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Resource companies lead the export race

In the first of a five-part series Gary Kleyn looks at some of WA’s top exporting companies, uncovering the export successes taken from the WA Business News 2003 Book of Lists.

A LOOK at Western Australian trade data in any chosen month presents an impressive picture.

For instance in the three months to January 2003 WA exports grew 9.6 per cent, compared with the national growth of just 0.2 per cent. The names behind WA’s export success are outlined in the WA Business News Book of Lists largest exporters in WA listing.

Leading the growth were companies involved in the resource sector through mining and pro-cessing or value adding.

Iron ore producer Portman Mining, which last year was ranked as WA’s 41st largest exporter on export revenue of $31 million for 1999-2000, has jumped to 18th place with revenue of $140 million.

Last week Portman posted a $3.3 million net annual profit after write-downs totalling $20.8 million, including its investment in Australian Silicon Limited as well as other downstream processing and energy ventures.

The provision for the net write-down of the Australian Silicon investment was $11.9 million, $3.7 million for fines stockpiles at Koolyanobbing, $2.9 million for the Salmon Guns Lignite and Pacific Edge Projects in WA, $1.8 million for the South Australia iron ore project and $0.5 million for other ventures.

Managing director Barry Eldridge said the outlook remained strong from North Asian buyers with an expectation of increased benchmark iron ore prices and strong improvement in the Capesize freight market.

But it is not through lack of export demand that the company is being hamstrung. Portman is appealing a rejection by the Environmental Protection Authority to mine the northern tenements at Koolyanobbing.

“The delay in obtaining the environmental approvals for the northern tenements has been very frustrating for Portman and its international customers,” Mr Eldridge said.

While digging and shipping has rewarded some companies, others such as AGR Matthey have been equally successful in value-adding and downstream processing.

AGR Matthey, formerly known as Australian Gold Refineries, refines and manufactures gold products around Australia, including through its operations at Perth International Airport.

Since 1987 the company, a partnership between the Perth Mint, Australian Gold Alliance Pty Ltd and Johnson Matthey (Aust) Ltd has been trading in precious metals, refining gold and silver and supplying bullion bars to the international physical gold markets.

It has grown to be the largest gold and silver refiner in the world, refining more than 150 tonnes a year of gold and 300t/year of silver. It is one of a select group of metal refiners accredited with ‘good delivery status’ by the London Bullion Market Association.

Its products division operates three businesses – jewellery, industrial and metal joining – supplying the photographic industry, medical and biomedical industries, electrical, plumbing and building industries, and manufacturing jewellery industry.

Buoyed by solid sales and a strong gold price, according to the WA Business News 2003 Book of Lists, the company lifted its exports from $240 million in 2000-01 to $585 million in 2001-02, promoting it from 12th largest WA exporter to fourth.

A partner to the joint venture, the Gold Corporation, has enjoyed mild export success of its own through sales of $177 million in 2001-02, a rise in export sales of more than $30 million.

In January, the Gold Corporation opened a new $14.9 million, 9850 square metre production facility for its platinum and gold coins and blank manufacturing lines.

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