Driving northeast from Santiago, the road corkscrews towards the shark’s-grin skyline of the Andes Mountains.
In winter, Santiago’s smart set plies this route, heading for virgin-powder days and pisco-sour nights at La Parva ski resort.
Most have no inkling that in a high mountain valley just over the ridgeline, excavators the size of houses have sculpted the mountainside into a steeply terraced pits about 550m deep, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its September issue.
This is Los Bronces, one of the world’s richest copper mines. Anglo American, the London-based company that owns Los Bronces, spent $2.8 billion (R23bn) from 2007 to 2011 to double the mine’s size.
And Los Bronces is just one of four megaprojects Anglo chief executive Cynthia Carroll has initiated or pushed through construction since she took over in 2007 – each representing a wager in excess of $1bn on the continued rise of China, India and other emerging markets.
Los Bronces is also at the centre of a legal battle between Anglo and Codelco, the Chilean state-owned mining company.
The dispute – over whether Anglo can block Codelco from exercising an option to buy half of Anglo’s Chilean subsidiary – has spooked Anglo investors and weighed on the company’s share price, which dropped more than 15 percent from the time the controversy erupted in October to August 8.
Chile is just one trouble spot for Anglo American, which took in revenue of $31bn last year from mining metals and minerals in more than 30 countries.
Anglo also owns a 45 percent stake in diamond giant De Beers – and has recently agreed to increase that stake to 85 percent. Anglo has spent or authorised spending of $21.7bn in the past five years to ramp up production while simultaneously cutting billions in costs. Yet on August 8, Anglo’s shares traded at nearly 20 percent less than when Carroll became chief executive and at 45 percent below their May 2008 peak.
Anglo angered shareholders by suspending its 2009 dividend rather than delay capital spending on Carroll’s four megaprojects: Los Bronces, nickel and iron mines in Brazil and an iron mine in SA.
While the dividend has been restored, the stock has been hurt by the Codelco fight and by cost overruns and delays in Brazil.
Profits in Anglo’s platinum-mining division have fallen sharply. Most important, China’s economic growth has slackened, calling into question Carroll’s big bets and pushing down profits. On July 27, Anglo announced that first-half earnings fell 46 percent to $3.7bn. That day, the company’s shares fell 3.6 percent.
With Anglo’s stock in a swoon, the proposed merger of Swiss commodities trader Glencore International with mining powerhouse Xstrata, announced in February, had analysts speculating Anglo might be ripe for a takeover.
In 2009, the company rebuffed a bid from Xstrata.
“It’s like a game of chess,” said Doug Blatch, head of equity trading at Investec Asset Management in SA. “It’s all about who makes the next move.” Blatch cautioned Anglo’s underperforming business units and weakening demand from China made a takeover less likely than it seemed in February.
Yet, Anglo’s low valuation could make it a tempting target, he said. Its market capitalisation in mid-July was less than half that of London-based rival Rio Tinto and less than a third that of Melbourne-based BHP Billiton. Anglo isn’t interested in the speculation, said Carroll, 55, in her office, with views of Big Ben and Whitehall in London.
“We’re not consumed with anticipation around Glencore-Xstrata.”
She said the merger would not reshape the mining industry or affect Anglo’s competitiveness.
“I don’t think it makes any difference whatsoever.”
Carroll’s appointment in 2007 shattered multiple glass ceilings at Anglo. She was the first woman, the first non-South African and the first person from outside the company’s ranks to occupy Anglo’s top post.
Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Carroll moved to Anglo after almost two decades at Canadian aluminum manufacturer Alcan, where the mother of four rose to become president of the company’s primary metals group, a business with $10bn in revenue and operations in 21 countries.
She built and ran aluminum smelters, oversaw ingot sales and sold smelting technology.
Carroll holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology. She spent five years prospecting for oil and gas for petroleum company Amoco before enrolling in Harvard University’s MBA programme in 1987.
Carroll took over Anglo American from chief executive Tony Trahar in March 2007, after Trahar, then 58, decided to step down earlier than analysts had expected.
Back to the future
Anglo’s board conducted a hunt outside the company, and an executive search firm proposed Carroll, who coincidentally had charmed Mark Moody-Stuart, Anglo’s then-chairman, during a chance meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
At Anglo, Carroll inherited a company undergoing a back-to-the-future transformation.
Ernest Oppenheimer, the son of a German-Jewish cigar merchant, founded Anglo in 1917 to mine gold in South Africa’s East Rand, a hilly region near Johannesburg.
During apartheid, currency controls forced the company to invest mostly in SA, and Anglo became a sprawling conglomerate with divisions in a dozen fields, from brewing to banking.
