Aston ready to sell stakes

ASTON Resources is reportedly in joint venture talks with Japanese trading house Itochu Corporation, while the coal explorer appears unconcerned about securing Newcastle port capacity in time for first coal at its Maules Creek project in 2012.
Aston ready to sell stakes Aston ready to sell stakes Aston ready to sell stakes Aston ready to sell stakes Aston ready to sell stakes

Queensland Minister for Mines Stephen Robertson

Blair Price

Aston Resources chief executive Todd Hannigan told The Australian the company aims to sell a 10-25% stake in Maules Creek to one or two JV partners.

If the right price was not reached with Itochu by December, Hannigan reportedly said there was a wide range of other companies that are “very, very interested” in buying stakes, which would help finance stage one development of the project.

While Swiss banking group UBS expects the Gunnedah Basin project to be delayed for four years to 2016 because Aston does not hold a Newcastle port allocation, Hannigan does not expect any hold-ups.

“There is an explosion of port capacity that's happening at Newcastle,” he told the newspaper.

“Our view is exports won't match that ramp-up, so there is going to be more than enough capacity.”

Credit Suisse backs Aston’s chances, and recently forecast Newcastle’s port to reach 170 million tonnes per annum of capacity by the end of 2011, compared to 93Mt shipped in 2009.

Port Waratah Coal Services aims to lift its annual nameplate capacity at the port to 133Mt by 2012, while its planned T4 terminal might provide additional capacity by around 2015, depending on demand.

Whitehaven Coal, a member of the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group consortium, expects NCIG’s terminal to reach 53Mtpa by mid-2012.

But port developments are not without unforeseen complications, as seen by the delays that have set back the proposed Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal in Queensland over recent years.

Mine Life senior resources analyst Gavin Wendt recently discussed the importance of rail and port access in providing confidence on how much a coal project could be worth.

“Access to infrastructure is the real wild card and is the real variable,” he told ILN.

The Maules Creek project is targeting 13Mtpa of raw coal for at least 21 years of open cut mining, with development scheduled to start in the December quarter of 2011.

Aston shares are up 10c this morning to $6.60, having recently surpassed their initial public offering price of $5.96 in August.