Vale confirms coming ‘announcement’ about Canada’s Voisey's Bay mine

Soaring prices for cobalt, one of the crucial elements in batteries for cellphones and electric vehicles, could be behind an enigmatic decision made by Brazil’s mining giant Vale (NYSE:VALE) regarding its stalled project in Canada’s Voisey's Bay, in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The metal, which is primarily extracted as a by-product of nickel and copper ores, has been drifting lower since hitting near 10-year peaks on the LME in March, but is still up nearly fourfold from its 2016 trough and that could mean the Rio de Janeiro-based company has decided to go ahead with a planned underground expansion of its northern Labrador mine.

An underground expansion of the nickel mine was expected to come online in 2020, but since it has been stalled, it’s believed Vale will announce a new timeframe for it.

The project would extend the life of the nickel mine to 2035, but depressed metal prices in the past two years slowed down development. Now it’s also soaring – up 75% over the past 12 months – supported mainly by environmental production cuts across top producer China, plunging inventories and strong steel prices.

In light of the new scenario, Vale already suspended the sale of a stake in another of its nickel mines — New Caledonia, located on the remote South Pacific island.

What it will do in Canada remains an enigma, but both provincial government and company officials told CBC News that a "significant" mining announcement would take place in St. John's Monday.

The halted expansion section of the mine was expected to come online in 2020, but since the project has been stalled, it’s believed Vale will also announce a new timeframe for it.

In January, Reuters reported that the Brazilian mining giant, which also owns a processing facility at Long Harbour, Placentia Bay, had hired Canada’s Bank of Montreal to raise around $500m from bidders for cobalt that will be produced at the mine.

Such a streaming deal – making an upfront payment in exchange for future production – is common on precious metals markets, but would be the first of its kind for cobalt.

Negotiating a price for a streaming deal could be complicated by the limited size of the overall market. The Voisey's Bay deal would only be for around 3,000 tonnes of cobalt per year, according to experts.

Vale confirms coming ‘announcement’ about Canada’s Voisey's Bay mine

Voisey’s Bay mine – aerial. (Image courtesy of Vale.)