Mark CutifaniListen to podcast
In putting pen to paper to share with you my thoughts on 2010, I must first make a very simple observation. The elimination of the hedge book, the rebuilding of our financial foundations through the reconstruction of the balance sheet, and the progress on improving operations performance all point to 2010 being a landmark year for AngloGold Ashanti. Combined with a steadily strengthening market and price for our product, we see a bright future for the company, our shareholders, our employees and all our business partners.
Gold chalked up its 10th consecutive annual increase in 2010 as investors looked for a safe haven from countless economic disruptions and potential dislocations across the globe. The second major round of quantitative easing began in the US as the Federal Reserve used an already-extended balance sheet to kick start meaningful growth in the economy, raising renewed concern over the long-term health of the dollar and the rising spectre of inflation. Japan moved aggressively to devalue its currency in order to fan demand for its exports and revive a flagging economy.
A booming economy in China brought the threat of runaway consumer price increases ever closer. In Europe, intensifying sovereign debt concerns deepened economic and political fault lines between euro members, raising doubts over the future of the common currency. A conflagration on the Korean peninsula once again threatened to tip the region into crisis. Against this heightened risk backdrop it was hardly surprising that gold reached a high for the year of $1,431/oz in early December. Notwithstanding the strong price rally, consumer demand increased, with the world jewellery sector rising an estimated 16% in 2010.
All the while, there remained a dearth of large, new discoveries to replace gold production. Depletion of the world’s major ore bodies continued, cost pressures mounted as currencies of commodity producing nations strengthened against the dollar, and higher labour costs and metal prices spurred input costs of everything from power to drill steels, reagents and grinding media. Despite a decade of higher prices, the supply response from the gold industry remained muted. It has perhaps never been clearer that, with the average, all-inclusive cost of production for the industry at more than $1,000/oz, the fundamentals remain supportive of the gold price. Once the gloomy and somewhat uncertain macroeconomic picture is factored in, it is our view that the gold price remains well supported, with a bias to the upside.
It was in this context that your board took the decision in September to eliminate the hedge book, once and for all ending the forced sale of our production at discounts to market prices. This was made possible by the reconstruction of the company’s balance sheet over the past two years. Investment grade debt ratings awarded in April by both Moody’s and S&P paved the way for the issue of $700m, 10-year bonds and $300m, 30-year bonds, the latter being a first for a South African corporate. A syndicate of 16 banks also provided a renewed, four-year revolving credit facility. With that balance sheet structure in place, the difficult call was made in September to issue new equity and a mandatory convertible bond, together totalling almost $1.6bn, to provide the final financing – over and above cash and existing debt of about $1bn – to eliminate the remaining 3.0Moz of gold committed under hedge contracts.
The final hedge contract was eliminated on 7 October, not only achieving a key strategic objective but also enhancing cash flow generation capacity and AngloGold Ashanti’s ability to finance an unmatched slate of growth projects across our global operations and development portfolio.
Now the hard work really begins, to consistently achieve our goal of earning a return of at least 15% on invested capital, throughout the investment and commodity price cycles. Our teams worked diligently during the year to set the foundation for growth and improved operating performance across our global suite of 20 gold-producing assets.
Project ONE, the change model designed to modernise and improve operating practices and reduce volatility across the business, thereby increasing productivity, while at the same time better clarifying role accountability, was implemented at an additional 15 sites (mines and processing plants) in 2010, adding to the eight that went live in 2009. All in all, 145 employees are engaged full-time in ensuring that this revolutionary operating framework is embedded across the business to achieve an ambitious set of safety, environmental, operating and financial targets. While this is undoubtedly a time-consuming and complex endeavour, our collective commitment to Project ONE deepened further during the year as we saw significant successes achieved at the Mponeng plant, at Geita and also the South American operations.
The early roll-out at the more complex and labour intensive South African underground mines also yielded positive early results and showed the benefit to be gleaned from increasing the focus on planning and organisation and ensuring that the right person does the right job, at the right time, in the right way.
In line with my commitment made in 2009, we cemented the hard won improvements in Brazil and Argentina, which now boast the company’s lowest-cost assets. Crucially, AGA Mineração and Cerro Vanguardia both have exciting – and board approved – growth prospects ahead of them. At Cripple Creek & Victor, in the US, the much needed operating turnaround was flawlessly executed by the team, who are now looking to further production expansions with the installation of a high-grade milling circuit.
The Americas region, a strong business in its own right under Ron Largent’s leadership, now has plans in place to grow production over the next five years from the 842,000oz achieved in 2010, to around 1.2Moz by 2013. In addition, exploration drilling restarted at La Colosa, in Colombia, after a hiatus of more than two years due to permitting constraints, and prefeasibility work commenced at the Gramalote joint venture, raising the prospect of significant additional growth over the medium term from the world’s most prospective new goldfield. We will continue to be cautious and diligent in moving ahead in Colombia, where we have an enviable position in the world’s most exciting new gold district, at an entry cost of almost zero, once the proceeds from farm-ins, joint ventures, asset sales and spin-offs are taken into account.
