Amplats shuts mines, axes 14,000 jobs and sends platinum prices skyrocketing

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the platinum miner that was hit by a wave of violent strikes last year, announced Tuesday its intentions to close and sell off several of its mines in South Africa, as part of a long-awaited review of operations.

The world’s top platinum producer by volume said it will start by shutting down four shafts in Rustenburg and divesting from its Union mine complex in Limpopo.

“The platinum business has attractive underlying fundamentals, but we are facing tough decisions to restore profitability to our operations,” said Chris Griffith, CEO of Anglo American Platinum in a statement.

With 14,000 jobs at risk, the move is likely to have major implications for South Africa’s unsettled labour relations. The plan will also impact global markets, as platinum supply will decrease significantly.

Shares of rival producers, in fact, rallied on the news, with platinum prices rising to three-month highs.

Lonmin (LON:LMI) was up over 3.5% at 3:12 pm GMT and Canada’s Platinum Group Metals (TSX:PTM) was up almost 9% to $1.03 this morning at 9:56 ET.

Platinum Price on Jan. 15, 2013Prices for the precious metal climbed steeply by 1.95% to $1,688 per ounce, having earlier in the day increased by as much as 2.7%, reaching their highest level since October.

Yesterday Amplats warned it would report a full-year loss for the financial year in contrast to a profit in 2011.

Amplats, which is 80% owned by Anglo American (LON:AAL), said it expected headline earnings per share to drop to between 491 and 628 South African cents over the year to December 2012 – from a profit of 1,365 cents for the previous year – largely as a result of the industrial action, which crippled output. Lower platinum prices also contributed to the decline in earnings.

The company lost 306,000 ounces of platinum over the year to December 2012, equal to around 12-13% of total expected production, due to a wave of strikes that spread to other South African platinum producers and caused the closure of many mines.

Amplats currently supplies 40% of the world’s platinum demand. The closures announced Tuesday would remove 400,000 oz. of its annual production, or a bit under 20% of its annual baseline production target, as well as a 7% from its overall global production.

South Africa’s mining unrest began when operators working for London-listed platinum Lonmin went on strike asking for higher wages in August. It escalated after police shot and killed 34 protesters near Lonmin’s mine complex in Marikana, and spread across the platinum and gold sectors.


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