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Implats moves to restore Rustenburg profitability

Impala Platinum’s (JSE:IMP) board has approved the closure of five end-of-life and uneconomic shafts at its Impala Rustenburg operation in South Africa’s North-West province over the next two years to restore the operation’s long-term sustainability and profitability.
Implats moves to restore Rustenburg profitability Implats moves to restore Rustenburg profitability Implats moves to restore Rustenburg profitability Implats moves to restore Rustenburg profitability Implats moves to restore Rustenburg profitability

Implats will close five end-of-life and uneconomical shafts at the Impala Rustenburg operations in South Africa

The approval of the next phase of its strategic transformation follows the completion of a strategic overview looking at ways to optimise and reposition the business.   

"Taking account of the current operating environment and macro‐economic realities, the review found that a fundamental business restructuring was the only viable option to secure a long‐term future for the operation," it said.

In a phased, two-year approach, Implats will reduce the number of shafts from 11 to six, and focus future mining activity on profitable, lower-cost, high-value and longer-life assets.

With the reduced footprint, it will remove Impala Rustenburg's non-profitable production from an oversupplied market, with the platinum group elements mill grade to increase to 4.25g/t in the 2021 financial year from 4.09g/t in FY2018, and output expected to fall to 520,000 ounces per annum from the current 750,000ozpa.

Real operating costs are expected to fall to R22,000 (US$1,637.50) per ounce from the current R25,100/oz, while real stay‐in‐business capital expenditure should fall to R2,000/oz from R2,800/oz, due to infrastructure efficiency improvements.

The company noted a once-off restructuring cost of around R2.7 billion in the 2019 and 2020 financial years, with the restructuring plan to be funded from internal facilities and the monetisation of some inventory stock.

Implats CEO Nick Muller said the only way to restructure loss-making operation was to address cash-burn and create a low-cost, profitable business that can sustain operations and employment at a lower metal price environment.

He said the process would be undertaken over two years to mitigate implementation risks and socio-economic impacts.

Implats expects to decrease its total labour complement of employees and contractors to 27,000 people from 42,000 in FY2017.

"While employee rationalisation is inevitable in a restructuring process of this nature, due care will be taken to ensure that job losses are minimised as far as possible through a range of job loss avoidance measures," Muller said.

He added that the company would look into possibly selling the shafts that did not fit into the long‐term portfolio.

Muller noted Implat's cash position at the end of the 2018 financial year had been eaten into by ongoing losses and the impact of a one‐off pipeline stock build‐up this year.

However, it had addressed additional liquidity and headroom by a forward sale of excess pipeline stock, which should bring in around R2 billion; revolving credit facilities of $4 billion available until FY2021; and positive group cash in the current and next financial year supported bt cash flow from other operations.

On the positive side, it had also made progress in effecting an operational and financial turnaround at Marula, securing a profitable third‐party PGM toll treatment business, acquiring a 15% interest in the potential low‐ cost, mechanised, palladium‐focused Waterberg project, issuing new 2022 convertible bonds to maintain a strong liquidity position, and converting the special mining lease at Zimplat sinto two new mining leases.

"Our recent strategic change initiatives, together with the implementation of the Impala Rustenburg transformation, positions the group's portfolio exceptionally well for future profitability, even at current metal prices.  It will significantly improve the position of the Group to sustainably deliver improved returns to all stakeholders in the medium‐ to long‐term."

The market looked favourably on the strategy, with Implats shares up 3.58% Thursday to R19.94 per share.

However, South Africa's minister of mineral resources Gwede Mantashe was not pleased with the news, saying the move to retrench 13,000 workers was a "clear example of a company that is careless, and mindlessly committed to implement its pre-determined outcome; no matter how unworkable that might be".

"Their reckless actions add injury to insult," he said.

He said the department of mineral resources had still been in the beginning of engaging with the company, encouraging them to consider different options to save jobs and keep operations open.

"The ministry, once more, urges Implats to reconsider its actions and return to the process we all agreed upon. Now is the time to woprk collectively and make our country prosper, and desist from behaviour that is careless and without foresight," he said.