Making money from sand
Nicholas Grove  |  21/11/2011Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  

Nicholas Grove: Mineral sands miner, Iluka Resources, recently held a presentation, and Morningstar's Senior Equity Analyst, Mathew Hodge came away with some interesting insights. To help investors better understand this company and it's prospects, he joins me now.

Mat, thanks very much for joining us.

Mathew Hodge: Pleasure.

Grove: First of all, Mat, what are these mineral sands that Iluka pulls out of the ground? What are they used for and who are the company's main customers?

Hodge: Well, the two key mineral sands are zircon and then the other major product grouping is titanium minerals of which there are rutile, synthetic rutile -- they are the major high-value products. So, zircon goes into tiles and porcelain and sanitary wear things like that, whereas rutile and synthetic rutile go into pigments for paints, colorings, coatings, all those sorts of things.

Their main customers, I mean it's little bit like asking who are BHP's main customers. They are wide and varied, but China is a big consumer. They take 43% of the zircon and that finds its way into building materials. But there are a number of customers who process those. But mostly building materials or other bits and pieces, or for refractories, for foundries and zirconium chemicals.

Grove: Mat, what do you like the most about Iluka and what competitive advantages does it have over other companies operating in the same space?

Hodge: Well, they've got a big high-grade zircon-dominant ore body and zircon is the highest value product. So they have better than average industry margins. That's probably the best thing about them. They have pretty reasonable management as well.

Nicholas Grove: Mat, what do Iluka's earnings prospects look like and how do you rate its balance sheet?

Mathew Hodge: Well, the price action in zircon has been astounding. We've started the year at zircon price of $1,000 and now it's $2,240, something in that order. So, obviously, their margins have blown out hugely. You're looking at a company that's going to generate over the next � looking at next year, probably anywhere between $600 million and $1 billion in free cash flow. So, they've got cash coming out their ears. The Company said that that will look to return that to shareholders, which is a very attractive proposition.

Balance sheet is excellent. That had some debt because they've built some new mines in the Murray Basin and in the Eucla Basin in South Australia. But those things are churning out huge amounts of cash now, and I think by now the debt must nearly be gone. If it's not, it would be so tiny as to be irrelevant. So, basically you've just got that free cash flow coming out.

Grove: Finally, Mat, what sort of investor and what sort of portfolio does this stock suit?

Hodge: Well, it's a growth investor is the obvious answer. People who want exposure to China, China facing stocks, because it is one of those and it's really hitched to the developing world, urbanization wagon. But it is really interesting that the company has said its Wesfarmer style approach to capital -- it will return excess funds and they're going to have a lot of excess funds. So there may well be some quite large dividends coming investors' way.

Grove: Mat, thanks very much for joining us.

Hodge: Pleasure.

 

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