Montana Precious Metal Mines Up for Sale

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Russian metals company Norilsk Nickel is exploring the sale of its Montana platinum and palladium mines after prices for the precious metals rebounded sharply in recent months.

Norilsk has held a controlling stake in Columbus-based Stillwater Mining Co. since 2003.

Stillwater executives said Thursday they were aware a sale was being considered, but had not been part of the decision to pursue that option.

With metals prices at their highest level since 2008, Norilsk filed a notice Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission saying it could sell “all or a portion” of the Montana company.

Stillwater has two mines in the Beartooth Mountains, 90 miles southwest of Billings, that produced 529,900 ounces of palladium and platinum last year.

The company had revenues of $394 million in 2009. It employs about 1,300 people at the mines and its corporate offices and smelter in Columbus, down from about 1,600 when Norislk took over.

The mines are the only raw U.S. source of platinum and palladium, although other companies sell the metal as a recycled product.

Platinum and palladium are used in jewelry, to make catalytic converters that screen vehicle pollution and for other industrial purposes.

Norilsk said in Wednesday’s filing that it controls 51.3 percent of Stillwater’s stock, or almost 50 million shares.

Stillwater stock on the New York Stock Exchange was trading at just over $15 in early afternoon trading Thursday. That’s up more than $13 from a low of $1.76 in November, 2008.

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