Lonmin may raise Ashanti investment

African miner Ashanti Goldfields, near to finalising a life-saving debt overhaul, revealed on Tuesday that platinum miner and major shareholder Lonmin Plc had suggested an 11th-hour alternative refinancing plan.

Ashanti, just weeks away from wrapping up a debt-for-equity swap as part of a wider debt restructuring, said it had received an alternative proposal that would involve buying out existing bonds at face value and injecting additional equity.

The Ghanaian-based miner almost collapsed in 1999 after racking up huge losses on its hedge operations. Its debt overhaul, due to go to a shareholder vote on June 28, is designed to shore up the future of the company, whose hedge book is still in the red.

One industry source said Ashanti was reluctant to delay the current plan, which was still the more likely outcome.

“It’s a bird in the hand,” the source said.

Lonmin, the world’s third-biggest listed platinum group which already owns 32% of Ashanti, confirmed it was considering making an additional equity investment in Ashanti, but denied this would amount to a change in its own strategy.

“Lonmin has been in discussions with the Ashanti board to see if alternatives to the present financial restructuring can be developed in the interests of all shareholders,” a Lonmin representative said.

But, he added, “Lonmin’s position remains exactly the same. It’s not intending to change its focus or adopt gold inside it.
The Ashanti holding would remain non-core.”

Cash-rich Lonmin declined to say how much it would be prepared to invest in Ashanti, but industry sources put the amount as high as $75-million.

One source said Lonmin’s motive was to protect its existing investment, which faces dilution if the current debt overhaul, which includes a $55-million debt-for-equity swap, goes ahead.

Under the overhaul announced in January, bondholders would forgive $55-million in debt in return for Ashanti shares at $3,70 each.

At the time of the announcement, Ashanti shares fetched $3,91. Since then, the stock has risen 40% in tandem with a sharp rise in the gold price.

Ashanti shares now trade at $5,45, making the debt-for-equity swap much more dilutive for existing shareholders such as Lonmin.

However, Lonmin’s proposal, which would do away with the need for a debt-for-equity swap and buy out all bondholders at face value, would also require Ashanti to negotiate a larger revolving credit facility with its banks.

Ashanti’s hedge counter-parties would also need to sign off on a change of plan. They are crucial to Ashanti’s financial survival because they have exempted it from having to pay margin calls on loss-making positions in the gold derivatives market. - Reuters

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