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Craig Wong of the Canadian Press: “Ian Delaney, Sherritt CEO Retires”

Ian Delaney, CEO of Sherritt International is retiring, but will remain active as Chairman of the board. Delaney’s visionary linking of Cuba’s nickel concentrate production with Sherritt’s unused refinery in Fort Saskatchewan Alberta has been of immense benefit to both Cuba and Sherritt. A fact not widely known inside or outside Cuba is that the Government of Cuba is now a foreign investor in Canada as joint owner of the Refinery in Alberta.

Ian Delaney and Raul Castro Appreciating a Comment

Long-time Sherritt chief executive Ian Delaney to retire, remains chairman

By: Craig Wong, The Canadian Press, November 24, 2011

The long-time chief executive of Sherritt International Corp., who transformed the company by flying in the face of conventional wisdom and betting big on Cuba, is retiring at the end of the year. Ian Delaney, who turned 68 last month, will remain chairman of the Toronto-based miner while Sherritt’s chief financial officer, David Pathe, will replace him as CEO on Jan. 1.

Delaney took over the struggling company — then Sherritt Gordon — in 1990 after winning a proxy battle with the help of Eric Sprott, then-president of Sprott Securities, and Bruce Walter of Delaney Walter & Co. But it was his defiance of the U.S. trade embargo and investment in the Moa joint venture in Cuba that helped Delaney, a former investment banker with a reputation as “the Smiling Barracuda of Bay Street,” make his mark.

Delaney, who was Sherritt’s CEO for much of the last two decades, was often called Fidel Castro’s favourite capitalist. His deal with the Cuban dictator provided the communist country with hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed foreign exchange in return for mining rights that turned Sherritt into a diversified resources company. Raymond Goldie, senior mining analyst at Salman Partners, said Delaney once pronounced that he wanted to turn Sherritt into the “Canadian Pacific of Cuba,” referring the Canadian railway that once owned coal mines, hotels, ships, and oil and gas assets before it spun them all off. “He bet big on Cuba,” said Goldie, who noted Sherritt would later sell its hotel, mobile phone and other non-core investments in Cuba.

When Delaney took over Sherritt the company was floundering. It had a nickel refinery in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., but nothing to refine. “Sherritt had a smelter refinery all dressed up and nothing to feed into it,” Goldie said. So Delaney turned to Cuba for supply, a move that Goldie said the company had considered before, but rejected because of the risks involved with angering the United States. The company’s investment in 1994 would eventually lead to Delaney and his family, as well as several top executives, being blacklisted by the U.S. State Department and barred from visiting the United States. “He was brave enough to say ‘I’m never going to set foot in the United States again,’” Goldie said.

While the deal turned Sherritt into a major player in Cuba, it also made him an enemy of some U.S. politicians. “Ian Delaney has made a deal with the devil,” like those who “did business with Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia,” Marc Thiessen, an aide to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms, was quoted as saying at the time. Helms, the ultra-conservative Republican Senator from North Carolina, was the co-author of the Helms-Burton Act, which tightened U.S. sanctions against foreigners who invest in Cuba. But Delaney thumbed his nose at the insults and in 1996 Sherritt became the first foreign capitalist company to hold a board meeting in Cuba since Castro’s revolution in 1959.

Archibald Ritter, a Carleton University economics professor and expert on Cuba, said Sherritt has been a driving force in the modernization of the Cuban resource sector. “It has been mutually beneficial,” he said. Ritter said Cuba had been relying on old Soviet-era technology, but Sherritt changed all of that with modern technology for mining and drilling for oil that boosted exports and increased production for the country.

Nearly two decades after its initial investment, Sherritt’s Moa joint venture produced 33,972 tonnes of nickel and 3,706 tonnes of cobalt in 2010. The company also owns oil and gas operations in Cuba as well as a stake in power utility Energas, which has power plants across the country with a combined capacity of 356 megawatts.

Since the Cuban deal, Sherritt has also cashed in on the global commodities boom of the last decade, also betting heavily on coal, expanding its operations in Canada beyond nickel and other metals. In 2001, Delaney partnered with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and acquired the Luscar coal business in Alberta that supplies fuel to coal-fired power plants in Alberta and Saskatchewan. More recently, though, Sherritt has faced difficulties. Its shares (TSX:S) were unchanged in trading Thursday at $5.09, but down from their peak of more than $17 in 2007 during the commodities boom.

