BHP may be looking for partners in potash

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BHP Billiton Ltd. may be looking for financial partners for its Canadian potash project, according to Deutsche Bank AG, which said BHP could attract investment of $2 billion from fertilizer producers and sovereign wealth funds.

“Bringing in one or more partners would reduce the capital outlay for shareholders and guarantee long term sales volumes,” Deutsche analysts Grant Sporre, Paul Young and Rob Clifford wrote in a report this week. The sale of a 25 percent stake could attract investment from fertilizer producers in China, India, U.S. and South America, they said.

BHP’s first foray into mining potash was going to be a mine in Jansen, Saskatchewan, Canada, but Marius Kloppers, BHP chief executive officer, delayed the development decision on the mine in August as it was shelving all major project approvals for this fiscal year.

If progress resumes, the first potash production from the mine could start as early as 2017 and reach capacity of 8 million metric tons annually by 2024, according to Deutsche Bank. It is estimated that the cost of development is between $5 billion and $6 billion, Deutsche Bank said.

Although BHP is continuing preparatory work at the mine by developing two underground shafts to extract material, the company has previously not been a potash producer. BHP previously tried to purchase PotashCorp in 2010 in a hostile takeover, but it was blocked by the Canadian government.

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