After apartheid’s collapse in 1994, the company began selling non-mining businesses. In 1998, it also began spinning off its gold-mining operations and branched out of SA, acquiring mines in South America and Australia.
It moved its headquarters and its primary stock listing to London in 1999 to attract global investors.
Almost a decade later, Carroll found Anglo burdened with a Byzantine hierarchy, she said. Within weeks, she eliminated the layer of three business-unit chairmen that stood between her and the managers actually running Anglo.
During the next two years, she replaced 12 of the 13 senior executives who reported directly to her.
In 2009, she began an efficiency drive the company said had created $3.2bn in value by, among other things, consolidating purchasing operations and tailoring products such as coal mixes more closely to customers’ needs.
Carroll also eliminated 26 000 jobs across the firm. She has reorganised Anglo around the mining of seven core metals and minerals: iron ore, metallurgical coal, thermal coal, copper, nickel, platinum and diamonds. Her plan is to put Anglo in a position to double production across this portfolio by 2020.
Much of Carroll’s strategy is predicated on the idea the world is in the midst of a commodities supercycle – a rise in demand, lasting for decades, for all kinds of commodities in emerging markets. For the short term, that flies in the face of economic slowdowns across the map.
China’s gross domestic-product (GDP) growth has decelerated to a projected 8.2 percent for 2012, the slowest in 13 years, said the World Bank.
As a result, China’s demand for steel, once increasing at twice the rate of the country’s overall economy, is now lagging GDP growth, said Sebastien Boifort, a portfolio manager at hedge fund Passport Capital.
China’s copper imports are down 30 percent from a December 2011 peak. At the same time, India’s growth has fallen to less than 7 percent from 8.43 percent in 2010, while metals and mineral demand from developed economies remains weak.
Anglo competitors Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are scaling back on capital expenditures and selling noncore assets in response.
On July 27, Anglo said its capital expenditures for 2012 would be $5.5bn, 21 percent less than originally planned.
Carroll dismissed the idea slowdowns in China and India imperil Anglo’s strategy. She said India, once thought to possess almost limitless iron ore, had begun importing it. China still needed steel, metallurgical coal and base metals to build up its infrastructure, she said.
Carroll has reorganised Anglo around the mining of seven core metals and minerals: iron ore, metallurgical coal, thermal coal, copper, nickel, platinum and diamonds.
Her plan is to put Anglo in a position to double production across this portfolio by 2020.
Sharief Pansarey, an analyst at Old Mutual Investment Group in Cape Town, which holds about 2 percent of Anglo’s shares, supported Carroll’s overall strategy.
“They have great assets, so all that is really required is for them to see the projects through and then reap the benefits. We feel comfortable with the upside as well as the risks.”
Carroll’s most expensive gamble is Minas-Rio, an iron ore project that spans the eastern Brazilian states of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro.
Anglo paid companies controlled by Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista a total of $5.1bn in two transactions in 2007 and 2008 for the mine and the right to build an export terminal at the Atlantic port of Acu.
At the time, Anglo planned to spend an additional $2.6bn completing the open-pit mine, an ore-processing plant, the terminal and a 525km pipeline to carry iron ore slurry to the coast.
Anglo said the project would boost Anglo’s total iron-ore output at least 55 percent when the first phase of production started in 2015.
The project has run into a series of snags, and the completion date has been pushed back at least three years, to the second half of 2014.
Officials from Brazil’s Public Ministry have obtained four injunctions against Anglo, challenging licences for the building of power-transmission lines and other facilities regulators had granted the company. Anglo said the legal actions were without merit and it was seeking to resolve them through the courts.
Carroll also met Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on July 26 to try to smooth the path to the project’s completion.
Meanwhile, construction costs have jumped to a projected $5.8bn.
Citigroup analyst Heath Jansen estimated Minas-Rio wouldn’t pay back its capital costs until at least 2028. Anglo declined to comment on Jansen’s estimate.
“Minas-Rio is our single biggest disappointment in the company,” Pansarey said.
Peter Davey, an analyst at Standard Bank in London, was blunter. “I think the thing that will make or break Cynthia is Minas-Rio.”
Carroll acknowledged the project had been more difficult than anticipated. Still, she bristled at suggestions from critics, such as Jansen, Minas-Rio was a white elephant.
“They’ll be eating their words in a few years’ time.”
While development costs had increased, so too had estimates of the mine’s reserves, to 5.8bn tons of ore from 1.2bn tons, she said. The mine would deliver ore to China at $55 per ton, a price competitive with that being sold by Brazilian miner Vale SA and Rio Tinto, she said. “I don’t think the market understands this project. It’s not pie in the sky.”
Investors also fret about Anglo American Platinum, or Amplats, Anglo’s platinum subsidiary.
