General Nice subsidiary forced into liquidation

A company part of General Nice Group (俊安集团), the Chinese coal and iron trader that owns Isua iron mine in Greenland, has been ordered into liquidation by Hong Kong’s High Court, after a petition by Australian creditors. The company, General Nice Resources (Hong Kong) Ltd (俊安资源(香港)有限公司), is not directly connected to the Greenland project, but there is an indirect link: Isua is owned (through a Jersey company) by another Hong Kong entity, General Nice Development (Hong Kong), which has a 40% stake in the company that has just fallen into liquidation. Thus, while the Greenland mine’s ownership and management remains unaffected, a subsidiary of its owner has just been ordered to wind up.

The liquidation petition was launched by KordaMentha, an Australian insolvency firm appointed by General Nice as receiver of Pluton Resources, the owner of an iron mine on Cockatoo Island, WA. KordaMentha are said to be owed several million AUD for expenses incurred during their time at Pluton, where General Nice have a controlling stake. Pluton has seen a good amount of drama in the last couple of years, with disputes between General Nice, a Chinese partner, a Chinese client and Australian contractors, including multiple, at one time simultaneous, receiverships, a police intervention, and litigation in Hong Kong and Australia, up to the Supreme Court. To the extent what I’ve read about Pluton can be summarised in any meaningful way, General Nice claim they’ve been pumping funds into Pluton to keep it alive despite low iron prices, while everybody else claims General Nice owe them money.

Last year, another creditor, Baosteel subsidiary Ningbo Steel (宁波钢铁), had asked for General Nice Resources HK to be wound up. General Nice acknowledged the debt, but sued back, arguing Ningbo Steel were trying to hurt their reputation. Ningbo eventually dropped the liquidation petition and apparently got paid, but GN’s case against Ningbo went on for some time. In a nutshell, GN say Ningbo’s petition was defamatory and frivolous as they were going to pay anyway, while Ningbo say the petition was justified since they got paid thanks to it.

But there’s more. General Nice Group, including the Greenland licence-holder, is ultimately largely owned by its chairman, Cai Suixin 蔡穗新, and his family. (I wrote an overview of the Group some time ago.) Another recent Hong Kong court order targeted Cai directly. In late October, a High Court judge forbade Cai from removing assets from Hong Kong (or to keep at least US$20m within HK). The order was requested by a Mainland bank.

And still more. Besides that Mainland-related injunction against Cai, two more banks are trying to claim debts, according to Oriental Daily News. A month ago, Société Générale filed bankruptcy petitions against Cai Suixin and his sister Cai Suirong 蔡穗榕, who’s also involved in various companies in the Group. And in yet another case, last week HSBC petitioned the High Court attempting to recover mortgaged property in the Le Cachet (嘉逸轩) development in Happy Valley (跑马地) from Cai Suirong.

General Nice’s Arctic foray is not easy to interpret. The takeover of the Isua mine, which has no development perspectives in the medium term, and the (thwarted) attempt to buy a derelict naval base in Greenland (something I’ll be writing about soon), don’t seem to make much sense as commercial investments for a company that could use some profits. Perhaps the value of these Arctic moves is favour with state entities (including SOEs) related to them, rather than directly generated profits.

[Update, Dec 30: General Nice Group chairman Cai Suixin 蔡穗新 and high executive Lau Yu 柳宇 are resigning from their posts at the Group’s Hong Kong-listed company, “for personal reasons and hoping to devote more time to other business.” Their replacements come from Huarong 华融 Asset Management, a large state-owned company specialised in distressed assets, that is said to be in the process of restructuring some other General Nice assets.

The Hong Kong-listed company is not related to the Isua mine in Greenland. The company gone into liquidation discussed in this post is a shareholder in it. I explained the (rather colourful) history of the listed arm here.

A story by Walter Turnowsky about the General Nice Resources liquidation, referencing this post, appeared today in the online edition of Greenland paper Sermitsiaq.]

General Nice buys into Canadian oil

General Nice (俊安集团), owners of the Isua iron ore project in Greenland, have acquired a 30% stake in a small Alberta oil company through their HK-listed arm, Loudong General Nice Resources (楼东俊安). The operaton cost Loudong General Nice, where General Nice and related parties are shareholders, some $65m in consideration shares.

The Calgary-based target of the acquisition, Rockeast Energy, has a few oil licences in Alberta. The company was, already before General Nice’s entry, at least partially Chinese-run and owned. Rongshi United Investment Management (嵘世联合) aka Runiworld have a stake in Rockeast, and some sort of ‘alliance‘ has existed between Rockeast and Zhefu 浙富 Holding Group. Zhefu, chaired by Sun Yi 孙毅, primarily make hydropower equipment, but they have an interest in Canadian oil since the purchase of a number of oil fields from Zargon. As of last year, Zhefu’s Canadian subsidiary, Ascensun Oil and Gas, shared an address with Rockeast. It’s unclear who did General Nice buy the stake from, since the transaction was made through a series of BVI companies.

