While acknowledging Ebola as a “terrible” disease, corporate advisory firm SP Angel believes the failure of certain mining companies active in Ebola-hit African countries should not be attributed to the impact of the disease on operations. The firm’s comments followed an announcement by embattled West Africaniron-ore miner London Mining late last year that the company would be placed into administration after battling high costs, a sharp drop in iron-ore prices and the impact of the Ebola virus on production at the Marampa mine, in Sierra Leone.
Mining Weekly Online reported shortly thereafter that miner African Minerals, which owned a 75% stake in the Tonkolili iron-ore project, in Sierra Leone, had been forced to place Tonkolili on care and maintenance in December, pending a $102-million cash payment from its partner, the Shandong Iron and SteelGroup (SISG), or the securing of additional short-term funding.
SP Angel stated this week that Ebola was not, in its view, the reason thatLondon Mining had entered liquidation or that African Minerals had suspendedoperations.
While these companies would have “undoubtedly” struggled at iron-ore prices of $70/t, the firm maintained that both would have had a “much better” chance of restructuring and continuing operations if costs had been maintained and if no royalty or streaming instruments were used.
“African Minerals signed an offtake with SISG, with significant discounts relating to certain products of iron-ore being mined and beneficiated.
“Forecasting revenues was nigh on impossible owing to the uncertainty ofproduct generation and the discounts being applied. When costs rose, the company stood little chance of rescue, particularly with CEO Frank Timmispaying $50-million out to a Cyprus trading company without the authorisation of the rest of the board,” the group asserted.
In London Mining’s case, SP Angel asserted that the company’s fall into liquidation was the result of inadequate cost control, the cost of royalties, offtake and streaming instruments taking cash off the top line and the “excessive” debt required to start up the operation.
“Iron-ore prices did not have to fall far below most forecasts for last year for the company to close up, and the use of top-line financial instruments made it, apparently, impossible for the banks to rescue the business,” it stated.
SP Angel added that Sierra Rutile’s Monday announcement that it had achieved its third-highest quarterly production of 31 025 t of rutile in the quarter ended December 31, despite having faced Ebola-related challenges, had highlighted the ability of a “well-run” company to continue to operate effectively in Sierra Leone, despite the Ebola outbreak.
“In short, the failure of these companies has little or nothing to do with the emergence of Ebola in the region in our view,” it concluded.