China switches track in hunt for West African iron ore
* Small West African miners out of favour with Western investors
* Chinese mining companies moving away from full takeovers
* Chinese infrastructure firms now main investors into region
By Stephen Eisenhammer and Sonali Paul
LONDON/MELBOURNE, Nov 12 (Reuters) - When a Chinese official said his country wanted half its iron ore imports to come from firms with Chinese involvement in five to 10 years, investors bet West Africa would benefit.
Nearly three years on, many have been disappointed.
But executives and analysts say China, the world's largest consumer of iron ore, is tying up supply of the steel-making commodity in the region, as forecast - but through sales deals and associated infrastructure rather than acquisitions.
Iron ore explorers in the region are out of favour with traditional, Western investors. Firms like Bellzone, Sundance, and West African Minerals have seen shares fall about 70 percent this year, as, in some cases, operational issues added to price and confidence woes.
China has also been more cautious, smarting from multibillion dollar projects like CITIC Pacific's Sino Iron that have yet to ship ore and investments that soured. Continued...