Umicore says precious metals prices providing profits

Operator of Belgian smelter sees demand for its services thanks to record high platinum and rhodium pricing.

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April 29, 2021

Belgium-based Umicore says it is off to “a very strong start” in 2021 after also reporting record earnings last year. The operator of a scrap-fed smelter says it is again benefiting “from soaring precious metal prices, strong demand across businesses and robust operations.”

The company says the first-quarter 2021 performance of its Recycling business unit “was significantly ahead of last year, boosted by soaring precious metal prices, in particular rhodium, as well as volume growth across business units and regions.”

The related Precious Metals Refining business unit “continued to take advantage of its enhanced capacity and capability to treat highly complex platinum group metal (PGM)-containing materials,” Umicore says. “The performance in Jewelry & Industrial Metals was also very strong due to sustained high demand for investment products and gold recycling services, while high precious metal price levels and volatility led to an outstanding earnings contribution from Precious Metals Management.”

Umicore says it is accelerating “health and safety investments” at its Hoboken, Belgium, smelter, which is at the heart of its metals recycling and refining operations. The company is in the midst of what it calls a multiyear investment program of some 25 million euros ($30.3 million) per year to “further reduce diffuse emissions.”  Steps include the construction of “new and fully covered storage areas for raw materials and the introduction of smart logistics based on real-time wind measurements to reduce the risk of dust formation during raw materials handling.”

Umicore continues, “In addition to the above measures, Umicore is creating a green zone on its own site and adjacent to the plant to increase the distance between the residential area and its operations. For the green zone adjacent to the plant, Umicore is in discussions with residents to buy, on a voluntary basis, the houses [that] are located closest to the plant. This has resulted in the agreed purchase of close to 100 houses so far. Umicore booked a provision of 50 million euros ($60.6 million) at the end of last year for the creation of the green zone.”

In addition to the “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) issues Umicore is addressing at its home in Belgium, in other parts of the world, the soaring value of rhodium and PGM has led to a surge in vehicle catalytic converter thefts.

The company says of its relationship with its Hoboken neighbors, “Umicore fosters an open dialogue with all its stakeholders to keep them fully informed of its activities, its initiatives and the plant’s environmental results. Umicore is committed to ensuring that the local community and its operations can co-exist sustainably.”

Looking ahead, Umicore says it is “set for an outstanding performance in 2021.” Says the company, “Based on the strong performance to date and current demand visibility, and assuming precious metal prices remain around the levels seen in the first quarter of the year, Umicore expects adjusted EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) for 2021 to approach 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).”