Sibanye-Stillwater turns off dividend tap after annual loss

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater cut off the dividend stream that has made it an investor darling after reporting an attributable loss for 2017 on Thursday.

Sibanye's share price fell 13 percent, underscoring disappointment among investors who have grown accustomed to hefty dividends from the Gold Fields spin-off.

"It's the cash flow. There is no cash to pay the dividend," said Peter Major, fund manager at Cadiz Corporate Solutions.

Chief Executive Neal Froneman said the company might go at least another year without paying a cash dividend but it planned to resume payments. "The dividend is still the number one priority."

In lieu of the cash dividend, the company will undertake a "capitalisation issue" that will see four ordinary shares given to shareholders for every 100 they hold.

Froneman said the company hoped to expand its production profile in the United States – which would mean gold assets – in the wake of its acquisition of Montana-based platinum group metals producer Stillwater.

But he told Reuters the company had no intention of taking its primary listing to New York.

The company's operations, including the troubled Rustenburg assets it acquired from Anglo American Platinum, delivered solid results, with the loss stemming from impairments, provisions for occupational healthcare claims, and restructuring and transaction costs.

It is also in the process of acquiring historic South African mining company Lonmin.

Cash preservation

Sibanye reported an attributable loss of 4.437 billion rand ($333 million) for the year ended 31 December 2017, compared with attributable earnings of 3.473 billion rand last year.

"Cash preservation is prudent and as a result no final dividend is being declared," said the company, which has given over 4 billion rand back to shareholders since 2013.

Sibanye initially positioned itself as a dividend play with cash flowing from mature South African gold assets that did not require huge investment, but it has been expanding into platinum and beyond South Africa, diverting its dividend flow.

The healthcare provision is for an expected settlement in a class-action suit against six current and previous South African gold producers related to the fatal lung disease silicosis which gold miners contract.

Froneman said one of the effects from its planned acquisition of Lonmin was the thousands of jobs that would be saved near its Rustenburg assets.

Job losses are expected but around 30,000 would have vanished if Lonmin collapsed, stoking social tensions in an area known for labour volatility. "There would have been huge social unrest right on our doorstep," Froneman said.

(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Adrian Croft and Keith Weir)