In Continental Africa, Geita was clearly the standout, closing the chapter on a difficult four-year period in which it missed operating targets. Compared to the 272,000oz achieved at the end of 2009, this asset delivered 357,000oz from the plant in 2010 and is set to produce 500,000oz in 2011, returning this mine to its rightful place near the top of the production pecking order. Unit costs, meanwhile, have almost halved from their peak as significant improvements were made to plant availability and the fleet was reduced from 48 trucks in 2009 to 34 trucks in 2010, while the quantity of ore transported increased.
With Guinea emerging tentatively from a successful election, the scope to realise the potential from Siguiri’s world-class orebody is now potentially enhanced and work is under way to investigate the best possible ways of delivering on this growth potential. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), work continued in parallel to complete the feasibility studies on the Mongbwalu and Kibali projects, the latter with our partner Randgold Resources. In both cases, our emphasis is on bringing our technical and planning expertise to bear on these projects to ensure they are completed safely, on time, within budget and in line with their envisaged operating parameters.
The DRC is poised to be a significant contributor to our production profile beyond 2014, with expansion potentially providing valuable optionality given the geological endowment of the country’s northeastern region. Mali, one of our more mature operating regions in Africa, continues to generate significant cash flow and we are working closely with IAMGold, our partner at Sadiola, to formulate the final plan needed to tap the promising deep sulphide Mineral Resource as well as extensions to the shallower oxide ore.
Ghana remains the biggest challenge for the Continental Africa region. Decisions were taken during the first half of the year to suspend both operations in order to affect sustainable and long-lasting solutions to water-balance issues which, in Obuasi’s case, follow almost a century of intensive mining across a vast footprint. While this had a significant impact on production, it reinforced our commitment to ensuring environmentally responsible mining and to improving our performance in this regard in all jurisdictions. There remains work to do, particularly at Obuasi, where the operation was also dogged by operating problems, most notably ore-pass hang-ups and below-par development rates.
Following our success at Geita, a senior, multi-disciplinary team led by Richard Duffy and supported by myself and Tony O’Neill, our Executive Vice President of Technical and Business Development, has been appointed to design and execute a strategy that will ensure that this gold orebody, undoubtedly one of the world’s largest at almost 30Moz, performs to its full potential. This is a key challenge for the year ahead.
In Australia, Sunrise Dam delivered another solid performance, although it’s worth pointing out that the cash cost line of $957/oz is distorted by the $259/oz non-cash, deferred stripping charge. This is simply an accounting entry and obscures the significant cash generation ability of this mine. The transition to underground ore continued during 2010, as did work to understand the true nature and extent of the orebody. This has prompted a decision to test the potential during 2011 for a bulk-cave operation to more efficiently extract underground ore over an extended life of mine.
We also passed a significant milestone in 2010 with the approval in November of the development of the Tropicana gold deposit in Western Australia. This is not only a virgin discovery by AngloGold Ashanti’s own exploration team in a large, untouched new gold belt, but also the first true greenfield project undertaken by the company in more than a decade. What’s more encouraging to us is that an extensive exploration campaign along the Tropicana belt, which extends along a strike of some 600km, is yielding good results. I’m confident that the original scope of this project, which calls for total production of 330,000oz to 350,000oz a year over 10 years, is only the beginning of the productive life of this district and that strong production levels anticipated in the initial three years of the mine’s life, will be sustained as new Mineral Resources are discovered by our world-class exploration team.
At the beginning of 2010, the South Africa region was the source of significant concern. Safety stoppages were the hallmark of 2009’s performance as severe disruptions were caused by our own decision to halt certain operations in order to improve operating conditions and by government-enforced Section 54 stoppages. This was compounded by a lack of flexibility on key assets. While we saw production take a hit at key operations, rising power and labour costs threatened a damaging margin squeeze.
As I write this review, the situation is much improved. Following his appointment as Executive Vice President - South Africa, in February, Robbie Lazare set about making the crucial changes required to improve safety and ensure these large, deep mines return to their cash generation potential. His `three-horizon’ strategy – to rapidly improve safety, production and costs, to optimise the configuration of the assets, and to design a far-reaching technology innovation plan to ensure their long-term survival – has already yielded impressive results.
Excluding Tau Lekoa, which was sold to Simmer & Jack during the year, production from South Africa was largely unchanged, while the cost increase (in US dollar terms) was contained at 31% to $586/oz, despite a 26% power-price hike, a near double-digit payroll increase, the impact of input inflation across all consumables and significant strengthening of operating currencies throughout the year. A look behind these impressive results shows increases across key production metrics.
New management appointments have energised operating teams and the renewed focus on planning, following the enthusiastic embrace of Project ONE, promises further improvements going forward.
Robbie has also spearheaded the formation of The Technological Innovation Consortium to investigate ways to tap the deeper reaches of the extensive Witwatersrand orebody in a safe and profitable way. This is an ambitious endeavour that some have likened to the Manhattan Project, for the sheer quality and breadth of the global expertise harnessed to achieve a single goal. This project has potentially far-reaching benefits and brings together an unparalleled group of the world’s finest innovators who are – at the time this report is distributed – already a year into finding a resolution to the ultra-deep mining conundrum: to safely and profitably mine what remains the world’s largest and most consistent gold resource. The group includes a range of universities, research institutes and industrial luminaries such as General Electric, 3M, Atlas Copco, Bateman, Sandvik, SNC-Lavalin and many more. This is not simply a vague, conceptual study, but a hardnosed commercial endeavour that could put AngloGold Ashanti far ahead of its rivals in pioneering real intellectual property to unlock untold mineral wealth at depth, across the world. We will keep you updated as this project progresses.
