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China expanding copper mines in Laos

Minmetals Reviewing Shelved Copper Mine Expansion

By Jesse Riseborough

Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- China Minmetals Corp., the nation’s largest
metals trader, may revive a shelved plan to boost copper output at the
Sepon mine in Laos by 23 percent.

The company’s Melbourne-based Australian unit, Minerals and Metals
Group, will review in the “near term” a project to boost copper
production capacity to 80,000 metric tons a year, from 65,000 tons, it
said today in an e-mailed statement.

An 80 percent rebound in metal prices this year has prompted producers
to study reopening shuttered mines and boost output on optimism demand
has rebounded from the worst global recession since World War II.
Minmetals, which paid $1.39 billion for most of the assets of OZ
Minerals Ltd. in June, may restart the Avebury nickel mine should
prices improve next year.

“Once we are comfortable that the price is going to be steady around
the $20,000 mark then that’s when we will feel more confident,” Andrew
Michelmore, MMG’s chief executive officer, told reporters today on a
conference call. “When we look at the demand and the potential supply,
we are still not comfortable that that price is going to sit at the
level that we would need.”

The price of nickel for three month delivery on the London Metal
Exchange fell 0.8 percent to $18,995 a ton on Oct. 23.

Former owner OZ Minerals shut the mine in Australia’s Tasmania state
in December because of a slump in prices. Nickel has rebounded 62
percent this year as plants that make stainless steel, the biggest use
of the metal, boost production.

Michelmore declined to comment on whether MMG is interested in
acquiring BHP Billiton Ltd.’s mothballed Ravensthorpe nickel mine in
Western Australia state. Bank of America Corp.-Merrill Lynch is
helping the company study options for the mine, BHP said this month.

The previous cost estimate of $178 million for expanding capacity at
Sepon will be reviewed, Michelmore said.

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