18 Oct 2011

Tiwai smelter could go to Asian interests - analyst

12:27 pm on 18 October 2011

A resource analyst expects Asian buyers to be particularly interested in the aluminium businesses, including the Tiwai Point smelter, being offloaded by Rio Tinto.

The world's second largest mining company took over Alcan in 2007, but aluminium assets are no longer considered to be essential to the group's future.

It plans to sell six units in Australia and New Zealand and seven in France, Germany, the United States and Britain, with a view to diverting more resources to iron ore, which now accounts for nearly 80% of Rio Tinto group earnings.

Fat Prophets resource analyst David Lennox says some of the assets are very good and he would expect companies already operating in the aluminium sector to be interested in buying them.

Obvious candidates, he says, are Chinese sovereign companies, which are well cashed up.

Mr Lennox points out that returns for aluminium are not significant at the moment and this could mean it would take a while for the assets to be sold, although price would play a part in that.

Another analyst says Rio Tinto won't be in a rush to sell its aluminium assets.

Peter Chilton of Constellation Capital Management says aluminium prices have been depressed for a few years, and the smelters could be an attractive proposition for the right buyer.

Rio's aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point, near Invercargill, employs 700 people and generates more than $1 billion in exports each year.