Anglo’s plan to exit thermal coal

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The mining giant is considering either a trade sale or return of shares for its export coal business.


Anglo American has given itself two to three years to dispense with its South African thermal coal export mines. This is in line with a response to questions at a virtual annual general meeting this year in which Anglo also disclosed that the divestment would be partial; that is, through a demerger with the new company floated on the JSE.

However, the intention is to get on with the job in a much shorter timeframe than three years. “Once you’ve made the decision, you’re better off getting on with it and the demerger route was the quickest route from our point of view,” said Mark Cutifani, CEO of Anglo American, in an interview with finweek.

According to Cutifani, one benefit of the demerger route is that it cuts down on red tape compared with a trade sale. “You’re handing back a share, so shareholders can make their own decisions about what they want to do with that share. It’s got less government issues, and the government is pleased to see a local listing.”

Cutifani is perhaps mindful of the route taken by South32, the Australia- headquartered company, which announced the sale of its SA coal assets in 2018 but has yet to complete the transaction. (It’ll be done by way of a trade sale to Seriti Resources.) Or the 12 months taken to sell his firm’s domestic assets, which was also to Seriti Resources.

“That was the main issue: you’ve got at least 12 years life (of assets) so you’ve given the opportunity for that to be successful and at the same time we’re not trying to dictate to the country about what they should do with their natural resources,” Cutifani says.

He adds that he’s still open to a trade sale, but the offers would have to be from companies that Anglo could trust would not lead to recrimination later down the line.

The last thing Anglo needs is selling to a buyer who’d mismanage the legacy risks and therefore invite criticism from government as well as civil organisations. Having an ESG (environment, social and governance) issue blow up in your face is as damaging to mining companies these days as missing production guidance.       

Interestingly, two of the companies most likely to tick that box in the event of a trade sale happening are Seriti and Menar Holdings. At face value, however, neither appear particularly interested in adding more coal to their respective asset bases.

“We are going to take over several businesses that are not in coal,” said Mike Teke, CEO of Seriti Resources, in an interview with Bloomberg News earlier in July. “I want us to build a strong, formidable mining company.”

Menar’s managing director, Vuslat Bayoglu, is of a similar mind. Menar, a Luxembourg-registered company with plans to take its thermal coal production to 20m tonnes by 2022, an investment of some R7bn, has eyes for the manganese sector and is also drilling for gold in Kyrgyzstan.

“Funding a coal-mining project is now a big challenge,” says Bayoglu. “If Anglo runs a process (to sell its coal assets) we would be interested, but I’m not sure we’d do a big due diligence on it,” he says.

Menar ran a close second to Seriti for the South32 coal assets.

Bayoglu thinks in manganese there’s an opportunity to seize on the fact that several existing producers are taking organic growth via underground mining, which is more costly than a new open-pit mine such as Menar is contemplating.

Manganese is used in the steelmaking sector, where it’s a strengthening agent. Another coal product – metallurgical coal – is also used to make steel. While metallurgical coal doesn’t have the pollutant properties normally associated with its thermal brother, its life in modern society may be limited, says Cutifani.

“We still think that metallurgical coal has got a good future, but by 2035 it will be getting tougher there as well because the hydrogen technologies will be taking over in steelmaking,” he says.

Companies like Anglo are trying tofigure out how existing streams of cashflow attached to minerals like thermal and metallurgical coal, among others, are going to be either engineered out of existence, or not wanted by its customer and consumer base.

With its significant funding headwinds and the way in which society has turned against the fuel, thermal coal’s days look numberedin the long term. The challenge for Anglo is moving forward in a way that does it right by stakeholders who rely on thermal coal.

“As I said, you can do a runner, and I’ve seen companies do that, but people remember,” says Cutifani. “We’ve done a lot of thinking about how to do this and we think we’ve come up with the right solution that ticks each of the stakeholder boxes. Hopefully, people remember we did it the right way.”

Read more
This article originally appeared in the 16 July edition of finweek. To read the full story, you can buy and download the magazine here.
finweel, july, 2020


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