South African coal miner Wescoal on Tuesday reported its performance for the first half of the 2019/20 financial year (April-September). While, in comparison the previous six months, revenues stayed static at R2.1-billion, gross profit fell to R195-million from R276-million, total comprehensive income dropped to R51-million from R108-million, cash generation declined to R126-million from R291-million, while operating costs rose to R184-million from R104-million. Headline earnings a share fell to minus 11.9c from plus 23.5c. The company’s gearing (debt) ratio increased from 18% to 36%.
“We want to acknowledge this is a disappointing set of results,” Wescoal CEO Reg Demana tells Mining Weekly Online. “We’ve experienced a lot of challenges on the operational front.” Complicating matters were the costs of two merger and acquisition deals (reportedly costing R18-million) which did not come off.
The company’s biggest customer is Eskom, which currently is responsible for 57% of Wescoal’s revenues. “We have done some work to diversify,” says CFO Izak van der Walt. But, he points out, Eskom is still central to their business model and they are comfortable with this. The utility provided it with long-term contracts and a steady offtake of their production.
The miner has three operational collieries at the moment – Elandspruit, Khanyisa and Vanggatfontein. It has two projects being developed, namely Arnot and Moabsvelden, of which Moabsvelden is a greenfield project. And it has another asset, Leeuw Braakfontein Colliery (which is in an advanced stage of exploration), which it considers noncore; however, its disposal deal fell through. The company may make another attempt to sell it.
Wescoal uses mining contractors to operate its mines. However, this led to some disruptions late last year and early this year. “In the very short term, we are still committed to contract mining,” states Demana. But the company fully realises that the country’s contract mining sector is under severe stress. A number of contract miners have gone into liquidation. Liviero Mining, which operated Vanggatfontein, had to go into business rescue late last year and had to be replaced (by Stefanutti Stocks Mining Services, in March this year).
Wescoal is looking at how it can support its contract miners. At one of its operations, he notes, the company directly bought new earthmoving equipment, which is now being operated by the contract miner, whose own equipment had been ageing and unreliable. The miner is reviewing the situation and may move to a hybrid approach, bringing certain mining services in-house while continuing to contract others out. But, he cautions, this would not be a quick or easy transition.
Meanwhile, various turnaround initiatives are now delivering results for the miner. Production is up, and greater sales will follow. The company expects to reach its run-of-mine production target by the end of this year.
Wescoal has also successfully negotiated a refinancing of its existing credit lines, providing extra liquidity, and established an asset-based funding mechanism, in both cases with the same consortium of South African banks.
Regarding Arnot and Moabsvelden, Demana reports both these are on track to deliver significant volumes of coal next year. “We’re in a strong position to execute these projects with the financing we now have in place,” assures Van der Walt. Arnot is awaiting the last of the conditions precedent to be met and the deal is expected to be closed soon. Wescoal held 50% of Arnot, the other 50% being held by a broad-based black economic empowerment consortium. Van der Walt described the Arnot ownership structure as a “landmark … setting the scene for transformation”. Moabsvelden is wholly-owned by Wescoal.
Demana assures that the company should be returned to profitability, and its performance improved, over the next two years. “The year that’s been … has proven the resilience of the business,” adds Van der Walt. “The prospects are strong for Wescoal.”