Trouble ahead for Anglo’s new chief

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Kumbaironore Independent Newspapers Two workers at a Kumba Iron Ore mine. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi.

Miner Anglo American gave the market a taste of the trouble ahead for its new chief executive, raising cost estimates for its Minas Rio project and warning of lower profits from South African iron ore.

The Minas Rio iron ore project in Brazil is now expected to cost at least three times the original estimate.

Meanwhile, Anglo's majority-owned - and normally lucrative - Kumba Iron Ore said in a statement minutes later on Tuesday that it expected full-year profit to drop at least 20 percent.

Kumba alone contributed almost half of Anglo's operating profit for the first half of 2012.

The double-whammy took Anglo's underperforming shares more than 4 percent lower in morning trade. At 15:52 SA time, the shares were down 3.5 percent.

“It is difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel for Anglo American,” Citi analysts said in a note.

Last month Anglo announced the long-expected departure of its chief executive, Cynthia Carroll, and began the search for a replacement to take on what analysts and investors say is one of the toughest jobs in the business.

Her departure was blamed in part on Minas Rio, a 2008 attempt at diversification that turned out to be a tough, top-of-the-cycle deal.

STRING OF DELAYS

The Brazilian project has been hit by a string of delays and cost overruns. The miner - not alone in suffering from Brazil's permitting process - said that it would now carry out a cost review, including an independent assessment commissioned by the board.

The total cost is “unlikely” to be less than $8 billion, the higher end of analyst forecasts, Anglo said.

Analysts have long said that spending at the Brazilian project could rise to at least $8 billion from the most recent Anglo forecast of $5.8 billion, already twice its original estimate.

Anglo did not alter its 2014 estimated production start date, but analysts expect it could run into the following year.

“Including the $6 billion purchase price, Minas Rio is now a minimum $14 billion investment,” Liberum analysts said in a note. “While a blowout was anticipated, the market will still take today's news badly.”

Anglo has also been pummelled by strikes at platinum operation Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world's largest producer of the precious metal.

It warned on Tuesday that 70 percent-owned Kumba was also still counting the cost of wildcat strikes. Combined with lower prices, the effect would drag down full-year profit by a fifth, the company said.

MOUNTING STRIKE COSTS

The profit warning underlines the mounting costs of a wave of often violent strikes that have swept South Africa's mines.

Kumba, one of the world's top 10 iron ore producers and Africa's largest, lost about 2.6 million tonnes of finished product at Sishen, where an illegal occupation halted operations for more than 2 weeks.

Operations resumed on October 20, but the company said that output was still being hampered by low attendance, which it said was caused by intimidation and threats to workers.

Kumba had been thought safe from the strike contagion because, in December, employees with at least five years' service were each given a lump sum of about 345,000 rand ($41,200) after tax as part of a share scheme.

The payments, overseen by Chris Griffith, now Amplats' CEO and touted as a candidate for Anglo chief executive, represented a fortune to workers earning as little as 7,000 rand a month.

“I think Kumba is one of the better assets for Anglo and is one of the companies with better expectations going forward,” said Abri du Plessis, chief investment officer of Gryphon Asset Management in Cape Town.

“A new (Anglo) CEO is not going to have different problems from anyone else operating mines here. The labour problems will be sorted out countrywide and sector wide.” - Reuters


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