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UPDATE 1-Eramet eyes expansion in electric vehicle metals

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PARIS, Feb 20 (Reuters) -

* Eramet Chief Executive Christel Bories said on Tuesday that the French mining group is looking to expand in minerals like cobalt, lithium and nickel salts linked to energy transition markets like electric vehicles.

* Eramet is actively looking at acquisition targets after previously acquiring a lithium deposit in Argentina, she said.

* "We're in a phase of studying opportunities to acquire resources in cobalt, primary lithium and nickel salts," she said during a call with reporters.

* Eramet is a major producer of nickel but does not currently produce nickel sulphate, a nickel salt used in making batteries, Bories said.

* For its existing lithium project in Argentina, Eramet expects to make an investment decision in mid-2019 before a potential production start-up in late 2019, she said.

* Reporting 2017 results, Eramet said strong manganese markets and efficiency measures at its struggling nickel division boosted results and that its markets remained healthy at the start of 2018.

* Eramet reported 2017 current operating profit of 608 million euros ($751 million) versus 84 million euros in 2016, and a net profit came to 203 million euros against a 179 million-euro net loss in 2016.

* Its manganese division posted a record operating profit of 738 million euros. Its nickel division recorded another operating loss, at 125 million euros, with Bories saying cost savings at its New Caledonia mining operations were offset by problems at its Sandouville plant in France.

* The group is considering a plan to raise manganese mine output in Gabon by over 30 percent in future. It has estimated the investment at 450 million euros, with a decision expected mid-2019.

($1 = 0.8097 euros)

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Benjamin Mallet; Editing by Mathieu Rosemain and Adrian Croft)

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