China’s CNMC says it followed the law in closing Zambian copper mine

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LUSAKA (Reuters) – China’s CNMC Luanshya Copper Mines followed Zambian law when it closed the Baluba mine and sent more than 1,600 workers on forced leave due to plunging prices and energy shortages, the company said on Monday.

Zambia had threatened to revoke Luanshya’s mining licence if the company did not reinstate workers.

A slide in global copper prices has put pressure on Africa’s second biggest producer of the metal, with export earnings depressed despite the kwacha’s slump against the dollar this year.

“As a law abiding corporate citizen, we have always followed the Zambian laws,” CNMC Luanshya Copper Mines spokesman Sydney Chileya said in a statement, adding that it did not plan to make employees redundant.

Those placed on forced leave would receive a monthly allowance and other entitlements such as medical cover, the company said.

Chileya said the entire Luanshya Mine would have collapsed within three months if the company had not suspended production at Baluba.

The Mine Workers’ Union of Zambia (MUZ) said on Saturday it would challenge the decision, which it alleged was made without consulting labour unions.

Glencore’s Zambian subsidiary Mopani Copper Mines, is in talks with the government and unions over plans to suspend its production, but a source close to the company said on Friday a large number of workers would be retained.

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Banks’ messaging system SWIFT’s growth in Middle East, Africa outpaces global rate

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DUBAI (Reuters) – Growth in financial transactions messaging system SWIFT’s traffic volumes in the Middle East and Africa has accelerated by double-digit percentages this year as banks expand rapidly and non-financial institutions join the industry cooperative, said the regional head.

In the Middle East growth in the year up to the end of August was 12 percent, with double-digit expansion in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates helping offset a decline in Lebanon, Iraq and Libya, said Sido Bestani in an interview.

The data excludes Iran, which has been disconnected from the Belgium-based network since 2012 as a result of EU sanctions against the country.

Expansion in Africa in the past year was up 11 percent, led by Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, Bestani said.

Average global SWIFT traffic growth so far this year is running at 10 percent. The Middle East and Africa represents more than 4 percent of total volumes, a level that should rise as both regions historically grow at a faster pace than the rest of the world.

Banks in the Middle East and Africa have been expanding both within and outside their borders in recent years. Through acquisitions, Qatar National Bank, the largest bank in the Gulf Arab region, has expanded into Egypt and several other African markets, while South Africa-based Standard Bank, Africa’s largest bank by assets, has built a presence in 20 countries including Nigeria, Angola and Mozambique.

In Africa, banks have been adding more clients in a country where the proportion of the population without a bank account totals as much as 80 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

But Bestani said that drivers for business in the Middle East and Africa were different.

“We see more traction from some African communities,” said Bestani. “There is centralised decision-making, so for example the central bank of Ghana contacted us to ask if we can provide a service for complying with sanctions to all banks.

“In the Middle East we see less examples of supporting the community and more action at the level of individual banks and financial institutions.”

More non-financial institution companies are also joining. In the Middle East, around 50 such firms have joined, enabling them to handle cash management, trade and supply chain business through the system.

But SWIFT expects one of the main areas for future expansion to be the securities markets, where a lot of payments and settlement instructions are currently sent manually.

In the Middle East and Africa, including Turkey, payments represent 57 percent of information sent through SWIFT, with securities forming 30 percent of the total data. That compares with worldwide, where payments and securities roughly account for percent each of total data flow.

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Botswana’s first uranium mine targets 3.75m pounds output

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GABORONE (Reuters) – Australian firm A-Cap Resources has applied for a licence to open what would be Botswana’s first uranium mine with a capital expenditure of $351 million, the firm said on Friday.

Botswana is estimated to hold around 1.04 billion tonnes in uranium reserves, in the central part of the country, and the government has issued prospecting licenses in the last decade although no production has taken place.

The exploration firm said results of technical studies showed the project would produce up to 3.75 million pounds of the ore in the first five years of its projected 18-year life.

The project was ideally located near roads, a railway network and power supply, the company said a statement, and was also on the site of one of the largest uranium deposits in the Africa, with estimated deposits of 261 million pounds.

