China's Battle for African Uranium

With US$1.2 trillion in foreign currency reserves, China is exercising its financial biceps. In March, the country formed the Huijin Fund as the state's investment arm. Up to US$400 billion have reportedly been placed in this fund for investment purposes. On Sunday night, the Huijin Fund invested US$3 billion to purchase a stake in about 9.9 percent of the Blackstone private equity firm. Our research suggests the fund is likely to strongly invest in natural resources. On this basis, we can not rule out a simple carving of Africa. We don't believe China will quietly step back and focus the country's uranium acquisition efforts in Niger, permitting Russia to concentrate on Namibia and South African uranium. In Niger, we covered two 'early days' prospective uranium juniors over a year ago. North Atlantic Resources acquired a uranium permit in the 1900-square kilometer Abelajouad in this country. This past April, the company increased its holdings to nearly 3,000 square kilometers. In late April, Northwestern Mineral Ventures announced uranium mineralization in assays from rock samples after a first-pass reconnaissance on its In Gall and Irhazer uranium properties. Both would need to further explore their properties before attracting serious interest from the Chinese. However, in Namibia both UraMin and Forsys Metals are actively progressing toward mining uranium on their properties. Either could be the first, but we believe both should become winners in the uranium bull market. Because China has carefully aligned with UraMin, or at least shown an inkling to do so, we suspect Russia might begin to look more carefully at Forsys Metals. This is purely speculation based upon our premise of 'uranium Politiques.' We do not have any 'inside track' on this matter. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to chat with Forsys chief executive Duane Parnham late last week. His company had announced the completion of the pre-feasibility study on the company's Valencia uranium deposit in Namibia. We missed the company's conference call, but were allowed the opportunity to discuss his company's prospects and future plans during a telephone call. The company's pre-feasibility study was prepared by Australia-based Snowden Mining, which used the guidelines of Australia's JORC code. Subsequently, the Valencia uranium mineral reserve was classified as Probable Reserves. These were calculated at 24 million pounds U3O8. We asked about production. "We are now modeling 2.4 million pounds per year," Parnham told us. He expects to payback in less than two years. With Forsys as with all near-term producers, some early conversations have begun about pre-selling the company's uranium production after production has commenced. His company's news release talked about six month of stripping during the initial part of the operation so we started there. "We'll start when we get a mining license and then looking at production." When will the company complete its ongoing environmental assessment? "We are hoping to have an environmental decision by year end," Parnham told us. "We are hoping to have enough data to apply for a mining license in early 2008. If that's successful, then obviously the decision to go forward will be made at that time." For the time being, the company plans to expand its resource. "The pre-feasibility is just the first snapshot of the situation," he said. "We are finding the pit optimization study is only looking at a very small portion of the overall resource." Does that mean the resource is actually larger, then? "It's a heck of a lot bigger," he told us. "It's just a function of how much data you have available to punch into the model. Then, how much does the model give you back? The evaluation process is ongoing. You'll probably see a change in the pit design very shortly because we have the ability to move more resource into the reserve category." We talked about his company's horse race with UraMin. How does it look? "Neck and neck, toe to toe," Parnham said. "I think it shows there's opportunity in Namibia, and that's good that there are a number of us working for a common goal." Finally, we asked what has emerged as the key question: Is Forsys a ripe plum for the picking. He offered both sides of the coin. "Where the real opportunity lies is putting a property into production," he responded. "The operation isn't all that difficult so it's not a deposit that our expanding team couldn't put into production." And then Parnham left the door open. "Anything can happen. It's an open market, and we are a public company. But, we are certainly geared toward putting this into production." And from what we've seen among the recent, significant consolidations, those companies who have commenced production, and those closest to production, are the prime acquisition candidates. Why should companies developing projects in Africa become the exception instead of the rule? Especially when two super powers are both eagerly trying to establish stronger uranium footholds in this continent. The site uses cookies. They allow us to recognize you and get information about your user experience.By continuing to browse the site, I agree to the use of cookies by the site owner in accordance with Cookie policy