While we’re studying all the angles to ensure a profitable longterm future for South Africa’s deep mines, our attention will also be focused on some near-term objectives in 2011. Chief among these will be navigating the next round of biennial wage talks with South Africa’s labour unions. It is not merely lip service to say that we view organised labour as a partner in building our business in South Africa. While the National Union of Mineworkers and others representing miners, artisans and tradesman in South Africa have proved their mettle over several years as tough negotiators, they have also shown time and again that they are a responsible partner which does not take lightly any decision to disrupt production. We will enter this round of negotiations with a mandate to pursue open and frank dialogue and to reach a fair agreement that benefits all sides and ensures a healthy and sustainable industry for all stakeholders.
Turning to the nationalisation debate in South Africa, we are comforted by the fact that the government is well aware of the negative consequences that would follow nationalisation of South Africa’s mines, a view unequivocally expressed by senior leaders of the governing African National Congress on several occasions. The government has also shown itself to be sensitive to the negative impact this debate has on the perceptions of some investors less familiar with the robust nature of South African political discourse. Nonetheless, AngloGold Ashanti looks forward to this discussion reaching a conclusion as soon as possible to further improve South Africa’s overall investment climate.
It is with deep sadness that I reflect on the tragic deaths of 15 of our colleagues in accidents at our operations during the year. One fatality in the workplace is one too many and each one of these is keenly felt by every member of this organisation. We are working hard to bring the behavioural and technical changes to all levels of work that we undertake every day to improve this safety performance. While safety performance suffered during the second and third quarters, a fatality-free fourth quarter showed what we are capable of. The long-term trends also provide sight of how far we’ve come. All told, the all injury frequency rate improved by 11% from 2009 and by 49% since 2006. An encouraging performance, but I firmly believe there remains much room for improvement. Achieving that remains our primary operational aim as Project ONE – with its attendant focus on detailed planning and execution of work – translates to improved safety.
So, with the financial foundation laid and the engine room starting to work toward its potential (though with much room for improvement), the third leg of our strategy is aimed at ensuring the long-term future of this company through a worldbeating exploration effort. This is a team that made virgin discoveries in Colombia, the Tropicana belt in Australia and the DRC; successes we are confident of repeating. Following the consolidation of our global footprint in 2009, 2010 was the year for moving this effort forward.
Drilling resumed in Colombia, accelerated in the DRC and Australia, and was initiated in new areas in which AngloGold Ashanti once again has first-mover advantage and the potential to dominate. These include the Solomon Islands, the extensive Cornelia Range in the northwest of West Australia, the Middle East and North Africa, Gabon and Baffin Island, in Canada’s Arctic.
We will continue to invest heavily in exploration to add to our resource inventory at a fraction of the cost that many of our rivals – faced with a dearth of growth opportunities – are forced to pay in acquiring new ounces. In fact, the last three years has seen AngloGold Ashanti add roughly 40Moz at about $600m, through exploration and targeted, value-adding strategic acquisitions.
Our strategic focus on value has positioned AngloGold Ashanti with a range of development opportunities that will deliver real returns to our shareholders. The options we have created, working through our “value lens”, will ensure we are not forced to jeopardise our capital base by overpaying for assets in order to ensure a sustainable future. With the hedge book now well and truly behind us, we will remain focused on adding profitable ounces to our production base and to our resource inventory. As ever, capital discipline will be the watchword as we drive toward real returns while growing our company. I am pleased to note that we achieved a return on net capital employed of 16% in 2010, sharply up from our single-digit returns of just two years ago.
Production in 2011 is forecast at between 4.55Moz and 4.75Moz, at a total cash cost ranging from $660/oz to $685/oz(1). As we push toward our medium-term growth objectives, capital expenditure is estimated to be between $1.5bn and $1.6bn for the year.
Importantly, during 2010, we reviewed and updated our Code of Business Principles and Ethics (Our Code). I launched Our Code on 25 November 2010, along with the chairman of the Audit and Corporate Governance Committee. The roll-out of Our Code, which commenced during 2010, has an 18-month implementation and training plan across the group’s operations globally.
Lastly, I would like to once again thank my colleagues at AngloGold Ashanti. At every level, they are driven and hard working, and have shown a single-minded focus to create the world’s leading mining company. I’m grateful for this effort and look forward to 2011 as a year in which we return to growth and redouble our focus on driving shareholder value and improved safety, in order to realise the great potential of AngloGold Ashanti.
Chief executive officer
11 March 2011
- (1) Based on the following assumptions: average exchange rates against the US dollar of R7.11 for the South African rand, 1.70 for the Brazilian real, 0.98 for the Australian dollar and 4.12 for the Argentinean peso. Oil is at $95 per barrel.