A resurgent uranium price meant the project, where explorations started in 2006, was viable, the firm said.

Global uranium production had stalled recently due to depressed prices, curtailing exploration activities and the opening of new mines.

Spot uranium prices slumped over 12 percent in the past three quarters before bouncing back to a 5 month-high of $37.25 per pound in September.

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Glencore’s Zambia unit to keep most workers despite suspension

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LUSAKA (Reuters) – Glencore’s Zambian subsidiary Mopani Copper Mines will retain most of its workers even after copper production is suspended following a drop on the metal’s price, a source close to the company said on Friday.

An electricity shortage in the southern African nation and weaker copper prices have put pressure on the mining industry, threatening output, jobs and economic growth in Africa’s second-biggest copper producer.

The source said Mopani was in talks with the government and unions over Glencore’s plan to suspend operations and invest to improve efficiency at the mine.

The president of Zambia’s largest mining union said the move by the government could help save thousands of jobs.

“Over the next 18 months, Mopani will invest $500 million in expansion projects. A large number of employees are expected to be kept for mine development and care and maintenance,” the source told Reuters.

“We want Mopani to be efficient and competitive in the global copper market. It will also extend the mine life.”

Mining and trading company Glencore said on Monday it would suspended dividends, sell assets and suspend some copper production at Mopani and its Katanga Mining division in Democratic Republic of Congo for 18 months.

Mopani is the second largest employer in Zambia after the government with about 21,000 direct and contract workers.

Mopani would offer workers at the mining firm voluntary separation packages in line with Zambian law after the talks with the government ended, the source said.

A second source said the company was talking to the government and unions, but job cuts had not be discussed.

“As far as we are concerned everything is normal. We are undertaking a study to optimise our production efficiency with the unions and the government. Until we conclude that study we can’t make any pronouncements,” the source at Mopani said.

Glencore, Vedanta Resources, China’s NFC Africa and CNMC Luanshya Copper Mine have all said they will shut down some operations in Zambia because of the harsh business environment.

Electricity shortages and the slide in copper have driven the kwacha currency to record lows amid a sell-off in commodity-linked currencies as China’s economy slows.

By Chris Mfula (Reuters)

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Glencore holds talks with Congo officials on Katanga mine

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KINSHASA (Reuters) – Glencore held talks with Congolese officials in Kinshasa on Thursday over the company’s plans to suspend some copper output at its Katanga Mining unit for 18 months, an adviser to the prime minister said.

The adviser, who asked not to be identified, said there could be an announcement by the mining ministry on Friday regarding the talks. A Glencore spokesman declined to confirm Thursday’s meeting.

The London-listed company said on Monday it planned to suspend 400,000 tonnes of copper output at Katanga and at Mopani Copper Mines in Zambia over the next 18 months.

“This is not a mine that is going to close. It’s just a moment when the copper price is very, very low,” said the adviser, referring to Katanga Mining. “When they sell copper they lose money.”

He said Glencore’s Mutanda Mining operation in Congo was a more efficient operation and did not face the same problems.

A Glencore source said the company would invest about $900 million in Katanga Mining to modernize it. This would bring the production cost per pound down from $2.50 to about $1.65 by time mine reopens in 2017.

By comparison, Mutanda Mining’s cost of production is around $1.33 per pound of copper because it is a newer mine, the source said.

The source declined to comment on potential job losses, saying discussions about employment continued.

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Botswana sees budget deficit narrowing in 2016

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GABORONE (Reuters) – Botswana’s budget deficit will narrow to 0.03 percent of gross domestic product from a previous forecast of a 2.6 percent shortfall, the ministry of finance said on Thursday.

The department attributed this to expected growth in revenue collected from non-mineral taxes, which it said would likely grow 10.4 percent to 10.32 billion pula ($977 million).

“This significant growth rate of the non-mineral revenue is encouraging since it reflects possible success of our diversification efforts,” the department said in budget strategy paper.

Botswana halved its 2015 growth forecast in August to 2.6 percent from 4.9 percent previously, citing expected weakness in the diamond market which accounts for nearly 40 percent of its budgetary revenue and around 85 percent of exports in dollar terms.

