Company news in brief

18 February 2020 | Business

First Quantum: Talks on Zambia stake sale stall

Copper miner First Quantum Minerals Ltd, which in the past has been in talks with a Chinese company about a possible sale of assets, has said discussions to sell minority stakes in its Zambian mines have stalled amid the coronavirus outbreak in China.

The Canadian miner last September disclosed it was in talks with China's Jiangxi Copper Co Ltd for a potential sale of minority interests in its Kansanshi and Sentinel mines.

"Any actual face-to-face conversations haven’t been able to take place or even be arranged," First Quantum president Clive Newall told analysts on Friday. He did not name any specific company.

Toronto-listed First Quantum is eyeing asset sales and partnerships as it looks to reduce net debt that swelled to US$7.6 billion as of year-end 2019 after finishing construction of its massive Cobre Panama mine.

The miner will publish a technical report on expanding the Kansanshi mine, Africa's largest, by the end of the first quarter this year but will not make a decision for at least three years as it prioritises debt reduction, chief executive officer Philip Pascall said. No expansion is needed until the end of 2024, he said.

First Quantum on Thursday posted a surprise profit, helped by higher sales and expanding production at Cobre Panama. – Nampa/Reuters

GM to wind down in three countries

General Motors Co is retreating from more markets outside of the United States and China, saying on Sunday that it will wind down sales, design and engineering operations in Australia and New Zealand and retire the Holden brand by 2021.

It also said that China's Great Wall Motor Co Ltd had agreed to buy GM's Thailand manufacturing plant.

The company expects to incur net cash charges of about US$300 million in connection with the changes, and total cash and non-cash charges of US$1.1 billion. – Nampa/Reuters

Kraft Heinz's credit rating cut to 'junk'

Kraft Heinz Co's debt rating was cut to "junk" by global credit ratings agency Fitch on Friday, a day after the ketchup and sausage maker reported lower-than-expected quarterly sales and wrote down the value of some businesses.

Chicago-based Kraft Heinz, which last year took a US$15.4 billion writedown of key brands including Oscar Mayer hot dogs, has been struggling to grow sales as consumers shift to healthier options and private-label brands.

"Following Kraft's commentary around 2020 operating headwinds and its commitment to maintain its dividend, Fitch estimates the company may need to divest up to 20% of its projected 2020 EBITDA to support debt reduction," the agency said.

Kraft Heinz said on a post-earnings call on Thursday that currency fluctuations, divestitures, supply chain costs and bonuses related to the turnaround would likely lead to a decline of about US$460 million in full-year earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA).

Fitch lowered its long-term rating on the company to 'BB+' from 'BBB-', but kept its outlook at stable. Separately, Moody's also revised its rating outlook to "negative" from "stable", saying it expects falling operating performance and high debt levels to continue through 2020. As of August, Kraft Heinz is rated "BBB-" by S&P, the lowest investment-grade rating. – Nampa/Reuters

Renault reports net losses of 141 mln

French carmaker Renault went into the red last year, the first time in a decade, with net losses of 141 million euro (US$152 million) due to lower sales and a falling contribution from its Japanese partner Nissan.

Renault said its outlook for 2020 was bleak with a fresh fall in operational profitability, a statement said Friday.

Last year saw group operating margin drop from 6.3% to 4.8%, though Renault stated that it "achieved its targets, revised in October," despite "a troubled context."

The auto giant in 2019 marked its first full year without former emblematic CEO Carlos Ghosn, arrested in Japan in November 2018 over allegations of financial misconduct, including under reporting salary and misuse of company assets at Renault partner Nissan. – Nampa/AFP

China battery recycler GEM to make disinfectants

China's GEM Co Ltd, best known as a recycler of batteries for electric vehicles and producer of cobalt chemicals used in them, said on Sunday it had been given a four-month licence to make disinfectant in coronavirus-hit Hubei province.

The surprise addition to the product portfolio of GEM, which has a factory in Jingmen in central Hubei, comes amid tight disinfectant supply after the virus outbreak that has killed more than 1 600 people in China, the company said in a Shenzhen Stock Exchange filing.

The government in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, last week pushed back the date for businesses in the province to resume work to Feb. 21 and reiterated on Sunday that firms could not restart without permission.

A survey of 16 Chinese cobalt smelters - excluding GEM's Jingmen facility - by the cobalt branch of the China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association last week showed that six had not restarted production as of Feb. 12 after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, while two more were operating at less than 50%.

GEM, which bought around 21 000 tonnes of cobalt last year, has been unable to receive shipments at the port of Jingzhou in Hubei in the wake of the outbreak. – Nampa/Reuters

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