Loudong General Nice Resources, the HK-listed company that has bought Rockeast, is partially owned by General Nice Group (I’ve written about other shareholders here). The Isua licence in Greenland is not owned through Loudong General Nice, but through a Jersey-based of another, non-listed, company of the group. I have a whole series of posts and a background article on General Nice.

A bit as in the case of the Greenland mine and other recent acquisitions, this latest move can be seen as part of General Nice’s effort to diversify away from its historical core business, Shanxi coal, by buying cheap overseas assets.

Meanwhile in Australia, Pluton Resources, partially owned by General Nice, has halted operations at the Cockatoo Island mine amid a dispute with the Western Australian government over unpaid royalties.

some good news for General Nice

A quick update on General Nice (俊安集团), the license holder for the Isua iron mine in Greenland.

Some two weeks ago, the group’s Hong Kong-listed company, Loudong General Nice Resources (樓東俊安), entered a conditional agreement to issue some $50m in convertible bonds to state-owned investment manager China Huarong 华融. That money would help pay for an investment in a Mainland logistics business Loudong GN have been talking about for some time.

Loudong General Nice have had a tough couple of years as their historical core business of Shanxi coal generated considerable losses, but they’ve been trying to diversify away from it and have already managed to get some new Mainland shareholders on board, as I’ve reported recently. Their shares are trading at almost three times what they were worth not two months ago.

General Nice’s HK-listed company is not directly involved in Isua.

Meanwhile in Australia, a troubled General Nice investment is starting to look better. Pluton Resources, the operator of the Cockatoo iron mine off Western Australia, where General Nice own a majority stake, has come out of receivership, where it had landed after a dispute with Chinese partners and creditors. Encouraged by a rebound in iron prices, they are now seeking to finance new activity at Cockatoo and a new project with a $50m bond offering.

General Nice ‘reviewing the potential’ of Isua, other projects in Greenland and beyond

The latest issue of Mining Global carries a piece on General Nice’s plans for the Isua iron mine in Greenland, the rights to which they acquired last December from Ebola-stricken London Mining. In what seem to be the first media comments about their plans for the project, they talk about ongoing work on an “optimisation plan” for the project and a “thorough review [of] its economic value” amid discussions with potential contractors and investors. They are even “reviewing the potential of other projects” in Greenland and elsewhere in the region.

Some of these comments come from none less than Jenny Yang (Yang Jianzhen 杨建珍), whose involvement with the Isua project goes back several years, to her role in promoting it to Chinese investors as London Mining’s represenative in China. Ms Yang is now quoted as vice president of General Nice Development (俊安发展有限公司), the HK-based company that owns the project through a Jersey company. General Nice Development is mostly owned by Group chairman Cai Suixin 蔡穗新 and his father. As I’ve mentioned before, Ms Yang was involved in contacts between General Nice and London Mining related to cooperation related to the latter’s Marampa iron mine in Sierra Leone.

An excursus into iron mining in Sierra Leone might be in order here. After London Mining fell into administration, the Marampa mine ended up being acquired by Romanian-Australian mining entrepreneur Frank Timiș. Marampa isn’t doing particularly well and work at the mine has been suspended amid a dispute with former staff over retirement payments. The Tonkolili iron mine, Sierra Leone’s largest, has meanwhile passed from Timiș’s African Minerals (in administration) into Chinese hands after Shandong Steel (山东钢铁), who already held a minority stake at the project, acquired the remainder of it by taking control of African Minerals. And in Burkina Faso, the Tambao manganese mine, owned by Timiș’s Pan African Minerals, was ordered to halt production while the government reviews the legality of the license, awarded to Pan African after being taken from a General Nice company. (General Nice didn’t take lightly to it and are claiming compensation from the Burkinabe government; I’ve also written on that dispute.) The Tambao mine was also the scene of the kidnapping of a Romanian employee last month, now allegedly held in Mali by a jihadist group.

General Nice’s stated enthusiasm about developing the Greenland mine goes against a climate of skepticism among Chinese industry sources about the economic sense of investing in a large, expensive project with prices this low. Then again, the sheer fact of owning the Isua mine and talking about it might help the company garner support for other investments in the region that might offer better medium-term profitability.

General Nice is unusual among Chinese mining companies in multiple ways. I’ve written about the group’s history in a long-ish background article that I can’t help but keep touting every now and then. Shorter updates also keep popping up.

SOEs buy into General Nice HK listed company

Two Tianjin-based state-owned companies, Bohai Steel (渤海钢铁) and Tewoo (天津物产), a logistics and trading conglomerate, have increased a previously existing stake in General Nice Group’s Honk Kong-listed company to 7%. The SOEs own these shares through a Hong Kong company, New Asia Worldwide Limited (新亞環球有限公司). Both companies are known to have had contacts with General Nice in the past.

