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Commodities

Indonesia's Antam investors upbeat as nickel ore exports resume

President replaced ahead of state enterprise consolidation

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China is the main customer for nickel ore from Indonesia after a three-year ban.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- State-owned Indonesian mining company Aneka Tambang is looking to improve sales with the resumption of nickel ore exports this month after a three-year ban.

The company said expanded domestic smelting capacity will allow it to ramp up production to more than four times last year's level.

Director Hari Widjajanto said on Tuesday that Antam -- as the company is known -- secured a permit in late March to export up to 2.7 million wet metric tons (wmt) of low-grade nickel ore for one year. This will all be shipped to China starting this month.

Antam is seeking an additional export quota of 3.7 million wmt after being flooded with requests after the ban was first eased in January, mostly from China.

"We've received nearly 60 letters of intent requesting for a combined 100 million wmt," Widjajanto said. "But we cannot grant all of them."

Antam last year produced 1.6 million wmt of nickel ore for domestic smelters including its own. It is one of two nickel miners that have obtained export permits following the policy shift, as they have met new conditions that included constructing their own smelters.

Nickel ore is used to make stainless steel. Antam is also hoping to increase production of ferronickel, an intermediate product, following the expansion of its plant in Sulawesi late last year. There are also signs of recovering demand for gold since Donald Trump's election as president in the U.S. "We currently have a lot of positive catalysts," Widjajanto told reporters after the annual shareholders' meeting on Tuesday. "Investors expect our profit to increase in 2017."

Antam last year posted 64 billion rupiah ($4.8 million) in net profit after racking up 2.2 trillion rupiah in losses over 2014 and 2015. The government enforced a ban on raw mineral exports in January 2014 to promote development of downstream processing.  

At the meeting, President Tedy Badrujaman was replaced by Arie Prabowo Ariotedjo, the former director for commerce at Tambang Batubara Bukit Asam, a state-owned coal mining company. Widjajanto said the government decision to appoint Ariotedjo relates to a plan to group several state mining companies -- including Antam and Bukit Asam -- under one holding company. Aluminum producer Inalum, which is fully owned by the government, is being prepared for that role.

The government also wants to consolidate its interests in other sectors, including oil and gas, banking, and construction. Among the benefits will be enhanced synergies and better debt capacity leverage. 

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