AngloGold Ashanti Ltd plans to sell its last South African mine, marking the exit of Anglo American Plc and the companies it spawned from the industry that created Africa’s biggest economy.
Anglo’s creation in 1917 by Ernest Oppenheimer and the subsequent development of what was for decades the world’s biggest gold industry underpinned the development of South Africa into the continent’s pre-eminent economy.
Its retreat from the industry, which has become expensive and dangerous as mines extended miles underground, began in 1998 when Anglo merged its separate gold subsidiaries to create AngloGold Ltd.
“Other options in the portfolio present a higher return, which is why we’re focusing on those and we decided to consider divestment options.” AngloGold announced on Thursday that it’s in the early stages of a sales process for Mponeng, the world’s deepest mine and its last underground operation in South Africa.
The sale will be the final step in AngloGold’s withdrawal from South Africa after it sold and shut other mines in the country to stem losses.
“From a financial point of view, it doesn’t make any difference, our gold industry has fallen,” said David Shapiro, deputy chairman of Sasfin Securities, who has been trading stocks in South Africa since 1972. “It’s rather sad. I still have fond memories of South Africa as the resource capital of the world.” AngloGold accelerated its expansion outside South Africa in 2004 when it acquired Ghana’s Ashanti Goldfields Ltd and today operates mines on four continents.
The South African gold industry, by contrast, is less than a fifth of the size it was at its peak and its importance to the economy is rapidly diminishing.
It employs just over 100,000 people and with most of the nation’s gold operations unprofitable, more job cuts are inevitable.
Keeping Mponeng would require AngloGold to invest about $1 billion to extend the mine’s life beyond its current eight years, JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in April. The company’s gold output in South Africa dropped to 487,000 ounces last year, from 903,000 ounces in 2017. “Anglo made the South African gold industry,” said Peter Major, a mining analyst at Mergence Capital Solutions. “Nobody brought the professionalism that Anglo did, nobody will ever spend money like Anglo did; they brought more money into this country than any other investor, it said”.
While there would be challenges in getting the backing of the nation’s government and labour unions, the sale would improve the company’s valuation to investors, said James Bell, a mining analyst at RBC Capital Markets.
“This has its challenges but could be taken positively," said Bell. "A divestment could help narrow the ‘South Africa discount’ vs. global gold peers.-MINING.COM