Ghana holds around 20% of Ashanti shares, as well as a ‘golden share’ allowing it to veto certain transactions.
Pressure is building on Ghana’s government to drop this ‘golden share’ in, which is blamed for depressing the firm’s share price by obstructing mergers.
The company has long wanted the government to give up the golden share, which helped stop a 1999 bid from platinum miner Lonmin when Ashanti was in trouble after hedge-book losses.
The failure of that bid, hard on the heels of huge hedging losses announced by Ashanti earlier that year, sent the firm’s shares tumbling way below the $7-a-share bid price. The most liquid US-listed stock has been stuck below $4 ever since.
Finance Minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo, a member of the government put in place by President John Kufuor after his election victory late last year, said the State would not oppose another bid if it was deemed good for Ashanti.
Ashanti’s shares took a big tumble in October 1999, after a sudden spike in the price of gold sank its hedge-book and brought the company close to collapse.
Asked in an interview on State-run Ghana Television what the government’s reaction would be to another offer for the company, Osafo-Maafo said: “If that will give advantage to Ashanti as a player in the gold business, no objection”.
Ashanti CE Sam Jonah is known to favour consolidation to cut costs and exploit synergies for growth in the company, which has mines in five African countries.
Osafo-Maafo said the government would stick to its policy of selling off shares in listed companies to raise an estimated $200-million a year, but reiterated it was unlikely to sell any Ashanti shares while their price remained unattractive.
“At the moment, everybody knows that Ashanti shares are completely under-priced, so why would we want to sell? “It is the fatted calf you take to the market, not your lean, underfed animal,” he said, adding that other shares would be sold first.
Lonmin, which still owns 32% of Ashanti, said in August it was no longer interested in a merger with Ashanti, although it was in no hurry to sell its stake.
Osafo-Maafo said the government was keeping its options open regarding the golden share. He told Reuters in August that there was no particular reason to give it up. – Reuters