Lonmin's woes make its stock the top sell call on JSE

Johannesburg - Lonmin [JSE:LON] is struggling to find admirers among analysts, who have doubled the number of sell recommendations on its Johannesburg stock in the past two years.

The world’s third-largest platinum producer has 16 sell calls, more than any other member of South Africa’s FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In September 2015, eight analysts suggested selling.

“The story hasn’t really changed at all; they’re still the highest-cost major miner,” Ben Davis, an analyst at Liberum Capital, said by phone from London. “The only real way out of it for them is for platinum prices to really start moving, but they’re still in the red zone for me. It just doesn’t make cash.”

After a life-saving $400m rights issue in 2015, Lonmin is focused on limiting cost inflation and seeking to break even at prices that are almost 30% lower than three years ago. Its task is made harder by the rand’s appreciation of about 6% against the dollar in 2017, reducing the boost to profitability from having operating expenses based in the local currency.

The Johannesburg-based company aims to cut overhead costs by R500m a year by September 30 2018, by reducing jobs not directly linked to production, it said last month.

After dropping 40% this year, analysts expect Lonmin’s stock to fall by a further third in the next 12 months in Johannesburg. Two rate the stock a hold, with one buy recommendation. The London-traded shares are expected to fall 32% in the next year, with 15 analysts rating them a sell. Lonmin declined to comment on the analyst ratings.

“If platinum prices don’t improve, it’s going to be a very tricky place for the next year-odd,” Liberum’s Davis said. “But that would require a fairly sizable supply shock in the market and most people expect that to come from Lonmin closing.”

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