* Ma’aden looking at overseas opportunities
* Deals could materialise in 2019, maybe sooner
* Bullish on copper, aims to expand outside Saudi
* Plans to shift funding to sukuk, bonds from loans
By Marwa Rashad
RIYADH, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian Mining Co (Ma’aden), the Gulf’s largest miner, is actively looking for investment opportunities overseas that would complement and strengthen its business inside the kingdom, the company’s chief executive said on Thursday.
Ma’aden, which mines gold and copper and has in recent years expanded into the production of aluminium and phosphates, is key to Saudi Arabia’s plan to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons. The government aims to more than triple mining’s contribution to the nation’s economic output by 2030.
The company, which is 65 percent owned by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, is looking for joint ventures and acquisitions in Latin America, India and other countries to boost its operations in phosphate fertilisers and base metals.
“Our strategy outside the kingdom will include us looking at options in organic investments, joint ventures and potentially acquisitions where we see good value and where we see good fit with Ma’aden’s existing business,” Darren Davis told Reuters on the sidelines of an investment conference in Riyadh.
“We continue to be very bullish on copper,” he said, adding that the company plans to boost its presence in countries where there are good copper deposits as way to gain the skills needed to develop its domestic operations.
Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build an economy that does not rely on oil and state subsidies involves a shift towards mining vast untapped reserves of bauxite, the main source of aluminium, as well as phosphate, gold, copper and uranium.
Asked about the potential timing of investments, Davis said he would like to see something next year or maybe even sooner, adding that acquisitions will mostly be paid for with cash. The company had 3.8 billion riyals of cash and cash equivalents at the end of September, according to financial statements posted on the Saudi stock exchange website.
Earlier this week, Ma’aden said it signed a contract with South Korea’s Daelim Industrial to build a third ammonia plant at a cost of about 3.35 billion riyals ($893 million) in Ras al-Khair, on the kingdom’s Gulf coast. That is just one of several plants Ma’aden plans to develop for a third phosphate complex estimated to cost 24 billion riyals.
Ma’aden, which is the world’s third biggest producer of phosphate, is likely to start the first phase of this mega project in 2023, he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Ma’aden said its third quarter net profit rose to 518.8 million riyals from 262.6 million a year ago, backed partly by an increase in average realised prices of all its products except gold.
Davis said he was optimistic about the company’s outlook, especially in 2019 when it will operate at full capacity, although he said its debt - long-term borrowing totalled 49.8 billion riyals at the end of September - may weigh on results. Uncertainty over global trade could also dampen growth in the commodity business for some time, he added.
Ma’aden also plans to shift its financing strategy over the medium term away from bank loans, which have been its main source of financing, to the bond market, including sukuk issues, Davis said.
Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Kirsten Donovan