With a 40 percent global market share, the company is the world’s largest producer of the metal, which is used to make catalytic converters, fuel cells and jewellery.
Amplats employs 40 percent of Anglo’s 145 000-strong workforce and constitutes more than 25 percent of its assets. Yet the platinum business generated only 8 percent of Anglo’s profits in 2011, down from 28 percent in 2008.
One reason is demand from European carmakers has been slumping, driving down prices.
Platinum traded at $1 409 an ounce on August, 8.37 percent below its March 2008 peak.Investors are baying for radical action. “If they are just going to reshuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic, that is a nonstarter for me,” Davey said. He said Anglo should close low-margin platinum mines in SA. The country’s politics make that difficult.
The company sold minority stakes in platinum mines to local businesses and communities to comply with post-apartheid black economic empowerment laws.
Peter Major, head of mining at SA’s Cadiz Corporate Solutions – which advises companies on acquisitions and divestments – said Amplats might be too big to manage inside Anglo American.
Carroll said the division wasn’t for sale. “This is not about spinning off platinum. But we are looking at the entire value chain.”
In late July, after the platinum subsidiary missed its first-half earnings estimate, Amplats chief executive Neville Nicolau resigned and the company announced it would suspend its dividend, curtail production and cut spending.
With Minas-Rio and Amplats weighing on Anglo, the Codelco dispute was an unwelcome blow. The controversy stems from Anglo’s $1.3bn acquisition of Los Bronces, a second Chilean mine and a smelter from Exxon Mobil in 2002.
Exxon had bought the assets from state-owned mining company Enami in 1978. Exxon feared the government might nationalise foreign-owned resource companies.
To protect itself, it gave Enami an option to buy 49 percent of Exxon’s mining company. The option could be exercised every third January.
When Anglo bought Exxon’s mining unit, the option, with slightly changed terms, transferred to Anglo’s Chilean subsidiary, Anglo American Sur SA.
Enami sold the option to Codelco in 2008. Anglo tried to buy Codelco’s option, offering the state-owned miner $1bn in August 2011.
“We rejected it on the basis it wasn’t enough,” said Codelco chief executive Thomas Keller, who was chief financial officer at the time.
In October 2011, Codelco announced it intended to exercise its option in January, using a $6.75bn loan from Japan’s Mitsui towards the purchase. Under the deal’s terms, Codelco could repay Mitsui $4.9bn of the loan in shares equal to 24.5 percent of Anglo American Sur. Codelco would thus be getting a quarter of Anglo Sur for as little as $1.9bn.
Carroll announced on November 9 she had completed a better deal. In a move she said would protect shareholder value, she sold 24.5 percent of Anglo Sur to Japan’s Mitsubishi for $5.4bn. That valued the subsidiary at $2bn, double the price implied by Codelco’s option.
Codelco sued. Anglo countersued. Initial attempts at negotiation failed. The dispute looked like it was headed for a years-long journey through the Chilean courts.
The court case is now suspended while the parties make a new attempt to reach a settlement.
Anglo’s market value declined by $7.3bn from the time the dispute broke out in November 2011 to August 6.
“Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, I think the concern is, how did you end up in this situation in the first place?” Citigroup’s Jansen said.
While the Chilean government had said it wouldn’t intervene in the dispute, Dominic O’Kane, an analyst at Liberum Capital in London, worried it would damage Anglo’s standing.
“The longer the dispute drags on, the greater the political risk.”
The latest bad news for Carroll is a sudden and unexpected drop in demand for rough diamonds.
De Beers reported on July 20 sales fell 14 percent in the first half compared with the same period in 2011. Profit was $626m, a 47 percent decrease.
The timing couldn’t be worse for Anglo, which agreed in November to buy the Oppenheimer family’s 40 percent stake in De Beers for $5.1bn. The purchase will bring Anglo’s ownership to 85 percent.
The nation of Botswana owns the other 15 percent. Through De Beers, Anglo will control 35 percent of the global market for rough diamonds.
If diamonds are no longer Carroll’s best friend, copper and iron ore may be her nemeses. In late June, she flew to the Northern Cape to christen Kolomela, an iron mine Anglo spent three years developing at a cost of $1.1bn.
The mine is part of Anglo’s effort to increase SA ore production to 70 million tons from 40 million tons.
As she entered the mine site, Carroll passed lines of rail cars, each loaded with 100 tons of ore, stretching about 3km into the distance.
Mine workers sang a song composed for the occasion as Carroll gamely danced on an outdoor stage in her black pantsuit, hard hat and steel-toed work boots.
She smiled at an audience that included buyers from Chinese, Japanese, South Korean and European steel companies.
The buyers call the tune, and Carroll has to hope the music doesn’t stop. – Jeremy Kahn from Bloomberg