March 17, 2020 / 7:49 AM / 18 days ago

UPDATE 2-Antofagasta reviews 2020 expenditure as braces for coronavirus

* Anto cuts dividend 22% but beats expectations

* Miner to stockpile critical supplies on virus

* Capex to be in $1.3-1.5 bln range vs $1.5 bln (Updates with detail, background, analyst)

By Zandi Shabalala

LONDON, March 17 (Reuters) - Chilean copper producer Antofagasta revised its 2020 spending forcast lower on Tuesday due to a worsened global economic outlook but sent its shares soaring as much as 15% after beating expectations on dividend and cut net debt.

The company said it would stockpile key supplies as coronavirus threatened to disrupt operations. It said none of its employees, supplies or sales had yet been affected by the virus.

The coronavirus has now infected more than 182,000 people globally, according to a Reuters tally, and has rattled supply chains and roiled global markets.

Chile, the world’s top copper producer, cut interest rates to cushion its economy against the impact of the coronavirus and said it would close its borders from Wednesday.

Antofagasta, which operates four mines in the country, said it expects capital expenditure in 2020 to be in the range of $1.3-1.5 billion compared to $1.5 billion previously announced.

“In view of the current global situation, the expenditure programme is being reviewed to identify possible savings or deferrals,” it said in a statement.

Antofagasta said it was evaluating the potential impact of the virus on its supply chain and its customers “and is seeking to secure access to critical supplies and to increase storage capacity for its products in case of cancelled sales”.

The company did not specify which commodities it would stockpile.

Others in the industry are taking similar action and have seen an impact on projects. Barrick Gold said it would stockpile key commodities while Rio Tinto said operations at a mine in Mongolia were slowed by government curbs to curtail the spread of the virus.

Anglo American said on Tuesday it would temporarily slow down the construction of its Quellaveco copper project in Peru after the government announced a 15-day national quarantine.

Antofagasta said earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 9.5% to $2.4 billion in the year ended Dec. 31.

“Anto said expenditure could be lower which is clearly a reflection of the COVID-19 situation,” said Investec analyst Hunter Hillcoat, adding that most other metrics were in line with consensus.

Antofagasta cut its dividend by 22% to 34.1 cents but still beat analysts’ expectations, according to Refinitiv Smart Estimates. Net debt for the company majority-owned by Chile’s wealthy Luksic family fell 5.5% to $563.4 million.

The company said in January that its 2019 copper production rose 6.2% to 770,000 tonnes and kept its 2020 target at a range of 725,000-755,000 tonnes. (Reporting by Zandi Shabalala, editing by Jason Neely and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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