General Nice’s HK listed arm, Loudong General Nice Resources (China) Holdings (樓東俊安資源(中國)控股有限公司), resumed trading today after a short halt and an announcement that the group is considering buying a Mainland logistics and trading business from an “independent third party” (thus presumably not Tewoo). There are no concrete agreements and the deal might not proceed. Loudong GN had announced similar plans for a similar deal late last year, but scrapped them later.

General Nice Group owns the Isua iron mine in Greenland, but not through Loudong GN. Bohai and Tewoo’s share acquisition doesn’t imply an interest in the mine, although General Nice’s stronger ties to SOEs in the steel industry would obviously become relevant should plans to develop Isua eventually come about.

More on General Nice Group and their various companies, including Loudong GN, in my background article and occasional shorter posts.

General Nice HK-listed company stops trading after shares soar

Loudong General Nice Resources (China) Holdings (樓東俊安資源(中國)控股有限公司), General Nice Group’s Hong Kong-listed company, has requested the HK stock exchange to halt trading in its shares starting this afternoon, to wait for a company announcement. As I reported on Friday, Loudong GN shares have jumped in the last few days, rising above 70% in less than a week.

General Nice Group CEO Jaffe Lau (柳宇) has aired plans for the group to increase cooperation or even seek mergers with (so far unspecified) Chinese SOEs.

General Nice’s HK listed company reported losses in 2013 and 2014, larger than its accumulated profit in its previous existence under GN’s control. This was due to the unravelling of its Shanxi coal business, something related to more stringent environmental standards being enforced by the local government, as well as to coal price levels more generally. The company has been trying to diversify away from coal, and has purchased an office building in Sydney and rights to oil fields in the US.

The listed company has been through several hands and has a rather interesting history, summarised in a section of my General Nice background article.

General Nice owns the license for the Isua iron mine in Greenland, though not through the HK-listed company.

Baosteel subsidiary files liquidation petition against General Nice HK company, GN to sue back

Ningbo Steel (宁波钢铁), a subsidiary of state-owned Baosteel (宝钢), filed a petition earlier this month at the Hong Kong’s High Court earlier to wind up General Nice Resources (Hong Kong) Ltd. (俊安資源(香港)有限公司), claiming unpaid debts related to iron ore transactions dating back to last year. Although General Nice acknowledge the debt, they have now countersued, alleging that the winding-up petition seeks to hurt their reputation, and are asking for $100m in compensation, equivalent to some 80 times the debt owed and over three quarters of Ningbo Steel’s 2014 net profit (東網, Quamnet).

Ningbo’s case against General Nice will be heard in mid June.

Ningbo Steel started as a private company, led by (now .85-billionaire) Zhang Zhixiang 张志祥, but was later bought by Baosteel Group, a central SOE and one of the world’s largest steelmakers. Executives at Ningbo Steel must have more pressing concerns than all that suing and countersuing in Hong Kong, such as wondering if they won’t get arrested as a corruption crackdown spreads through state-owned Big Steel. The campaign has claimed several heads at Baogang, the most senior of which so far has been deputy GM Cui Jian 崔健. Mr Cui spent part of his career at Ningbo Steel, after its acquisition by Baosteel, and his “discipline violations” (a euphemism for corruption) are rumoured to have taken place during his stint at Ningbo.

General Nice Resources HK is owned by Mainland-based General Nice Group companies, partly through General Nice Development, the Hong Kong company that owns the Isua iron mine in Greenland through a Jersey entity. That is, the owner of the Greenland license is not being directly targeted by the lawsuit in Hong Kong.

In media statements reacting to Ningbo Steel’s filing, General Nice say that, far from being insolvent, they’re a major ore trader with a large turnover and stakes in several listed companies. The figures the company brandishes when describing itself indeed make it hard to imagine it would have any trouble mustering the meagre debt claimed by Ningbo Steel. On the other hand, while profit figures for the whole group aren’t available, there are multiple signs that it isn’t going through its best times. The Group is moving away from its historical core coal business, and these aren’t good days for iron trading in China. Current iron prices mean that Group assets like the Greenland mine, unlikely to be developed any soon, or the Cockatoo Island project in Australia (owned by a troubled company I might be writing about soon) aren’t precisely profit sources. Loudong General Nice, the Group’s HK-listed company, posted losses in both 2013 and 2014.

I discussed General Nice’s various investments and their interesting history in a long-ish article last month.

In the latest news about General Nice’s changing strategy, General Nice Resources CEO Jaffe Lau (柳宇) said yesterday in an interview that the group is looking to increase cooperation or even mergers with Chinese state owned companies, since as private players they find it hard to compete with SOEs for funding from state-owned banks. Although General Nice’s political contacts have arguably been key to the group’s growth in the past, a merger with a state entity would surely give them access to cheaper funding. Assuming a scenario where the Isua mine is eventually developed, having a SOE around would move it closer to getting the billions in investment it’s been estimated to require.

To finish on a bright note, shares of Loudong General Nice, the group’s loss-making HK-listed company, have been doing very well of late and suddenly jumped in the last few days.