Rio Tinto puts aluminium maker on the market

October 17th, 2011 - 12:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, Oct 17 (IANS) New Zealand’s single largest electricity consumer — the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter based — is on the market as owner Rio Tinto seeks to streamline its worldwide aluminium production.

The Australia-based minerals giant issued a statement saying the Bluff-based New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS) was one of 13 assets up for sale “at an appropriate time in the future”, reported Xinhua.

NZAS was being transferred to a new group called Pacific Aluminium along with five of Rio Tinto’s Australian assets, including the Gove bauxite and alumina refinery, Boyne Smelters and the associated Gladstone Power Station, and the Tomago and Bell Bay smelters.

They would be managed separately from the Rio Tinto Alcan group until they were sold off, said the statement.

Rio Tinto owns 79.36 percent of NZAS and Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo Chemical Company the rest, but the statement did not mention whether the Japanese stake would also be for sale.

NZAS contributes 506 million NZ dollars to the local regional economy and provides 2,400 full-time equivalent jobs, while generating export revenue of around one billion NZ dollars each year, according to Rio Tinto’s website.

But New Zealand’s only aluminium smelter is also widely known for consuming 15 percent of the country’s electricity production, and was involved in a controversy in 2008 when it argued it should not pay a power bill of 10 million NZ dollars after one of its transformers failed.

Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese said the assets to be sold were sound businesses that were well-managed with productive workforce.

“But they are no longer aligned with our strategy and we believe they have a bright future under new ownership. The strength of our balance sheet means that we can choose the most opportune method and timing to divest these assets, which may not occur until the economic climate improves. In the meantime, we will continue to run these operations safely and efficiently,” said Albanese in a statement.

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