Itochu targets Mongolian coal to expand trade

Itochu Corp., Japan’s fourth-largest trading company, has invested in Winsway Coking Coal Holdings Ltd. to secure coal from Mongolia, stepping up competition with China and Russia for the steelmaking ingredient as prices jump, says a report by Bloomberg.

Itochu joined a group led by Hopu Investment Management Co., the $2.5 billion fund run by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner Fang Fenglei, in investing in Winsway with the purchase of $10 million of convertible debt last month, Ken Tezuka, manager of the company’s coking coal section, said in an interview in Tokyo. Winsway, based in the British Virgin Islands, transports coal from Mongolia to China.

China Shenhua Energy Co. and Russia’s government-run ARMZ Uranium Holding are seeking access to coal and energy assets in Mongolia, the home of some of the largest undeveloped mineral resources in the world. Itochu wants to add Mongolian assets to its operations in Australia, Indonesia and North America as prices climbed to a near record this year.

“The current levels enable Mongolian coal to sufficiently compete against coal produced in other regions,” Tezuka said May 14. “Mongolian coal wasn’t viable to export when prices were around $30 and $40” a metric ton.

Winsway has expanded sales recently by investing in trucks to carry coal from mines in Mongolia, including one close to the $2 billion Tavan Tolgoi coal deposit, Tezuka said.

Mongolia’s coal exports to China may climb to about 12 million tons this year from 8.5 million tons in 2009, Alexander Molyneux, the chief executive officer of SouthGobi Energy Resources Ltd., said last month.

China bought about 4 million tons of coal in total from Mongolia in 2008 out of national production of 10 million tons, according to a March 18 statement released by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Mongolia will develop its biggest untapped uranium field in a venture with Russia. State-owned KOO MonAtom will hold at least 51 percent in a venture with ARMZ Uranium and possible partners from Japan or China, Bayarbayasgalan Tudevbazar, nuclear materials chief of Mongolia’s Nuclear Energy Agency, said last month.



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