China?s Magnesite Industry: Resources, Supply, & Global Influence ? Introduction - Preprint 09-049

O?Driscoll, M.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 3
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2009
The tide has turned. Developments in China that have continued to unfold over the last four years or so have now reached a point where the supply market dynamics of certain industrial minerals have changed significantly. No more is this sea change better exemplified than by the supply market for magnesite, and in particular, its processed derivative grades of dead burned magnesia (DBM), caustic calcined magnesia (CCM), and fused magnesia (FM). But what has compounded the barrage of influencing factors impacting this sector, which include the widespread effects of energy and freight cost increases, has been rising demand from certain end use markets. Clearly, the magnesia market is experiencing bittersweet conditions. But those western producers which have monitored and responded to this market transformation, stand to taste success in the near and medium future. REVOLUTION IN WORLD SUPPLY STATUS In essence, while China, as host to a wealth of magnesite resources in Liaoning province, remains a huge producer of magnesia, its supply dominance on the global magnesia market has been considerably weakened. In future, it will mainly aim to supply domestic, and to some extent east Asian markets. Magnesia consumers outside China are now scrabbling for alternative, ?western? sources of supply. At the same time, magnesia producers outside China that weathered the storm of low cost Chinese DBM and FM imports flooding their regional markets for the last 20 years (and many did not), are busy investing in production capacity increases to meet not just demand from falling Chinese supply, but also demand from end use markets which is picking up. And it is not just a matter of expanding capacity of existing magnesia product lines. In the face of plentiful lower cost DBM and FM substitutes from China over the last couple of decades, many western magnesia producers started to switch their focus to the non-refractory markets (eg. environmental, specialities) which promised lucrative opportunities (and still do) and crucially, a lessening of sales revenue dependence on the DBM refractories market. Now we have the likes of Baymag (Canada), Bommag (Serbia/Turkey), and Kumas (Turkey) not only expanding capacities but seriously considering diversifying into DBM and FM production. Perhaps DSP (Israel), having ceased its famous high purity DBM activity as recently as 2005, might even reconsider a return to the ?other side?. But it?s not all DBM and FM. The CCM and specialities markets are also demanding a response, and so Baymag, DSP, Martin Marietta (USA), Premier Chemicals (USA), Qmag (Australia), MGR (Spain), and Magnifin (Austria) are also stepping up to the market on the non-refractory side. From most accounts, the situation with regard to Chinese supply has been described as one of turmoil, with prices rising, leading to improving opportunities for western producers. The majors are conducting huge expansion programmes, such as Qmag, Magnezit (Russia), and the new look Magnesita (Brazil). Even smaller players such as Causmag (Australia) and Dalmia (India) are looking to increase production. In short, the western magnesia supply sector is witnessing a landmark event in capacity investment and market share penetration as China?s previously dominant role begins to weaken (for a review of western capacity expansions see Industrial Minerals, September 2008, p.28). MERGER & ACQUISITION ACTIVITY Another response of course has been a raft of mergers and acquisitions in order to secure resources and supply outside China. These have included private equity groups taking over Magnesita and Qmag; Imerys entering the FM business through UCM; PeƱoles further consolidating the electrical grade FM market by acquiring Minco; Martin Marietta acquiring Morton Salt?s Specialty Magnesia Group; Bomex entering the market through Calmag (now Bommag); LWB acquiring Magnesita; and Magnezit?s pursuit of Slovakian magnesia, with Slovmag aboard while currently wooing SMZ. Interestingly, RHI has gone ?the other way?, and has invested in a state of the art joint venture operation at Dashiqiao, Liaoning, with which it aims to secure high quality feedstock for its Chinese refractory plants. Tata Refractories Ltd has announced intentions to follow suit, and other majors, such as Qmag are known to be interested in seeking options. Naturally, there is now renewed interest from several parties in the idled 50,000 tpa DBM/10,000 CCM Jormag facility, Jordan, and the commercially undeveloped Zhargat project, Saudi Arabia. Elsewhere, there will no doubt be suitors for stakes in SMZ, in Slovakia, and Magnohrom, in Serbia, whose respective ownerships are on the block. THE ?CHINA FACTOR? The ?China factor? has been key to magnesia?s market change, and has significantly influenced prices and availability of material to global markets. Resources & production China hosts the largest share of the world?s magnesite deposits, accounting for 26% or 3,319m. tonnes of predominantly sparry magnesite (followed by North Korea, 24%, and Russia, 22%; Wilson 2008). China accounts for 44% of total world magnesite mined (19m. tonnes in 2007) and 50% of the total world magnesia produced (8.2m. tonnes CCM, DBM, FM; Wilson 2008). Russia follows China at 13% of magnesia supply, illustrating China?s dominance of magnesia production. Apart from one producer in Shandong province, central eastern China, the country?s magnesite resources and production are concentrated around the cities of Haicheng and Dashiqiao in Liaoning province, north-east China. Although there are also producers in the Xiuyan district of south-east Liaoning, the Haicheng-Dashiqiao Magnesite Belt hosts the majority of producers. In total these may number 200-300 of large,
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