Minmetals confirms China rare earths merger, creating new giant

China controls more than 90% of some of the rare earth metals. (Image taken from Lynas’ presentation.)

China Minmetals Rare Earth Co said on Wednesday it would merge with two of China’s other top rare earth producers into a new company under the state assets regulator, creating a global force in the strategic industry.

China is the world’s dominant producer of rare earths, a group of 17 minerals used in consumer electronics and military equipment. Moves to consolidate China’s “Big Six” state-run rare earth companies have been seen as a way to boost influence over pricing.

China’s control of 85-90% of the rare earths processing sector means an uneasy reliance on Chinese supply for the United States, especially at times of high trade tensions.

Minmetals Rare Earth, which had flagged in September that talks about such a restructuring were underway, said in a filing its parent had been notified by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (Sasac) that the merger had been approved.

Under the merger, the equity of Minmetals Rare Earth, Chinalco Rare Earth & Metals Co and China Southern Rare Earth Group Co will transfer into a new company, which was not named.

CRU Group consultant Daan de Jonge said the combined entity would be second only to China Northern Rare Earth Group in terms of overall rare earths output and account for around 70% of China’s heavy rare earths production, based on quotas for the first half of 2021.

“This will mean that the pricing power of key rare earths, such as dysprosium and terbium, will be in the hands of one ‘super group’,” he said.

Dysprosium and terbium are key inputs for rare earth magnets, used in everything from electric vehicles to wind turbines.

Prices for both are up around 50% in 2021, striking multi-year highs as demand recovers from a pandemic-driven dip, while power curbs on Chinese industry and disruption to ore supply from Myanmar have constrained production.

Jiangxi Ganzhou Rare Metal Exchange Co, a fledgling bourse for spot transactions, and Ganzhou Zhonglan Rare Earth New Material Technology Co will also be folded into the new entity.

Ganzhou, a city in southern China’s Jiangxi province, is home to Minmetals Rare Earth and China Southern Rare Earth Group. It is a hub for heavy rare earth smelting and separation – or processing into a form that can be used by manufacturers.

Outside China, most investment in separation is in the United States, Australia and Britain, but the majority is focused on light rare earths, de Jonge said. That means heavy rare earths would still need to be separated in China, he noted.

(By Tom Daly and Ella Cao; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Kirsten Donovan and Jane Merriman)

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