In 2009, Sherritt saw an oil production-sharing contract between the Cuban government and Sherritt’s partner Pebercan Inc. (TSX:PBC) scrapped nearly 10 years early after months of efforts to have the Cuban government catch up on missed payments to the company.

Earlier this year, Sherritt extended its work schedule and increased estimated costs for its Ambatovy project in Madagascar. It cited a litany of problems including poor performance by contractors and inaccurate estimates on the project in the island country off the east coast of Africa. The company has said the capital cost of the project will come in at US$5.5 billion, about 16 per cent more than it had previously predicted. In the quarter ended Sept. 30, Sherritt more than doubled its profits to $45.5 million or 16 cents a share. That was up from $22.5 million or seven cents a year ago. Revenues rose to $466.4 million from $412.7 million. Besides its nickel and cobalt operations, the company is the largest producer of thermal coal in Canada. It also is the largest independent energy producer in Cuba, with extensive oil and power operations across the island.

Sherritt, which has more than 6,800 employees and a stock market value of more than $1.5 billion, also licenses its nickel mining technology to other metals companies.

See also:

Bad News for Cuba’s Nickel Industry and Sherritt, June 28, 2010

Does Sherritt International Have a Future in Cuba?, October 20, 2010

From The Cuba Standard: “Piñón on Energy: Analyzing Sherritt”, February 25, 2011

Up-Date on Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations, May 27, 2011

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From The Cuba Standard: “Piñón on Energy: Analyzing Sherritt”

On February 24, The Cuba Standard published an analysis by Jorge R. Piñón by on Cuba’s energy sector focusing in particular on Sherritt International, which has a joint venture in oil extraction and refining, natural gas, electric power and nickel mining, concentrating, refining  and marketing.

The full article can be found here: http://www.cubastandard.com/2011/02/23/pinon-on-energy-analyzing-sherritt/

An introduction to Piñón’s analysis is presented below.

Crude oil: Crude oil prices reached this week a 30-month high of nearly $100 per barrel, with industrial residual fuel oil prices close behind at a 28-month high of $80. These price increases are reflected in Sherritt’s year-end 2010 financial reports released today.

Cuba’s onshore and coastal 2010 crude oil production is estimated at approximately 50,000 barrels per day, of which 11,128 barrels per day represents Sherritt’s net working interest (equity) production. This is an 11-percent decrease from 2009 levels of 12,489 barrels per day.  Sherritt sells this production to state oil company Cupet at a discounted U.S. Gulf Coast residual fuel oil price.

Sherritt and Cuba do not realize the true value of the island’s crude oil production — based on its refined products yield — because Cuban crude is used directly as industrial fuel for electric power plants, instead of optimizing its inherent value by processing it into high-value refined products such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Cuba’s realized crude oil value could substantially rise if it was able to market its crude oil to U.S. Gulf Coast refining companies.Realized prices should also rise once Cuba is able to monetize its heavy-oil production in planned conversion facilities at Cienfuegos and Matanzas.

High oil prices negatively impact Cuba’s balance of payments in two ways: Not only as the value of its crude oil imports from Venezuela under the 2000 Convenio Integral de Cooperación services for oil barter agreement increases, but also as it has to purchase part of its domestic crude oil production from Sherritt. We estimate that the total value of Venezuelan petroleum imports and the purchase of Sherritt equity production for 2010 will be approximately $2.894 billion.

Nickel: The good news is that nickel prices also reached this week a 24-month high of $13 per pound, an increase of 177 percent from a low of $4.50 in February 2009. However, this is still far from the contract record high of $24 a pound in May 2007.

Canada’s Sherritt reported nickel and cobalt revenues for 2010 of $453.1 million, reflecting a 29-percent improvement over 2009 revenues of $350.7 million. The reported figures only reflect Sherritt’s 50-percent interest in the Moa/Saskatchewan nickel joint venture with Cubaníquel; therefore a similar improvement should mirror its Cuban partner operations.

Cuba and Sherritt offset receivables between Sherritt’s nickel and crude oil operations, therefore alleviating Cuba’s crude oil negative cash flow impact on the national balance of payments.

