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Sibanye-Stillwater seeks control of Finnish lithium miner

Preparatory work for construction in the Syväjärvi mining area has already begun. (Image courtesy of Keliber Oy.)

Precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater (JSE: SSW) (NYSE: SBSW) revealed on Thursday it is in talks to take a controlling stake in Finnish lithium firm Keliber, adding that the plan is to have an 80% in the company, which aims to be Europe’s first fully integrated lithium producer.

The South African miner currently has a 30.29% stake, held through Keliber Oy, which owns the namesake project in Finland’s Kaustinen region.

Sibanye is seeking to hike its interest in Keliber to an initial 50% plus one share by exercising its pre-emptive rights.

The move, part of Sibanye’s strategy of diversifying away from South African platinum and gold production into battery metals, would cost it €146 million ($152.4 million).

Increasing its presence in those regions will also help persuade investors to rerate the company, which is being held back by issues in its home country, chief executive officer Neal Froneman has said.

The company noted that it will make a voluntary cash offer to Keliber minority shareholders to boost its stake to 80%. The bid will not be extended to the Finnish Minerals Group, a state-owned firm holding a stake of around 20% in Keliber, it said, adding it expects all the transactions to be completed by February 13, 2023.

This deal will cost Sibanye €446 million ($463m) at most, of which it will contribute a maximum of €250 million($260m) in equity. It is subject to approval from the South African Reserve Bank and 50% of Keliber shareholders.

“This is a further significant step in our strategy to build a unique global portfolio of green metals in a value accretive manner,” Froneman said in the statement.

The veteran dealmaker said in May its company would resume battery-metals acquisitions within two to three years, once inflated asset valuations come down.

Sibanye bought lithium and nickel assets in the US and Europe last year, but with prices for those and other battery metals ballooning over the past 12 months, mergers and acquisitions in the sector are less appealing.

The proposed Keliber lithium mine consists of several advanced stage lithium spodumene deposits with 9.3 million tonnes of ore reserves and contemplates the construction of a chemical plant near the port of Kokkola.

Production is expected to start in 2024 with an annual output at 15,000 tonnes of battery grade lithium hydroxide.