Opening Quote: Anglo American reverses shrinkage

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Last year, Anglo American chief executive Mr Cutifani wanted to get rid of the miner’s coal, iron ore, manganese and nickel assets as part of a “shrink to survive” strategy.

He said the new Anglo should be made up of copper, diamonds and platinum. Earlier this year, though, he claimed Anglo was surviving very nicely even with coal and nickel unsold, and iron ore under review.

This morning’s production update showed Anglo had stopped shrinking – but was arguably growing in all the wrong places.

Iron ore production – with the price near a six month low – has ramped up. Output from Anglo’s Kumba business increased by 17 per cent to 10.5m tonnes due to improved mining productivity at Sishen, and higher throughput at Kolomela. Meanwhile, production from Minas-Rio increased by 30 per cent to 4.3m tonnes.

Last week, the price of iron ore, a key ingredient in steelmaking, dropped another 5 per cent, hit hard by a decline in Chinese steel prices and concern about a supply glut. It has now slumped by a third since hitting $94.5 a tonne two months ago. In that time, shares in Anglo have fallen 17 per cent.

No wonder Mr Cutifani wanted to focus on copper and De Beers diamonds. He said:

A strong operational performance enhanced by the continued ramp-up of Gahcho Kué, Minas-Rio and Grosvenor delivered an 9 per cent increase in production on a copper equivalent basis(8). … De Beers’ total sales volumes of 14.1 m carats reflected improved demand for lower value goods in stock at 31 December 2016.

Petra, the mining group that specialises in diamonds, also updated the market on production today. Earlier on the year, it had warned that full-year production may be toward the bottom end of targets, after construction on a new plant in South Africa was disrupted by labour disputes. Petra said it “remains on track” for production of 4.4m to 4.6m carats, “but is mindful of the potential to be towards the bottom end of this range”.

This morning, it reported that production for nine months to March 31 was up 15 per cent year on year to 3m carats, but that still left it on target for the 4.4m end of its full year guidance.

In the first quarter of 2017, production was flat at 999,768 carats, and revenue was down 1 per cent to$119m, with no revenue this time from “exceptional diamonds”. In the same period last year, big finds delivered an extra $15m. With the effect of these stripped out, revenue actually increased 13 per cent.

Net debt rose to $508m from $396m a year ago, but cash at the bank rose to $66.2m from $39m.

Chief executive Johan Dippenaar said:

The significant strengthening of the Company’s balance sheet following the recent debt restructuring, as well as the positive signs we are seeing in the diamond market, position us well as we continue to ramp up production from our capital programmes.

Genel Energy’s chairman is giving up on his production dreams, though. Tony Hayward, the former BP boss, joined the Kurdistan-focused oil explorer when it had ambitions to explore its apparently oil-rich Taq Taq field and enter the FTSE 100 index.

Last month, it wrote down the value of its exploration assets by almost $780m. Its market capitalisation has fallen from £3.1bn in 2014 to around £175m.

Mr Hayward, who had previously been chief executive but stepped up to the chairman role in 2015, had long been expected to depart. He will be replaced as chairman by Stephen Whyte, an oil and gas industry veteran whose career has included a lengthy spell at Royal Dutch Shell.

Having famously declared “I’d like my life back” after having to deal with BP’s deepwater Horizon disaster, it seems he has finally got his wish.

And, finally, software and big data group Wandisco appears to have delivered that rarest of commodities: a quarter when it didn’t burn through more cash. This morning, the company reported that it had won a $4.1m contract with major financial institution – and ended Q1 2017 with cash of $7.6m – reducing cash burn in the quarter to zero.

This was thanks strong prior quarter bookings, good cash collection and other efficiencies – but also a little help from the taxman: receipt of the annual R&D Tax Credit from HMRC also contributed to the zero cash burn in the quarter.

Shares in the big data specialist have almost tripled since the company went through a series of boardroom changes last Autumn, but they dropped almost 9 per cent in a single day last month despite the company hitting expectations with a sharp rise in bookings and heavy cost cuts. Chief executive David Richards stepped down under board pressure in late September before returning within days with shareholder support as chairman Paul Walker walked instead.

This morning, he said:

I am delighted to announce our largest deal since the inception of WANdisco. This highly competitive and technologically complex mandate reinforces our belief that [our product] Fusion is the only solution that can enable organisations to seamlessly move large volumes of critical data without any downtime or service disruption – something many thought impossible.

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