Jorge R. Piñón was president of Amoco Corporate Development Company Latin America from 1991 to 1994; in this role he was responsible for managing the business relationship between Amoco Corp. and regional state oil companies, energy ministries and energy regulatory agencies

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Does Sherritt International Have a Future in Cuba?

By Arch Ritter

The joint venture between Sherritt International and Cuba is a cooperative masterpiece that generates great benefits for both parties.  However, when looked at from the perspective of transportation costs – shipping nickel/cobalt concentrate from Cuba to Fort Saskatchewan Alberta – together with the “Helms-Burton” status of the mine, some questions occur as to its long term viability.

The Moa mine was initially constructed by US interests – the Moa Bay Mining Company and expropriated by the government of Cuba in August, 1960. The US Foreign Claims Settlement Commission valued the company at $88,349,000 at the time of the take-over.

Sherritt’s connection with Cuba began in 1991 with purchases of Cuban nickel concentrate for its Alberta refinery.  Sherritt had had insufficient volumes of concentrate for many years and in 1990 a refining contract with INCO expired. In 1994, Sherritt International and the Compania General de Niquel of Cuba established a 50/50 joint venture, which now owns the Moa extraction, processing, and smelting operation, the Alberta refinery and the international marketing enterprise. The President of the company, Ian Delaney, also negotiated agreements with the Cuban Government, permitting Sherritt to enter other sectors of the economy, including electric energy, oil and gas, agriculture, tourism, transportation, communications, and real estate. By 2000, Sherritt International had become a major diversified conglomerate in Cuba.

Sherritt International CEO Ian Delaney and President Raul Castro appreciate a comment.

In this deal, the Cuban Government became and is currently a foreign investor in Canada, as the Compania General de Niquel owns 50% of the nickel refinery, a fact not well known in either Cuba or Canada.

I. The Nickel/Cobalt Operation

The linking of the Moa nickel deposit and part of Cuba’s processing capacity with the Alberta refinery and its access to attractive energy sources was a masterful move and has generated important benefits for Cuba and for Sherritt. Cuba has acquired a market for its nickel concentrate. It acquired access to improved production technologies relative to its older 1950s-vintage US technology and its 1960s-vintage Soviet technology which has generated improvements in productivity, energy efficiency, environmental impacts, and health and safety. The Government of Cuba is now the joint owner of a vertically integrated nickel operation, from extraction through to refining and international marketing. Cuba also has obtained new technologies and managerial skills for oil and gas extraction and utilization, as well as electricity generation.

(Click to enlarge)

The Nickel Refinery at Fort Saskatchewan Alberta, jointly owned 50/50 by Sherritt International and the Compania General de Niquel of Cuba.

Sherritt is able to utilize more fully its Canadian refinery and to use its base in nickel to enter other sectors in Cuba. Its earnings from its Cuban operations are significant. The joint venture has been able to increase metal production and achieve high net operating earnings, which have been in the area of 40 to 50 percent of the company’s gross revenues for most years, depending on international nickel prices.  The following Table presents some information on Sherritt’s Cuban operations, drawn from its Annual Reports.

(Click to enlarge)

II. Petroleum, Natural Gas and Electric Power

Sherritt International’s petroleum and natural gas activities also have been successful. New sources of oil and gas have been discovered and extraction rates have increased through enhanced recovery techniques from 1996 to 2000. Natural gas recovery and utilization has also been improved through the construction of two processing plants, a feeder pipeline network, and a 30 Kilometer pipeline to Havana (Sherritt International, Annual Report, 1997, 13).

Sherritt invested CDN $215 million for the construction of two integrated gas processing and electrical generation systems. The natural gas feedstock previously had been flared and wasted. Commissioned in mid-2002, these operations had a combined capacity of 226 megawatts and generated a significant proportion of Cuba’s electricity. At the same time they reduced sulfur emissions, a potential problem especially at the Varadero site, which is adjacent to the hotel zone. By 2007, installed electricity generation capacity had been further increased to 375 mega watts, following an 85 MW expansion that came on stream in early 2006.

