(Adds comments by CEOs of Magris and Iamgold; updates share price)
By Euan Rocha and Susan Taylor
TORONTO, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Iamgold Corp said on Friday it will sell its niobium mine in Quebec to a group of companies led by private-equity investment firm Magris Resources for $500 million in cash so that it can focus on its core gold mining business.
Toronto-based Magris Resources, led by former Barrick Gold Corp chief executive Aaron Regent, is one of a handful of private-equity-backed firms that have been scouting for deals in the mining sector recently. The acquisition signals there is still active interest in finding bargains in the industry, which has been battered by a slide in metal prices.
The Niobec mine is one of the world’s few producers of niobium, a metal with superconductive properties. It is used to make alloys for jet engines, and also used in medical devices, mobile phones and to strengthen steel.
“We like the fundamentals in the niobium market,” Regent told Reuters. “It’s a consolidated market with stable pricing and good growth due to the demand for high strength steel.”
“We see it as an asset that will generate a lot of free cash flow and it’s a good base asset to build a portfolio around,” he said. “We’re still in the market looking at other assets and our partners on this deal are aligned in that objective.”
Magris is acquiring the mine in partnership with Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and CEF Holdings, a Hong Kong-based investment company owned by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd .
The long-planned sale of the Niobec mine, located about 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Quebec City, includes a nearby rare earth metals deposit. Iamgold, which acquired the mine in 2006 through its purchase of Cambior Inc, will get a further $30 million from the Magris group when commercial production begins at the rare earth site.
The deal is expected to close by the end of 2014, subject to regulatory approvals. It is being financed partly by a term loan from National Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia .
“The sale of Niobec greatly improves Iamgold’s balance sheet,” Dundee analyst Josh Wolfson wrote in a note to clients.
The miner’s shares, which have fallen more than 35 percent in the past 12 months due to weaker gold prices, slid further on Friday as gold prices dipped below $1,200 an ounce. The shares were down more than 4 percent in midday trading in both Toronto and New York.
“The gold price has not been our friend,” Iamgold CEO Steve Letwin said on a conference call. “We cannot count on the gold price to save this industry. So we’re going to do what we have to do with things that are in our control, which are costs.” (Additional reporting by Ashutosh Pandey in Bangalore; Editing by Kirti Pandey, Chizu Nomiyama, Jeffrey Hodgson and Peter Galloway)