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Teck seeks deals in a softening metals market

A truck hauls a load at a Teck Resources operation in B.C. in this handout photo.

The Canadian Press

Teck Resources Ltd. would like to go on the acquisition trail in 2013, but the diversified mining company finds itself in a tight spot.

Vancouver-based Teck says it will be watching closely for opportunities to scoop up assets or become partners in global projects, potentially benefiting from a shakeout in the industry that has led to billions of dollars in writedowns triggered by a pullback in metal prices amid softer demand.

Still, Teck chief executive officer Don Lindsay cautioned Thursday that acquisitions will be difficult to pull off, and the mining sector also faces many obstacles in obtaining permits – posing challenges to any growth strategy.

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"It's kind of an odd time in the industry right now because you can't build anything because you can't get permits or the market's worried about cost overruns. You can't buy anything because the market is worried about overpaying. If you're in the mining industry where your assets year after year deplete, that's not really a good formula," Mr. Lindsay said on a conference call with analysts. "I think companies to have do something, but it certainly is a very awkward time in the industry from that point of view."

While copper and zinc prices have slumped, Teck has avoided writedowns. "We actually feel we're quite strongly positioned with some good-quality assets and good geopolitical jurisdictions, and if we could get the permits, we'd get on and build them. And that's what we like to do," Mr. Lindsay said.

Teck has mining operations in Canada, the U.S., Chile and Peru. With changes in leadership at several foreign mining firms, "there will be some reviews of their portfolios and some assets may shake out," Mr. Lindsay said.

He forecast that demand for metals and coal from China should remain healthy this year, although the global economy is still on the mend.

Mr. Lindsay made the comments after Teck reported that its profit fell to $811-million last year amid declining global commodity prices from a record-high $2.67-billion in 2011. Fourth-quarter profit decreased to $145-million from $637-million. Adjusted fourth-quarter profit rang in at $354-million or 61 cents a share, compared with $613-million or $1.04 in the same period of 2011.

While the adjusted share profit exceeded expectations, Teck management noted that recent weakness in coal demand growth from overseas steel makers will persist in this year's first half, said John Hughes, an analyst at Desjardins Securities Inc.

Teck's copper and coal operations fared relatively well in the fourth quarter, although zinc volumes underperformed, said TD Securities Inc. analyst Greg Barnes.

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One setback came in December, when a foreign-owned ship damaged a trestle at the Westshore coal terminal at Roberts Bank, located 35 kilometres south of Vancouver. The vessel's misadventures left a gap of nearly 100 metres in the trestle, putting one of two berths out of commission. Teck uses the terminal as one of its points for shipping metallurgical coal, which is exported to Asian steel mills.

Westshore Terminals Investment Corp.'s Berth No. 1 should be back in full service by the end of next week. "The conveyor and loading system will be activated first, and then the road deck work will be completed in mid-April," Mr. Lindsay said.

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