January 17, 2018 / 1:45 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 2-Vale could be "natural" Samarco owner, in talks with BHP -director

(Adds comments on nickel business)

SAO PAULO, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Vale is in talks with Anglo American BHP Billiton Plc on options for their joint venture Samarco, and it may be easier for Vale to resolve that miner’s problems as sole owner, a Vale director said on Wednesday.

“Maybe Vale would be a natural owner of Samarco, maybe it could make Samarco operate again,” André Figueiredo, Vale’s investor relations director, said during a meeting with investors and analysts in Sao Paulo.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that talks about the joint venture were underway, including the option of Vale buying out its partner, but that a price had not yet been established.

Samarco has not operated since November 2015, when flood waters inundated a dam designed to hold back mine waste and caused it to burst, flooding nearby towns and killing 19 people in Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.

Figueiredo said that given current iron ore prices, the company could reach its net debt goal of $10 billion before the year end. Vale is prioritizing cutting debt and increasing returns for shareholders before any new investments, he added.

The world’s top nickel producer has no plans to boost production of the metal, as it awaits stronger demand from the electric car industry, he said.

Figueiredo added that Vale had no plans to sell nickel-producing assets now, as the company expected a recovery in the metal’s price. (Reporting by Luciano Costa; Writing by Marcelo Teixeira and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Andrew Hay)

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