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7. Vale | Top 10 BRIC companies

Brazil's mining gem.

Market capitalisation: $134.1 billion

Vale is the second-biggest mining company in the world behind Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton. Not only does the company mine vast amounts of metals, coal and potash, but it also operates nine hydroelectric dams in, over 10,000km of railway and a number of sea ports.

While its business is concentrated in Brazil, Vale has offices throughout the world, including in London. It is the world's number one producer of iron ore and the second largest producer of nickel after Russia's Norilsk Nickel.

Vale started life as a public company in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais in 1942, and for the first three decades of its existence was mainly involved in producing iron ore. In 1997 Vale was one of several public companies privatised under president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Part of a consortium which bought over 40 per cent of Vale's shares was the National Steel company, and for a time Vale produced steel and wood pulp alongside a range of different metals. From 2000 onwards, however, the company sold off its interests in these sectors in order to concentrate on its mining operations.

At the same time Vale has been busily building hydroelectric dams, with eight built between 2000 and 2009. Although the dams do supply power to Brazil' nationa grid, their main purpose is to provide for Vale's own mining activities.

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