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New Norsk Hydro CEO Hilde Merete Aasheim. Source: Norsk Hydro ASA

Norwegian aluminum maker Norsk Hydro ASA has a new CEO for the first time in a decade.

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The firm announced Monday that CEO Svein Richard Brandtzæg will be stepping down after 10 years. Hilde Merete Aasheim, executive vice president and head of Norsk Hydro’s primary metal business area, was appointed Brandtzæg’s successor.

“I am honored, and I very much look forward to leading Hydro into the next chapter, together with 35,000 competent and engaged colleagues around the world,” Aasheim said in a company release. “I am confident that we have what it takes to turn a current challenging situation, for Hydro and for the global aluminium industry, into opportunities that will build the company for the future.”

According to the release, Brandtzæg will remain with the company through the end of the year in an advisory capacity to Aasheim and the company’s technology board.

Reuters reported Brandtzæg had asked for an early retirement.

“It’s been a very hard year for (him), no doubt. It’s been a very demanding situation in Brazil,” Norsk Hydro Chairman Dag Mejdell told Reuters.

The Norwegian firm has struggled with embargoes on production at its Alunorte alumina refinery in Brazil following a heavy rainfall and flooding in February 2018 at the refinery.

Last year, Brazilian authorities ordered the firm to cut production at the refinery by 50% amid questions about a new bauxite residue disposal area; the Alunorte refinery resumed production at 50% capacity in October after briefly having shut down operations completely.

“The impact of the rainfall event in Barcarena, Brazil, in February 2018, has been thoroughly investigated through public agencies, professional reports from internal and independent third-party as well as public hearings,” the company said in its annual report for 2018. “Environmental authorities have confirmed that there were no leaks or overflow from Alunorte’s bauxite residue deposits.

“However, we did recognize a need to strengthen the robustness of the plant, and we have increased water treatment capacity to prepare the plant for future climate and weather changes. Our clear ambition is to make Alunorte the benchmark in our industry, ensuring sustainable operations and social development in the communities around us.”

Norsk Hydro last week announced its financial results for 2018, reporting net income of 4,232 NOK ($505 million), down from 9,184 NOK ($1.07 billion) in 2017. The firm’s share price also took a hit in 2018, closing at 39.21 NOK ($4.58) from a 2017 closing price of 62.35 NOK ($7.29).

“The curtailment at Alunorte has weakened our financial results and progress of our improvement program,” the annual report stated. “In addition, different tariffs and sanctions have influenced global markets and trade flows over the past year, also affecting our industry.”

Norsk Hydro added that the production embargoes on the Alunorte alumina refinery remain in effect.

“Hydro is in dialogue with all the relevant authorities, at the local, regional and national level in Brazil,” the company stated in its annual report. “We continue to seek a common agreed solution, so we can resume normal operations, using the new and modern deposit area and the state-of-the-art press filters. At the time of authorizing this report, the production embargoes on Alunorte remains in force. The timing with regards to when the embargoes may be lifted remains uncertain.”

The firm expects ramping back up to 75-85% capacity will take about two months (once the embargoes are lifted), adding that the “timing of a return to full production capacity at Alunorte depends on the commissioning process of DRS2 and the press filters.”

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Revenue from the company’s bauxite and alumina operations last year fell to 2,282 million NOK ($266.6 million) from 3,704 million NOK ($359.2 million) in 2017.

Charles/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, copper prices were up slightly Monday, Tokyo Steel held prices steady for the fourth straight month and Rio Tinto responds to criticism about carbon emissions stemming from its customers’ operations.

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Copper Prices

LME copper traded up 0.4% on Monday, Reuters reported, reaching $6,458 per ton.

Citing Society Generale analyst Robin Bhar, the report notes the second quarter of the year typically features conditions conducive to price support for copper.

Holding Steady

Japan’s Tokyo Steel has announced it is holding prices steady for its steel products for the fourth straight month, according to another Reuters report.

Kiyoshi Imamura, managing director of Tokyo Steel, was quoted as saying that domestic construction demand was “sluggish due to higher inventories and delays in some projects because of shortage of labour and some materials.”

Rio Answers Emissions Criticism

Rio Tinto has faced some criticism from environmental activists, who have called for the iron ore miner to bear more responsibility for the emissions caused by the miner’s customers.

Rio, however, says it can’t be held responsible for what customers do with their iron ore, the Australian Financial Review reported.

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Rio Tinto Chairman Simon Thompson wrote a letter to shareholders in which he explained that responsibility lies “within the control of our customers, not Rio Tinto,” he was quoted as writing.