(adds comments from Glencore on capital return)
MELBOURNE, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Glencore Plc said it received $7 billion from the sale of one of the world’s largest copper projects, the Las Bambas mine in Peru, and is expected to return at least half the cash to its shareholders.
Swiss-based Glencore’s announcement on Friday was the first time the final sum for completion of the sale of Las Bambas to China’s MMG Ltd and its partners has been revealed.
Glencore had to sell the Las Bambas project or other assets by September to win China’s approval for its takeover of miner Xstrata last year, as Beijing feared the merged group would hold too much sway over global copper supply.
“Glencore will continue to look for opportunities to reinvest capital,” the company said on Friday
“Any surplus capital, subject to maintaining an efficient balance sheet...will be returned to shareholders, within an appropriate time frame and structure.”
With the sale having closed on July 31, Glencore is in a strong position to announce a capital return to shareholders with its half-year results due on Aug. 20, rather than having to wait until its annual results in February.
“It’s a lot of cash they don’t particularly need on their balance sheet,” said Tim Schroeders, a portfolio manager at Pengana Capital. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced a special dividend or capital return at the half-year results.”
He estimated the company would return $3 billion to $5 billion over 12 to 18 months, rather than in a single hit.
MMG and its partners Guoxin International Investment Corp Ltd and state-owned CITIC Metal Co Ltd agreed in April to pay $5.85 billion, plus the money spent by Glencore since the beginning of 2014 on building the mine.
MMG Chief Executive Andrew Michelmore was in Peru on Friday meeting the Las Bambas team and has said the company would run a detailed study before updating investors on plans for completing the mine and any revised cost estimates.
The mine, due to start producing in 2015, is expected to produce 2 million tonnes of copper in concentrate in its first five years of operation. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Additional reporting by Silvia Antonioli; Editing by Erica Billingham)