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Mr Clive Palmer's big picture plans for Yabulu nickel refinery
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Tuesday, 20 Nov 2012

The Australian reported that for Mr Clive Palmer, the bonanza flowing from his purchase of the Yabulu nickel refinery in 2009 has become part of business folklore, if not the deal's actual terms.

The irrepressible businessman has always been cagey about how much he paid BHP Billiton in 2009, and to this day plays down seemingly well informed speculation that it was nothing more than a Queensland sized bagel.

For the first time, though, he has confirmed to The Australian that the seller negotiated an unusual restraint for three years, until July 2011, the big spending entrepreneur has been unable to take cash out of the Yabulu holding company, Queensland Nickel.

Mr Palmer said that "I think BHP Billiton had a strong commitment to the community, and they wanted to make sure the business continued."

Some would say that BHP Billiton had a pretty clear fix on the buyer of Yabulu, which was once owned by Alan Bond, and the reputational damage that might flow its way if up to 1000 jobs were put in jeopardy by a new but inexperienced owner whose default position is to think big. And then bigger again.

Mr Palmer's reputation has only grown since then, fanned by projects such as the replica of the Titanic, which he has commissioned Nanjing's CSC Jinling Shipyard to build.

The three year restraint could also help explain why QNI is possibly the most diversified nickel operation in the world. For example, it owns the Palmer Coolum Resort near Noosa, shelling out an estimated AUD 80 million for the resort and championship golf course last year before Palmer got into a dispute with the former manager, Hyatt, and changed its name. Palmer, though, rejects any suggestion he was financially straitjacketed by the QNI restraint.

Mr Palmer points to the riches that have already flowed from his other career defining deal the 2006 sale of mining rights to lower grade magnetite iron ore in the Pilbara to CITIC Pacific of China. In hindsight, the transaction seems almost too good to be true.

CITIC estimated at the time that the project would cost AUD 2.5 billion, but in six years it's ballooned to AUD 6 billion. Luckily for Mr Palmer, cost blowouts are borne by his business partner.

And not only that, when royalty payments start flowing the big man's way, they are based on volume not on shaky iron ore prices, which have fallen 20% from last year's annual average of USD 151 a tonne to USD 121 a tonne.

So far, Mr Palmer has pulled in AUD 600 million in cash from CITIC, including AUD 200 million in April 2012 when his partner took up its option to expand the project.

Mr Palmer, though, tends to blast away the perennial cloud of rumor and innuendo that surrounds his empire. He says that, almost every month since he bought QNI in 2009, he's been asked when he's going to shut it down, attributing the continuing anxiety to a near death experience under the ownership of BHP Billiton.

Source - The Australian


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