Sibanye raises platinum gamble with Aquarius deal

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s Sibanye Gold has offered $294 million to buy Aquarius Platinum, making its second big bet on a platinum sector hammered by falling prices and rising costs.

The deal, announced on Tuesday, would put South Africa’s third-largest gold producer by value into the global top five producers of platinum group metals with annual output of more than a million ounces.

It is the second big deal in the sector for Sibanye, which bought the labour-intensive and costly Rustenburg operations of Anglo American Platinum last month.

Sibanye, a spin-off of Gold Fields, is capitalising on a platinum sector shake-up following an unprecedented five-month strike last year and weakening platinum prices that have hit profitability and raised costs in much of the industry.

Under the terms of the deal, Sibanye offered 19.5 U.S. cents, or 2.66 rand, per Aquarius share, a 56 percent and 60.3 percent premium to Monday’s closing prices in Johannesburg and London respectively. The offer values Aquarius at $294 million.

Aquarius’ shares in Johannesburg soared 40 percent at one point to 2.48 rand, slightly below the offer price, and was 34 percent higher at 1230 GMT.

The stock was up 37 percent in London. Shares in Sibanye advanced over 10 percent to 19.74 rand.

The offer is backed by Aquarius’ board but requires shareholder approval.

In Aquarius, Sibanye would be taking on two low cost and mechanised mines in South Africa and Zimbabwe, which together holds the world’s largest platinum reserves.

For Aquarius, the deal would allow its shareholders to exit the industry whose gloomy outlook was compounded late last month by disclosures Volkswagen AG falsified U.S. vehicle emission tests. Platinum was trading at $916.75 an ounce on Tuesday, having hit a near seven-year low of $888 on Friday.

 

SHAKING THINGS UP

“Everybody is saying prices cannot stay this low forever. Sibanye is shaking things up in the sector, they are taking advantage where everybody is saying there is value but nobody is doing anything about it,” said Richard Hart, an analyst at Arqaam Capital.

Sibanye Chief Executive Neal Froneman said he saw no job cuts on the horizon at his new asset. Lay-offs are politically-sensitive in South Africa, where unions say up to 22,000 mining jobs are current on the line and the unemployment rate is over 25 percent.

There are about 1,500 employees at Aquarius’ Mimosa mine in Zimbabwe and 8,500 at the Kroondal operation in South Africa, where the hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction recently ousted arch rival the National Union of Mineworkers as the dominant union in the shafts.

Froneman said “we remain on the lookout” for assets but he did not expect to acquire anything else in the short term with a focus now on “bedding the new acquisitions down.”

Asked specifically if he wanted to snap up any assets from rival Harmony Gold, which is battling to stay profitable, Froneman said he was not interested.

He also said the company remained committed to its policy of paying a steady dividend of between 25 and 35 percent of normalised earnings.

Sibanye’s gold assets are older mines that generate good cash flow even at current prices and because of their age do not need huge investments, freeing money for shareholders.

The group’s production profile will now be about 60 percent gold and 40 percent platinum.

HSBC, which was the financial advisor to Sibanye, agreed to arrange a $300 million acquisition funding package.

($1 = 13.6725 rand)

(By Ed Stoddard, Reuters)

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