Newcrest eyes $6b writedown

Newcrest Mining expects to write $6 billion off the value of its mines as part of a major restructuring that will claim hundreds of jobs and cut dividend flows for at least a year.

Newcrest Mining expects to write $6 billion off the value of its mines as part of a major restructuring that will claim hundreds of jobs and cut dividend flows for at least a year.

Australia's biggest listed gold producer confirmed it would close its Brisbane office, cut its 2014 capital spend by a third and almost halve its spending on exploration.

The announced restructure exacerbated a week of share price falls, with $2.6 billion being wiped off the value of the company since the rot began on Tuesday morning.

The exact size of the impairment will be confirmed in August, and the company said the pain would be spread across Newcrest's six mines.

But an estimated $3.6 billion of the impairment will relate to goodwill on the troublesome Lihir mine in Papua New Guinea, which the company purchased for about $10 billion in 2010.

That price now outstrips Newcrest's market capitalisation, and the purchase increasingly appears to be an expensive blunder given the numerous production downgrades Lihir has caused over recent years.

Kimber capital broker Kim Slater even likened the Lihir purchase and its impact on the Newcrest share price to Rio Tinto's disastrous $38 billion Alcan acquisition, which was central to the sacking of Rio boss Tom Albanese.

"From its peak $40 share price, the board has presided over $20 billion loss in market value. That destruction of shareholder value is only eclipsed by Rio's Alcan writedowns since the GFC. And heads rolled over that," he wrote.

Newcrest chief Greg Robinson was not in charge when Lihir was purchased, but some members of the board were.

Mr Robinson said between $50 million and $75 million worth of redundancies would be processed and completed within the next 23 days. About 100 further job cuts are expected to join the 150 jobs cut earlier this year.

Rather than being an aggressive growth stock, Newcrest will now cease production of high-cost gold, and focus on maximising cashflow.

Gold production in 2014 is now forecast to be a maximum of 2.3 million ounces; almost exactly the amount produced in 2012, despite billions being spent on expansions and upgrades over that period. Friday's changes almost certainly disrupt Newcrest's cherished five-year plan to be producing 3.5 million ounces of gold by 2017. But Mr Robinson stressed that the company was retaining the assets, and could revive them should the market conditions suddenly rebound.

The 15 per cent slump in Newcrest shares over the 72 hours before the announcement created its own sideshow. Bell Potter director Charlie Aitken told clients that the slump should be "fully investigated" by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

"I believe any mum and dad investor who bought [Newcrest] shares in the last two days has grounds for genuine concerns."

The comments were echoed by other brokers, and an ASIC spokesman said the issue had not escaped the market watchdog's attention.

"We are aware of the trading and we are in discussions with ASX regarding the price move, which is in accordance with our usual procedures where there have been large moves in share prices," he said.

A Newcrest spokeswoman said the analyst reports during the week were similar in theme to what Newcrest foreshadowed during its April results announcements.

Gold dust

WEDNESDAY

Analyst reports either downgrade

Newcrest or question the outlook for the stock

Newcrest shares dive 80¢ to $14.35.

THURSDAY

The company comes under pressure to respond to the share price slump

Newcrest shares drop 99¢ to $13.36

After market close, BusinessDay reports that Newcrest is poised to cut jobs and close its Brisbane office.

FRIDAY

The company announces it will scrap its dividend, cut jobs, shut Brisbane and write down up to $6 billion in assets

Its shares close $1.01 down to $12.35

SOURCE: BLOOMBERG

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