Sluggish sentiment in the market has seen both De Beers and Botswana’s Okavango Diamond Company (ODC) sales falling by over 20 percent in the first six months of the year.

The ministry added that it projected total revenues and grants rising 3.1 percent in the 2016/17 financial year from previous estimates.

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Bollore invests 30 mln euros in Ivory Coast-Burkina rail link

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ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Bollore has invested 30 million euros ($33.6 million) to buy trains for the freight and passenger line it operates between Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, the French company said.

Landlocked Burkina Faso relies partly for its exports and imports on the ports of its southern neighbour Ivory Coast, the biggest economy in French-speaking West Africa. It also uses ports in other neighbours Ghana and Togo.

“We have invested around 30 million euros to acquire trains, including six received today,” Lionel Labarre, director of Bollore Africa Logistics, said on Wednesday.

“We are still waiting for nine locomotives that will add to the 20 that are already in service,” he said, adding that Bollore would also develop the station in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s main city.

Trains take about 36-hours to do the 1,260-km (787-mile) journey between Abidjan and Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, and carriages are often packed with people, trade goods and animals being carried to market.

Bilateral trade between Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast hit 290 billion CFA francs ($495 million) in 2014, up from 165 billion in 2011, Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan said at a ceremony to mark the arrival of the six new engines.

Most of the trade runs via rail and road links. Cargo traffic between the two countries stood at 610,000 tonnes last year, up from 402,000 tonnes in 2011, Duncan said.

Developing the rail line is a strategic priority for Ivory Coast and a tool for regional integration, said Duncan, adding that the country was aiming for 2 million passengers a year in the next few years up from 300,000 now.

Bollore has operated the Ivory Coast-Burkina Faso railway since 1995 and has recently been awarded a concession for a rail link between Niger, Benin and Togo.


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IMF will not see new Zimbabwe loans in at least three years

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HARARE (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday it would be at least three years before Zimbabwe can start accessing loans from international lenders and needs to deepen economic reforms in the medium term to strengthen its ability to repay debt.

Domenico Fanizza, head of a visiting IMF mission said there were no quick and easy fixes to Zimbabwe’s recovery, adding that what was needed in Zimbabwe were costly reforms that would take time to be felt by ordinary citizens.

The once promising southern African nation owes foreign creditors $9 billion and has been struggling for five years to recover from a catastrophic recession that send hyperinflation into billions amid widespread food shortages.


(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia, Reuters)

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JP Morgan to remove Nigeria from government bond index

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LAGOS (Reuters) – JP Morgan will remove Nigeria from its Government Bond Index (GBI-EM) by the end of October, the bank said on Tuesday, after warning the government of Africa’s biggest economy that currency controls were making transactions too complicated.

The removal will force funds to sell Nigerian bonds, triggering potentially significant capital outflows and raising borrowing costs for the government.

Struggling with a plunge in vital oil revenue, Nigeria had imposed currency restrictions to defend the naira after the burning of dollar reserves failed to halt a slide.

The JP Morgan index tracks around $210 billion in assets under management.

Some bonds will be removed from the index by the end of September and the rest by the end of October, JP Morgan said.

The bank had warned Nigeria that to stay in the index, it would have to restore liquidity to its currency market in a way that allowed foreign investors tracking the index to conduct transactions with minimal hurdles.

Nigeria became the second African country after South Africa to be listed in JP Morgan’s emerging government bond index, in October 2012, after the central bank removed a requirement that foreign investors hold government bonds for a minimum of one year before exiting.

The index added Nigeria’s 2014, 2019, 2022 and 2024 bonds, giving Africa’s biggest economy a weight of 1.8 percent in the index.

“Foreign investors who track the GBI-EM series continue to face challenges and uncertainty while transacting in the naira due to the lack of a fully functional two-way FX market and limited transparency,” the bank said in a note.

The central bank had to devalue the naira and pegged it at a fixed rate against the dollar, turning trading into a one-way quote currency market whose lack of transparency upset investors and businesses.

