South32 to spin off South Africa coal business

Australia’s South32 (ASX, LON, JSE:S32) said Monday it plans to spin off its South African coal operations, as it prepares for a possible initial public offering of the unit in Johannesburg.

As part of the strategy, the miner will operate South African Energy Coal (SAEC) as a stand-alone business from April, when it would seek to broaden its ownership among the country’s majority black population.

“Establishing South Africa Energy Coal as a stand-alone business will enable us to improve the operation’s competitiveness and ensure its ongoing sustainability,” said chief executive Graham Kerr.

It will operate its South African Energy Coal (SAEC) as a stand-alone business from April, when it would seek to broaden its ownership among the country’s majority black population.

The process could lead to a listing of the business on the Johannesburg stock exchange, Kerr noted. He also admitted that Eskom’s demands that its coal suppliers are a minimum 51% owned by black investors had influenced the company’s decision.

In a separate statement, the Perth-based company — which spun off from BHP (ASX:BHP) in 2015 — also unveiled a $305 million (4.3 billion rand) investment to extend the life of one of its three South African coal operations, Klipspruit, for about 20 years.

Shares in the company closed down 2.63% in Sydney to A$3.33, and were also lower in Johannesburg (-2.78 to 3,457 rand) and London (-3.03%) to 187.8p, in early afternoon trading.

South Africa modified its Mining Charter in June, raising the threshold for black ownership of mining firms to 30% from 26%, despite opposition from miners operating there.

The new rules also established that mining companies must pay 1% of turnover to their black empowerment partners, which if in effect last year it would have consumed 95% of the 6 billion rand (about $465 million at today's rates) paid in total dividends by the industry in 2016.

The country’s Chamber of Mines is still trying to stop the implementation of the new rules. The industry body claims the revision has not only raised costs and imposed new levies to fund community development, but it has also put at risk some major deals recently announcement.

Department of Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has agreed not to implement the charter until there’s a judgment in an ongoing judicial review case.

The court hearing, however, has been postponed to February from December, the Chamber of Mines said on Monday.