| MELBOURNE, Sept 6
MELBOURNE, Sept 6 A private equity-backed firm
expects to dig a new coal mine in Australia's prized Bowen Basin
in 2017, tapping into a recovery in prices for coal used to make
steel at a time when the world's biggest suppliers have stopped
Pembroke Resources, led by the ex-boss of Gloucester Coal
Barry Tudor, expects the Olive Downs project to start up within
12 months with a 1-million-tonnes-a-year mine and add two more
mines by 2019.
"We'd like to get it into production as soon as possible,
but we're not trying to pick peaks in the market," Tudor told
Reuters in an interview.
Backed by U.S.-based Denham Capital, Pembroke bought the
Olive Downs project from struggling U.S. coal giant Peabody
Energy and China's CITIC Resources for A$120 million
($92 million) plus an agreed royalty earlier this year.
That's a fraction of the $2.4 billion boom price that BHP
and Mitsubishi Corp paid in 2008 to buy the nearby,
still undeveloped New Saraji metallurgical coal project, which
has a similar-sized resource.
At full tilt of about 14 million tonnes a year, Olive Downs
will be among the largest metallurgical coal mines in Australia,
just behind top global exporter BHP Billiton's
nearby Peak Downs mine.
Production costs are expected to be in the lowest quartile
due to its large size, high quality coal and proximity to
infrastcuture. BHP, the world's lowest cost producer, averaged
costs of $55 a tonne at its Queensland coal operations in the
year to June 2016.
"We assessed this opportunity based on prices at the bottom
of the market," said Tudor.
Hard coking coal spot prices have nearly doubled this year
to $141.75 a tonne, as high-cost U.S. supply has dropped out of
the market and Chinese production has fallen.
Tudor declined to put a price tag on construction, but said
the first mine, Olive Downs North, would be cheap as the company
would pay a toll for another miner to wash the coal rather than
build a washing plant.
Olive Downs South and Wilunga would cost a lot more, but not
as much as recent mines such as BHP Billiton Mitsubishi
Alliance's $3.4 billion Caval Ridge mine, as Pembroke plans to
ramp up production in stages.
"It would compare very favourably," Tudor said. "It's
something we're very confident of being able to fund."
Pembroke is not alone in snapping up metallurgical coal
assets from mining giants that are flogging assets to cut debt.
A team led by Taurus Funds Management recently bought Anglo
American's 70 percent stake in the Foxleigh mine, and a
consortium led by private equity firm Apollo Global Management
is the frontrunner to buy Anglo's Moranbah and Grosvenor
($1 = 1.3160 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin)