UPDATE 2-Randgold eyes Congo prospects as profit soars
* FY profit soars 259 pct to $433.4 mln
* Doubles proposed annual dividend to $0.40
* FY production of 696,023 ounces, in line with guidance
By Clara Ferreira-Marques and Sarah Young
CAPE TOWN/LONDON, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Randgold Resources is pointing to Congo as the next area to fuel growth for the gold sector, eyeing prospects similar to those of booming West Africa as the miner nears production for Kibali, potentially one of Africa's largest gold mines.
London-listed Randgold, which posted a more than doubling of annual profits on Monday, is one of very few big-name miners either producing or close to doing so in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is working in partnership with AngloGold Ashanti on the Kibali project.
"We reckon that region is going to grow like West Africa ... That whole northeastern sector from CAR (Central African Republic) to Lake Victoria, that whole belt is going to grow," Randgold Chief Executive Mark Bristow told Reuters.
"It has poor infrastructure, very similar to what West Africa looked like in late 1980s - without infrastructure, with no one really believing it will work. Well, look what happened in West Africa."
Bristow said the miner had held talks with the Kinshasa government since a parliamentary election last year which saw tensions rising and had been condemned by opposition parties.
"I know that some of my shareholders are a little apprehensive when you mention Congo, but it is fantastically prospective and it has a government that understands the need to attract capital," he told investors at a presentation.
Randgold and Anglogold Ashanti both have a 45 percent share in the Kibali project while Congolese state enterprise OKIMO, Office des Mines d'Or de Kilo-Moto, holds the remainder. Randgold said others that had expressed interest in the project in its early stages included Qatar and Chinese investors.
Randgold Resources said earlier on Monday that full-year profit soared 259 percent in 2011 boosted by higher gold prices and higher production at its mines in Ivory Coast and Mali, prompting the company to double its dividend.
Full-year profit totalled $433.4 million, on output which jumped 58 percent to 696,023 ounces.
The board proposed increasing the company's annual dividend to $0.40, a 100 percent rise on what it paid out in 2010.
Bristow said the group was working towards a target payout ratio or cover, a topic currently being debated by the board, but would not follow in the footsteps of rivals that have pegged their dividends to the gold price in a bid to attract investors.
The company's full-year production was in line with guidance given in November of 690,000-700,000 ounces, although it had cut guidance twice in the year after difficult mining conditions, work stoppages and a mill breakdown impacted output.
Production will rise to between 825,000 and 865,000 ounces in 2012, Randgold forecast.
FTSE-100 company Randgold had originally hoped to keep its cash costs per ounce below $600 for 2011, but in December indicated they would be higher, and for the full year posted operating costs of $641 per ounce.
Shares in Randgold, which have risen 7 percent in the last month, were up just over 2 percent to 7,550 pence by 1540 GMT, outperforming a 1.4 percent drop in the broader sector.
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