Freeport-McMoRan Shares Sink on Grasberg Mine Update

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Gold and copper miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc.’s (NYSE: FCX) troubles in Indonesia started in 2014 when its initial contract of work at the Grasberg mine was completed. Since then, the company and the Indonesian government have been in a tug of war over a new deal.

In a press release Friday morning, Freeport essentially said that its Indonesian subsidiary, PT-FI, remains “actively engaged” in discussions with the government “to enable full operation” of the Grasberg mine, the world’s second-most productive gold mine and it’s second-most productive copper mine. The mine is located in the province of Papua and its reserves are reckoned at 790,000 metric tons (tonnes).

The long-running dispute began late in 2014 when the government refused to grant PT-FI an export license for its copper concentrates unless the company paid export duties. Indonesia wants the company to build a smelter in the country and export refined copper, which adds value to its product and cash to its treasury.

Freeport has agreed, and in return wants its contract to operate Grasberg extended beyond 2021, and the company wants to begin contract negotiations before 2019. Freeport plans a $15 billion investment in underground mining at Grasberg and wants assurance from the government before it makes that investment that it will have the opportunity to recover it.

According to Friday’s press release, the government issued new regulations in January that:

permit the continuation of copper concentrate exports for a five year period through January 2022, including conversion from a contract of work to a special operating license (an IUPK), commitment to completion of smelter construction in five years and payment of export duties to be determined by the Ministry of Finance. In addition, the new regulations enable application for extension of operating rights five years before expiration of the IUPK and require foreign IUPK holders to divest 51 percent to Indonesian interests no later than the tenth year of production. Export licenses would be valid for one-year periods, subject to review every six months, depending on smelter construction progress.

Freeport is willing to convert its contract to an IUPK, but that the company wants an “investment stability agreement providing equivalent rights with the same level of legal and fiscal certainty” as in the contract of work. That position, the company said, is the same as Freeport first proposed in October 2015.

The company sounds like it is getting fed up with the delays. At the end of its announcement Freeport noted:

Under its [contract of work], PT-FI has specified rights to export copper concentrate without restriction or payment of export duties. PT-FI is considering alternatives to enforce its contractual rights while it continues to work in good faith to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with the Indonesian Government.

Freeport’s shares, which had been trading near the stock’s 52-week high, have dropped about 5% by the middle of the noon hour Friday, to trade at around $16.00, after closing at $16.81 on Thursday. The stock’s 52-week range is $4.65 to $16.75 and the 12-month consensus price target is $14.47.