By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 5 (Reuters) – Embattled London and Johannesburg-listed platinum producer Lonmin will unveil new health and road projects in South Africa on Monday in a ceremony that will be overshadowed by its latest share price collapse.
Lonmin, not for the first time, is facing an uncertain future after its shares lost 30 percent on Friday when it delayed annual financial results due this month pending the conclusion of a business review.
The company said it had adequate liquidity to fund it through a review that could include the sale of assets, job cuts and the renegotiation of loan agreements.
There has also been speculation about a deal to combine with fellow South African miner Sibanye-Stillwater
Lonmin, one of the world’s top platinum producers, has been in the doldrums for years due to low prices and soaring costs and has been to shareholders for rights issues to shore up its balance sheet three times since 2009.
Investors have not been rewarded for their support. Lonmin’s share price the past five years is down 97 percent.
Monday’s ceremony will be held at Lonmin’s plush conference centre and game farm, a location that sets it up for a potential public relations “own goal” as the trade union Solidarity has urged the company to sell as it moves to cut over 1,100 jobs.
“It is insensitive to retrench mine workers … whilst enjoying the luxury of a game farm,” Lonmin General Secretary Gideon du Plessis said.
It will at least offer Chief Executive Ben Magara a platform to deliver his first public comments since Friday’s meltdown.
The latest crisis comes after Lonmin said in September that South Africa’s mines ministry had informed it of failure to meet some of its social and labour obligations, but it did not think its operating licence was in jeopardy.
South African mining companies must comply with a number of social and labour regulations, including providing proper housing, to help a mostly black labour force that was exploited and ill-treated under apartheid.
Lonmin has fallen short here before. A probe into the police killing of 34 miners in 2012 during a violent wildcat strike at its Marikana mine found Lonmin had failed in its pledge to build 5,500 houses, with only three erected.
On Monday, the company plans to show how it is now meeting its social and labour obligations, an added cost in a tough environment for all platinum producers.
According to South Africa’s Chamber of Mines, 65 percent of the country’s platinum operations are loss-making as the industry grapples with soaring costs and depressed prices.
Those that are performing well – such as African Rainbow Minerals and Implats’ Two Rivers JV and Anglo American Platinum’s Mogalakwena mine – are mechanised, shielding them from steeply rising wage costs and giving them productivity boosts.
Lonmin several years ago abandoned a failed and costly attempt at mechanisation in the face of an unforgiving geology – one of many missteps that have cost it in the long run.
On a range of fronts, Lonmin is battling. It posted a first-half operating loss of $181 million, knocked by a fall in production and rising costs.
The company last month agreed a pre-emptive loan covenant waiver for the period from September 30, 2017 to March 30, 2018. The waiver was to prevent a breach and allow the company to acquire the Pandora JV from Amplats and Northern Platinum .
The loans comprise a $150 million term loan and revolving credit facilities totalling $70.8 million from international banks. The loans are committed until May 2019, with a one year extension option. (Additional reporting by Tessa Welsh in London; Editing by Keith Weir)
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