• Chinese magnet maker takes 9.8% stake in Aussie rare earths hopeful Hastings
  • Hastings exec chair Charles Lew says ex-China magnet supply chain is not currently cost-competitive
  • Yangibana debt package close, with concentrator construction forecast to begin Q4 2024


The owner of a large rare earths deposit in WA has issued a placement that will give the one of the world’s biggest permanent magnet producers listed in Hong Kong, a near 10% stake.

Hastings Technology Metals (ASX:HAS), which also has a 22% share in TSX-listed magnet producer Neo Performance Materials, will rake in $7 million from JL Mag Rare-Earth Co. via the issue of 19.6 million shares at 36c.

A 22.8% premium to HAS’ 10 day VWAP up to July 5, the $3.1bn capped JL Mag will take a 9.8% stake, with the funds added to a $16m raising completed in April.

It’s the second deal Hastings has inked with a participant in China’s dominant rare earths supply chain after an offtake and toll treatment agreement entered into earlier this year with a rare earths processor.

Hastings previously announced an offtake deal via a binding term sheet that would see it sell rare earth concentrate at a minimum rate of 10,000tpa over Yangibana’s first seven years to Baotou Sky Rock Rare Earth New Material Co., which would toll process the material into rare earths oxide in China.

While China’s control of the rare earths supply chain, producing more than 90% of the world’s rare earth derived permanent magnets, has become a hot button political issue in the West post-Covid, Lew said the concentration of infrastructure in China meant it remained the most realistic prospect to become a near term producer.

“In terms of the rare earth producers and the magnet producers, magnet makers, 90-95% of magnets are made in China, in terms of what we call permanent magnets,” Hastings executive chairman Charles Lew said in an interview today.

Lew said the JL Mag investment and potential for collaboration down the track could set Hastings on a path to delivering a mine-to-magnet solution to establish itself in the rare earths market.

As of June, Hastings had spent $153 million constructing mine infrastructure for the Yangibana project in WA’s Gascoyne. The whole thing is expected to cost $474m, with another $321m needed at June 13 likely to be sought in the form of debt.

Construction of a beneficiation plant is expected to begin in Q4 2024, eventually producing 37,000tpa of mixed rare earth concentrate from H1 2026 on.

Only Iluka has plans to produce separated rare earth oxides onshore in Australia at its $1.8bn Eneabba plant, while Lynas is in the process of beginning a partial processing step at an over budget and overdue cracking and leaching plant in Kalgoorlie.


Pushback from the West

Already the world’s top rare earths producer by a country mile, China’s efforts to gain a share of Australia’s resources have been met with pushback from sectors of the industry.

Iluka Resources (ASX:ILU) MD Tom O’Leary unusually used the ASX 100 firm’s most recent AGM to rail against China’s control over rare earths pricing and market dynamics.

His firm is facing cost overruns on a refinery at its Eneabba project in WA’s Mid West at the same time as NdPr prices sit at cyclical lows.

Browns Range project owner Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU), meanwhile, has spent much of the past year facing an attempt from a Chinese shareholder to take control of its board, with investors interpreted to be linked by the Foreign Investment Review Board ordered to sell their shares by Treasurer Jim Chalmers last month. A number of director applications, not endorsed by the NTU board, were knocked back at the company’s recent AGM.

And Arafura Rare Earths (ASX:ARU), the most advanced Australian developer after Lynas, Iluka and Hastings, has received hundreds of millions in loan commitments not only from the Australian Government, but also from the export credit agencies of Korea, Canada and Germany, all keen to secure a non-Chinese source of the metals used in electronics, wind turbines and EV motors.

But other juniors have leveraged investments and offtake deals from Chinese producers in the hope of getting into production faster.

ASX-listed but Tanzanian focused Peak Rare Earths (ASX:PEK) is planning to sell all of its concentrate and 50% of its intermediate and final products over its first seven year to near 20% shareholder Shenghe Resources, a major Chinese rare earths company, which also holds the offtake contract for MP Materials’ Mountains Pass mine in the USA.

Peak chair Russell Scrimshaw told the AFR last year those not selling to China were ‘twiddling their thumbs’ waiting for infrastructure to process rare earths and produce magnets to be developed elsewhere.

Hastings’ Lew said major OEMs he had spoken to were interested in sourcing around one-third of their supply outside of China.

But the rest of the world is so far behind that the prospects of sourcing material for aircons, EVs and wind farms without a major premium is currently remote.

The rhetoric is catchy to say that I want a non-China supply chain,” Lew told Stockhead.

“But the problem is that nobody today has been able or is willing to invest in a downstream investment into a hydromet oxide, separation, metallising, alloying and magnet plant outside of China, and at a price competitive (equal or a small premium), and because of that nobody has been able to set it up outside of China.”

NdPr, the flagship rare earths oxide product and price benchmark, hit a record high of US$175/kg in early 2022. But oversupply, rising interest rates and a waning Chinese economy saw that fall to around US$50/kg over the past two years.

Hastings is pursuing a toll treatment model with Baotou in China to produce downstream materials. In a way it appears akin to what a number of Australian lithium companies such as Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) and Mineral Resources (ASX:MIN) have done with spodumene sales in the recent past.

HAS is aiming to wrap up its debt package for Yangibana, which is already the recipient of an untapped $140 million Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility loan, in the coming quarter.

Lew said the toll treatment model will make the project easier to finance.

“I think it’s no secret to anybody that if we were to build our own hydromet plant and oxide separation plant in Australia and try and sell NdPr oxides based on Australian input costs, I can tell you that we haven’t got a chance at $50/kg,” he said.

Lew said the JL Mag investment feeds into this broader narrative, with Hastings, which is still hoping to supply magnet producers outside China in the years to come, aiming to develop a business model that can weather cyclical lows.

“The commodity price can be US$50 today and US$150 tomorrow, and at US$150 everybody will make money,” he said.

“But I need to think about, can Hastings survive at US$50 and (I believe) the answer is, with our business model, yes.”

$60m capped Hastings has taken a 75% share price hit in the past year, but closed 4.5% up today at 35c.


Ramelius skunks away

Now to dealmaking that has nothing to do with China, and Ramelius Resources (ASX:RMS) has put the cue in the rack in its pursuit of deals with Westgold Resources (ASX:WGX) and TSX-listed Karora Resources.

The announcement late yesterday came in response to a decision from the Takeovers Panel not to make a declaration of unacceptable circumstances over clauses in Westgold’s merger with the Beta Hunt mine owner, which Ramelius claimed had formed an improper barrier to its own hopes of acquiring its Mid West neighbour.

Some of that related to a standstill put in place after RMS and WGX had quiet chats in November last year, which were protected by a confidentiality deed.

No dice, and RMS is off to focus on its next concern, the waning mine life at its Edna May gold mine and complex scheduling to get the balance right at its flagship Mt Magnet project.

Mt Magnet is increasingly being filled from multiple different sources trucked to the mill, with the high grade Penny mine to make a big contribution in the next few years and the Cue gold project acquired from Musgrave Minerals last year also approved for development.

RMS also has a near 18% stake in Dalgaranga owner Spartan Resources (ASX:SPR) after a ~$180 million splash in the past couple weeks to get a seat at the table when it comes to the future of Spartan’s exciting Never Never discovery, where a resource upgrade is due soon after more solid drill hits announced to the ASX today.

The materials sector closed the day up 0.59% despite higher portside inventories in China sending iron ore prices lower and a pause in central bank gold in Asia that hurt bullion.


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