031110 A new study has found that SA coal reserves have been significantly downsized since 2003.photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi 453

Anglo American is looking for thermal coal assets in Australia and Indonesia, especially as prices of potential targets have come down, the head of its thermal coal unit said in an interview.

Norman Mbazima said Anglo would consider partnering with another miner in a joint venture or buying out a smaller player as it looks to ramp up production of the commodity.

“We are actively looking. The multiples have been coming down of late as prices of coal have come down,” Mbazima told Reuters in an interview late on Monday.

“It's a much more conducive atmosphere for us to continue to look.”

Anglo, which already produces thermal coal in South Africa, Colombia and Australia, is looking for new assets to better balance its portfolio across all the main jurisdictions supplying the seaborne coal market.

The miner has said it plans to double thermal coal output to 130 million tonnes by the end of this decade.

Mbazima said his counterpart, who heads up the coking coal unit at Anglo, was also looking at Mozambique, where many miners have rushed in to benefit from what is estimated to be one of the world's largest reserves of the steel-making ingredient.

Any potential mine Anglo might buy would come with a large portion of thermal coal as well, Mbazima said.

“We are very interested in Mozambique and we have been looking there for prospects,” he said.

Acquisitions would depend the development of rail lines and ports and whether Anglo can find a buyer for the thermal coal, either by feeding it into a power plant or for exports.

SOUTH AFRICA DEMAND

In South Africa, Anglo's expansion in thermal coal is driven mainly by domestic demand, especially from power utility Eskom.

Its new Zibulo mine is ramping up to produce at an annual rate of 6.6 million tonnes by the third quarter of 2012 and its New Largo mine is expected to supply up to 15 million tonnes to Eskom's new 4,800 MW Kusile power plant.

Talks with state-owned Eskom for a coal offtake deal for Kusile were at an advanced stage, Mbazima said.

He said there was increased focus on developing the Waterberg coal fields, seen as the next major coal hub as reserves in the Witbank area near depletion.

The Waterberg coal is of lower quality than that found in Witbank and being able to sell a large part of that coal locally - either to Eskom or any other independent power producer - will be key to make a mine there economically viable.

“I see us starting with a small mine and enlarging it as demand grows. We have the capacity to build a 15-20 million tonnes per annum (mine) if we need to,” he said, adding that the boom in the Waterberg would likely come on a 5-10 year horizon.

Anglo is also developing a project that would feed waste coal into a 450 MW power plant, which will be built, financed and operated by an independent power producer.

The plant, expected by 2015, will then feed electricity to Anglo's South African operations.

Mbazima said Anglo may eventually copy the project to supply coal waste-based electricity to other industrial customers.

He said demand, especially from the Asian market, remained robust and while prices had been under pressure, he expected them to average around $100/tonne this year.

Output of thermal coal this year is expected to rise only slightly from 2011 levels, he said. - Reuters