* Antofagasta says to keep 35 pct payout policy
* Full year EBITDA slides 58 pct, worst than expected
* Shares tumble 10 pct, underperforms mining index (Adds conference call, analyst comment, shares)
By Eric Onstad
LONDON, March 15 (Reuters) - Chilean copper miner Antofagasta warned of another tough year ahead as it posted a worse-than-forecast fall in profit, dragging its shares down nearly 10 percent.
“This has been a challenging year for both the wider industry and Antofagasta and 2016 also looks like it will be difficult,” Chief Executive Diego Hernández said on Tuesday.
“However, I believe we are now well positioned to weather the current copper market,” he added on a results call.
Higher output from new mines and lower costs would allow Antofagasta to continue its policy of paying shareholders at least 35 percent of earnings, Hernández said.
As expected, Antofagasta’s board confirmed that no final dividend would be paid for 2015 since the interim dividend of 3.1 cents had met its 35-percent payout target.
Antofagasta and other miners have been hit by a slide in prices and slower growth in China. Benchmark copper futures fell by 19 percent last year, touching 6-1/2-year lows in January, and Hernández said a sustained recovery was not expected until late 2017.
The rout on commodity markets prompted Glencore to suspend its dividend last year, while BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto cut shareholder payouts.
Antofagasta, majority-owned by Chile’s Luksic family, has also been hurt by declining ore grades, unfavourable weather and environmental protests.
Its core profit from continuing operations, or earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), fell 58 percent to $890.7 million in 2015, 15 percent below consensus expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Antofagasta shares in London slid 10.1 percent to 483 pence by 0915 GMT, underperforming a 5.1 percent decline in the UK mining index. They tumbled by 38 percent last year, but have recovered by 4 percent in 2016.
“Antofagasta’s 2015 results were quite disappointing, especially on the EBITDA line,” analyst Paul Gait at Bernstein Research said in a note. “We think the company has not sufficiently cut costs in 2015.”
Net cash costs rose 5 percent to $1.50 per lb in 2015, but the company said it was seeking to cut costs by a further $160 million this year and planned to reduce capital expenditure by $260 million.
One of the world’s top 10 copper miners, the company said in January it would raise production to 710,000-740,000 tonnes in 2016, less than some analysts had expected, after slightly missing its 2015 target.
Hernández said Antofagasta would monitor opportunities after buying a 50 percent stake in Barrick Gold’s Zaldívar mine last year, but there were no attractive targets at present. (Reporting by Eric Onstad; Editing by Jason Neely and Alexander Smith)