The index provider said Nigeria would not be eligible for re-inclusion in the index for a minimum of 12 months. To get back in, it would have to establish a consistent record of satisfying the index inclusion criteria, such as a liquid currency market.

Nigeria’s Finance Ministry, central bank and Debt Management Office said in a statement they “strongly” disagreed with the index expulsion, saying that market liquidity was improving.

“While we would continue to ensure that there is liquidity and transparency in the market, we would like to note that the market for (government) bonds remains strong and active due … to diversity of the domestic investor base,” the statement said.

Traders told Reuters on Tuesday the central bank started rationing dollars to foreign investors last week.

Nigeria’s foreign reserves stood at $31 billion as of Sept. 7, down more than 21 percent from a year earlier, when they were $39.6 billion, the central bank said.

“Nigeria’s inclusion in the GBI-EM index was generally seen as a big step forward in its integration into global financial markets, opening the market to new investment and raising its profile worldwide. That will now be reversed,” said Alan Cameron, an economist at Exotix.

With Nigeria’s removal, countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have increased their weight by more 25 basis points as of Aug. 31, JP Morgan said in the note.

Foreign holdings of Nigerian government bonds stood below $2.75 billion, said Samir Gadio, the head of Africa strategy at Standard Chartered Bank. They had been around $8 billion in September 2014.

“This will initially trigger excess volatility in the market as exiting offshore accounts and onshore investors may push yields higher,” Gadio said. “A potential exclusion from the GBI-EM indices would make it more difficult to attract foreign portfolio flows in the future as Nigeria will need to rebuild its market credentials.”

By Chijioke Ohuocha (Reuters)

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Electricity shortage, low copper prices hit Zambian mines

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LUSAKA (Reuters) – An electricity shortage and weaker copper prices have put pressure on Zambia’s mining industry, threatening output, jobs and economic growth in Africa’s No. 2 producer of the metal.

The power problems and copper price slide have driven the kwacha currency to record lows amid a selloff in commodity-linked currencies as key consumer China’s economy has slowed, renewing pressure on Zambia to diversify its economy.

Glencore, Vedanta Resources Plc and China’s NFC Africa and CNMC Luanshya Copper Mine have said they will shut down some operations due to the harsh business environment.

“This is serious, it could bring our economy to its knees,” independent analyst Maambo Hamaundu said.

Zambia’s power generation capacity stands at 2,200 megawatts (MW), with most of the electricity produced from hydropower, but supply is often erratic.

State power utility Zesco Ltd, which generates the bulk of the electricity, said last week it would deepen power cuts after water levels at its largest hydropower station dropped following a drought.

President Edgar Lungu said on Friday that Zambia should reduce its overall imports of goods to tackle the country’s trade imbalance, but it should import more power to address the shortages.

The Zambian government on Tuesday started importing 148 MW of power from a ship docked off the coast of Mozambique.

“CEC (Copperbelt Energy Corporation) has communicated to the mines, the need for them to begin accessing imported power,” Chama Nsabika-Kalima, spokesperson for CEC, the largest supplier of power to Zambia’s copper mines, said.

Zambia is the world’s No. 8 copper producer. The closure of mines and smelters is likely to hit its output, which was projected to increase to 916,767 tonnes by 2018 from 741,916 tonnes in 2015, largely on account of increased output at the Kansanshi mine owned by Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, according to government data.

The slide in global copper prices, to six-year lows last month, has already prompted the government to slash its economic growth forecast for this year to 5 percent, from an initial 7 percent, and the deepening power crisis and curbs to copper production risk a further slowdown, analysts say.

Copper production accounts for 11 percent of Zambia’s gross domestic product.

Labour unions are worried about the impending job cuts, while the government has asked mining companies to consult with the ministry of labour before shutting down operations.

“We started importing electricity and they have the option to buy that power and continue with the operations,” the chief government spokesman, Chishimba Kambwili, said.

The Zambia Chamber of Mines, an industry body, said it was talking to the government over the problems facing the industry.

“We understand the severity of the situation. We want to work with the government to find a long-term solution to this problem,” the chamber’s chief executive, Maureen Dlamini, told Reuters.

By Chris Mfula (Reuters)

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