JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The chairman of Vedanta Resources Plc, who is also Anglo American’s biggest shareholder, said on Monday he had convinced Anglo not to sell off key assets in South Africa.
Indian industrialist Anil Agarwal has an almost 20 percent stake in Anglo through his family trust Volcan Investments and has played down speculation that he is seeking a tie-up with Anglo.
But in an interview with Reuters, Agarwal made it clear that he has not been a passive shareholder.
“I always believed that South Africa has a lot of potential, and Anglo management may not have always believed that ... and they wanted to sell some assets,” he said.
“When I became the biggest shareholder I advised them (not to sell). And I am very pleased that they have not sold those assets. And personally I was right because the share price is now up 50 percent and the profits are getting better.”
In the midst of the commodity slump, Anglo said it would sell 16 assets including its South African business Kumba Iron Ore to focus on copper, diamonds and platinum.
But last year the company said it would no longer be a forced seller of its bulk businesses after metal prices rebounded.
Anglo’s share price has risen as much as 50 percent since Sept. 20 when Agarwal’s Volcan Investments said it was raising its stake and is now about a third higher, according to Thomson Reuters’ data.
Agarwal said he wanted Anglo to focus on the Indian market.
“We have 1.3 billion people in India ... India is a huge market for them, they can sell all the coal there, they can sell platinum there, they can sell iron ore there, they are selling 80 to 90 percent of diamonds there.”
Agarwal said he saw his role as a “facilitator” of Anglo’s strategy and felt he had good “chemistry” with the management.
“I can only facilitate them, I am not in the management, they have very good management,” he said.
With Vedanta, Agarwal said its KCM copper business would boost its cobalt production with a possible refinery as it looks to meet soaring demand for the metal’s for the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars.
There is a global scramble on to find sources outside of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country racked by instability and violence, which is currently the main cobalt source.
Cobalt is often a by-product of copper and Agarwal said this was the case with Vedanta’s Zambia copper operations but the company was looking at “a parallel project focused on cobalt.”
He said the company currently was looking at the feasibility of how to set up a refinery for cobalt to produce it in “a very high tech, sustainable manner.”
Editing by Jane Merriman