwater Weighs Buying Copper, Other Metals Amid Clean Energy Trend

Beckett Bronze Company was incorporated May 21, 1913 as the Delaware Brass and Aluminum Company by a group of stockholders which included John Beckett, a molder, and his son, Charles.


The chief executive of Sibanye-Stillwater SBGL -9.14% said the South African miner wants to expand beyond precious metals, through acquisitions, into copper, cobalt and other metals used in electric vehicles, making the company the second big miner to plot such a move.

The miner also aims in the year’s second half to make a decision on moving its primary listing from South Africa to an exchange in New York, London or Toronto, CEO Neal Froneman told The Wall Street Journal.

“We are considering what we call a move into the high-tech metals, which includes copper,” Mr. Froneman said. “If you look into the future, there is no doubt that the [auto] market will change, in that electric vehicles are becoming sizable in terms of their market penetration,” he said.

Resources including copper, lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel are used in electric-car batteries and other energy-storage technologies central to the drive toward cleaner energy.

In recent months, Mark Bristow, CEO of Barrick Gold Corp., has said his company is considering a move into copper to exploit such trends. Barrick is the world’s second-largest gold miner by market capitalization. Precious-metals miners, in particular those in gold, tend to steer clear of industrial metals such as copper.

Sibanye already has a broader portfolio than just gold, with 51% of its production coming from platinum and 41% from palladium. These metals complement other resources such copper, lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel, since all of these materials are used in electric-car engines and other parts of the auto industry, Mr. Froneman said.

Any move into these metals will be done through acquisitions of operating miners rather than through exploration or developing green-field sites, he said. The company, though, will prioritize paying down debt and dividends before turning to strategic moves—such as acquisitions and moving the company’s primary listing—in the second half of the year. Moving its listing would help Sibanye access international investors and grow its business outside of South Africa, Mr. Froneman added.

Sibanye’s share price has risen by over 290% since the start of 2019, as precious-metals prices surged on the back of auto-industry demand. Car makers use palladium, rhodium and platinum to remove toxic pollutants from exhaust fumes to meet tightening emissions regulations.

Rhodium prices have jumped 62% so far in January and are just below their record at $9,800 a troy ounce, according to U.K. chemicals company Johnson Matthey. Palladium futures have jumped 21% to $2,326 a troy ounce in New York.

But Sibanye doesn’t plan to raise production to take advantage of the rally, fearing that doing so would flood the relatively weaker platinum market with excess supply.

“Palladium, rhodium and gold are I think in good territory from a supplier point of view. Platinum remains relatively depressed,” Mr. Froneman said. “So we need to be very careful about producing more platinum at this stage, because we will depress the price even more, and of course in South Africa that’s our primary product.”

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