In a surprise turnaround, Gold Fields' last SA mine is finally making money

Gold Fields said the turnaround of South Deep opens the way for the company to do a deal at its last South African mine.

The company would consider different “corporate structures” for South Deep, after it returned to profit in 2019 following more than 10 years of losses, according to Chief Executive Officer Nick Holland. The mine needs to build a track record of profitability before a final decision is taken in February 2021, he said in an interview.

“We are open, we are not closed to ideas to release value on the asset,” Holland said. “But I think we have got to do it from a stronger base.”

Gold Fields on Friday raised South Deep’s output targets for this year and next as the company implements the mine’s fifth turnaround plan since its acquisition in 2006. The company expects the operation to produce 5% to 10% more than its initial 2019 guidance of 193 000 ounces.

Still, investors remain skeptical after the mine repeatedly missed goals over the past decade, including attaining production of as much as 800 000 ounces, the CEO said. While South Deep sits on the second-biggest known body of gold-bearing ore, load shedding and regulatory uncertainties in South Africa are compounding the challenges faced by one of the world’s deepest mines, he said.

“There is still much work to be done and one swallow doesn’t make a summer,” Holland said. “To get people to believe it can work we have to show good performance over a long period of time.”

Rival AngloGold Ashanti said last month it may finalise the sale of its remaining South African assets as early as the first quarter of 2020, a deal that could clear the way for the miner to move its primary listing from Johannesburg. Gold Fields has also considered moving its primary listing, Holland said.

“It’s an issue that one keeps on evaluating but one thing to remember is that it’s not so much as where you are listed, it’s about the underlying performance of the assets that matter,” the CEO said. “If assets perform well, you make good cash and shares get rerated.”

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