In February 1998, Sherritt acquired a 37.5 percent share of Cubacel, the cellular telephone operator in Cuba for $US 38 million, but this has been resold. “Sherritt Green,” a small agricultural branch of the company, entered market gardening, cultivating a variety of vegetables for the tourist market. Sherritt also acquired a 25 percent share of the Las Americas Hotel and golf course in Varadero and a 12.5 percent share of the Melia Habana Hotel, both of which were managed by the Sol Melia enterprise but these also have been divested.  By 2010, Sherritt’s Cuban operations were large and growing. Gross revenues reached CDN $1,040 million in 2008.

III. Energy Costs, Transport Costs and Potential Relocation

However, there are two clouds on the horizon. First, Cuban nickel concentrate is transported by ship to the East coast of Canada and then overland to the Alberta refinery. This seems to make sense economically at this time low energy prices in Alberta and the existence of the refinery there compensate for high transportation costs. However, if – or when –transportation costs rise with higher energy prices, and when the existing plant becomes obsolete or simply reaches the end of its useful life, would a different location become more attractive?   Low cost energy is also available in Venezuela for example. The Chvez factor is also of relevance. Will a future Cuban post-Raul Government still be enamored of a Chvez or post-Chvez Government in Venezuela? What will be the relative risks of relocating the refinery to another location such as Venezuela?

So far, Cuba is tied to the Canadian location through its 50% joint ownership of the Alberta refinery. Would Sherritt ever accept a transfer of the refinery to Venezuela, if pushed by its Cuban partner?  Perhaps in a more distant future that is difficult to foresee. However, Alberta will continue to have competitive energy prices and low risk for a many years to come.

IV. “Helms-Burton” Status of the Mine Properties.

The second possible problem for Sherritt is that the Moa mine and the concentration plant are “Helms-Burton” properties for which there are US claimants. US-Cuba normalization may require Sherritt to negotiate some sort of compensation package for the original US owners.  In one scenario, the US claimants would simply take over the Cuba-Sherritt operation in Cuba. But this would not be reasonable because at this time, the refinery for Cuban nickel is in Alberta and it is jointly owned by Cuba. To construct another would be costly. My guess, however, is that Sherritt, the Government of Cuba and the US claimants will negotiate an arrangement that will be reasonable for all parties.

In any case, the claim of US interests on the mine property generates uncertainties and will be problematic at some time in the future. Sherritt International may well be one of the very few economic interests that perhaps could lose from US-Cuban economic and diplomatic normalization.

V. “Nickel Pig iron”

As noted in an earlier entry in this Blog, a technological breakthrough in the production of “Nickel Pig iron” (NPI), a substitute for refined nickel is already having an impact on the nickel market and causing reductions in the price of nickel. This technology will likely put a cap on nickel prices in future a as alternate new supplies enter the market. This will likely reduce Sherrittt and Cuba’s foreign exchange earnings from nickel exports in future, and may halt any expansions in nickel nickel mining for some time to come. (See Bad News for Cuba’s Nickel Industry and Sherritt.)

Thus, while the near-future looks as bright for Sherritt International in Cuba as the last 10 years or so, these three issues raise ambiguities about its medium and longer term future – at least in the nickel sector.

Ian Delaney: a Sympatico CEO, it would appear

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Energy, Mines and Resources

Oscar Espinosa Chepe, “Desastre anunciado: Al igual que otros programas propagandísticos del castrismo, la llamada ‘revolución energética’ ha sido un chasco”, Cubaencuentro, 1 de Julio de 2009

Mario Alberto Arrastía Avila, Increasing Renewable Energy, Juventud Rebelde, June 13, 2009

Juan Tomás Sánchez, Cuba y el Etanol: Proyeciones para una Economía Privada, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2007

Jorge Hernández Fonseca, El Programa Brasileño de Etanol: Lecciones para Cuba, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2007

Juan A. B. Belt and Luis Velazque, “CUBA: REFORMING THE POWER, ELECOMMUNICATIONS AND WATER SECTORS DURING A TRANSITION”, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2007

Jorge R. Piñón Cervera1, CUBA’S ENERGY CHALLENGE: A SECOND LOOK, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2005

Jorge R. Piñón, CUBA’S ENERGY CHALLENGE: Fueling the Engine of Future Economic Growth, Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies Occasional Paper Series. University of Miami, March 2004

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