Freeport-McMoRan Sells Congolese Copper Mine to CMOC for $2.65 Billion

Debt-laden natural resources company Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) said Monday it agreed to sell its interests in TF Holdings, which owns the Tenke copper mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to China Molybdenum (CMCLF) , or CMOC, for $2.65 billion in cash.

Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan may receive another $120 million, including $60 million if the average copper price exceeds $3.50 per pound and $60 million if the average cobalt price exceeds $20 per pound between 2018 and 2019.

Other bidders were thought to include MMG, the publicly listed unit of Chinese metals trader China Minmetals, and Citic Metal, according to a May 8 report by CreditSights. Analysts Wen Li and Mark Cheok said if the assets fetched $2 billion or more, Freeport-McMoRan would be able to meet the $1.6 billion in divestitures needed to avoid triggering the spring lien covenant in its credit agreement.

TF Holdings indirectly owns 80% of Tenke Fungurume Mining. Freeport-McMoRan has a 70% interest in TF Holdings and an effective 56% stake in Tenke. Lundin Mining owns 24% and has a right of first offer to buy the assets for 90 days, with Congolese state-owned company Gécamines holding 20%.

Freeport-McMoRan doesn't expect a material gain or loss on the transaction and anticipates using the net proceeds to repay debt. 

Freeport-McMoRan also agreed to negotiate exclusively with CMOC until Dec. 31 to sell its interests in Freeport Cobalt, including the Kokkola Cobalt Refinery in Finland, for $100 million and the Kisanfu Exploration project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for $50 million. The sale of the Freeport Cobalt interests is also subject to a right of first offer from Lundin Mining.

Freeport Cobalt includes the large-scale cobalt refinery in Kokkola and related worldwide sales and marketing business in which Freeport-McMoRan holds an effective 56% interest. Kisanfu is a copper and cobalt exploration project near Tenke that Freeport-McMoRan owns 100%.

Freeport-McMoRan CEO and president Richard Adkerson said in the statement that the transaction is another significant step to strengthen its balance sheet and enhance value for shareholders. So far this year, it's announced more than $4 billion in divestitures. "We are committed to our immediate objective of reducing debt while retaining a large portfolio of high-quality assets and resources and a leading position in the global copper industry," he said.

Freeport has been selling assets to lighten its $20 billion debt load during the worst downturn in the natural resources markets in years.

Chinese companies have been picking up assets to help fuel their economy, with Shanghai- and Hong Kong-list CMOC saying last month it had agreed to buy Anglo American's (NGLOY) niobium and phosphate business in Brazil for $1.5 billion and had $4 billion to pick up more mining assets around the world.

Freeport-McMoRan said it will have a services agreement to provide "continuity of operations" and doesn't expect the transaction to impact Tenke's operations, employment, taxes and benefits provided to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has received $1.5 billion in taxes and related payments.

The operation provides employment to around 3,400 full-time operational workers and 4,200 contractors. About 98% of the operational employees and 93% of the contract work force are citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Tenke had consolidated recoverable reserves totaling 7.2 billion pounds of copper and 874 million pounds of cobalt at the end of last year, and 2015 sales totaling 467 million pounds of copper and 35 million pounds of cobalt at a net unit cash cost of $1.21 per pound.

Freeport-McMoRan expects the transaction to close in the fourth quarter if it clears regulators and CMOC shareholders, 63% of whom have already said they would vote in favor of the deal.

Freeport-McMoRan owns the Grasberg minerals district in Indonesia, one of the world's largest copper and gold deposits; has mining operations in the Americas, including the large-scale Morenci minerals district in North America and the Cerro Verde operation in South America; and holds significant U.S. oil and natural gas assets principally in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and in California.

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