Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for April, 2020

Icelandic pension funds reduce shares in Iceland’s silicon metal plant

The Icelandic pension funds obviously don’t have much faith in the PCC silicon metal plant in North Iceland, as they have reduced the values of their shares in the plant by 75-100%. Íslandsbanki have also reduced the value of their shares “considerably”, without disclosing how much.

A company called Bakkastakki manages the billion kronur investments by the Icelandic pension funds. The five pension funds involved had acquired a 13.5 % share in Bakkastakki, with the German company PCC SE holding 86. 5% stake in the silicon plant. Icelanders can read about it here.

The reason for the action taken by the pension funds (which PCC had approached last year when searching for more funds) was the great deal of uncertainty about the operation of the silicon plant (i.e. delays and difficulties), coupled with harsh conditions in the commodity markets.

Meanwhile, two and a half years after it was closed down by the Environment Agency, Stakksberg is still trying to sell the beleaguered United Silicon smelter in Helguvik in southwest Iceland. And the PCC problems probably haven’t helped.

Aluminium industry in crisis worldwide

On 13 February, I wrote a blog about Iceland’s oldest aluminium smelter, Straumsvik, being under threat of closure. The price of aluminium was very low and the owner, Rio Tinto, said that the Iceland smelter had “uneconomic energy costs”. The smelter was constantly making a loss and production was going to be cut by 15% this year.

Since then, COVID-19 has become a pandemic with countless repercussions for society and industry. Aluminium supply has exceeded demand for some time and industry-wide demand is expected to fall by 8% this year. Car manufacturers, which usually are big buyers, are having to deal with workers in quarantine, curfews and reduced demand for new cars, and companies such as Ford, Peugeot and Volkswagen have already reduced their output.

Aluminium production currently stands at being in excess of 6 million tonnes per year, but if uneconomic aluminium smelters are closed the excess will be reduced to around 4 million tonnes.

According to a report in the Icelandic media (in Icelandic), closing a smelter is an expensive undertaking and the smelter is still tied to its energy contract. One of its (unnamed) interviewees says that the smelter was running at such a loss that it would almost be more economical to pay the electricity cost and close the plant, and that the chances of the Straumsvik plant being closed have increased.

Norwegian company Hydro also say they are considering closing one of their 6 smelters in Norway. The smelter at Årdal mainly makes aluminium for the car industry.