UPDATE 2-Mechel profit swing overshadowed by debt

Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:50am EST

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MOSCOW, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Russian mining and steel group Mechel said on Wednesday it was committed to keeping its debt under control after borrowings rose nearly 5 percent to $9.1 billion in the third quarter.

Mechel, with a market capitalisation of about $3.2 billion and controlled by billionaire Igor Zyuzin, like other Russian steelmakers invested heavily in expansion before the 2008 financial crisis hit steel demand, forcing it to borrow to support itself.

"Work on optimising the company's debt structure never stops," Evgeny Mikhel, Mechel chief executive, said in a statement accompanying third-quarter results.

Mechel, the most indebted Russian mining company after aluminium giant RUSAL, had said earlier it wants to reduce its short-term debts to below $1 billion by Sept. 2013. As of Dec. 1, t ho se debts stood at $2.4 billion.

Mechel shares were little changed in Moscow on Wednesday because the debt burden offset the fact that the company managed to switch to a profit after a net loss a quarter earlier, analysts said.

Mechel's third-quarter net profit reached $55 million, lagging analysts forecasts, and showed that is unlikely to pay dividends on preferred stock for 2012, Nomos Bank said in a note. The company's nine-month net loss stood at $550 million.

Mechel last week won the right to buy 55 percent of the Pacific port of Vanino, one of several ports vital for Russian coal and metal exports to Asia, by offering the highest bid of 15.5 billion roubles ($504 million)..

"This acquisition will have practically no impact on the group's existing debt leverage," Mikhel said during a conference call for analysts on Wednesday.

"We agreed the consortium of investors, which will provide non-debt funding for this deal on condition of our administrating the port," Mikhel told analysts.

As part of its debt restructuring, the company secured a credit line for 24 billion roubles ($780 million) in October and got a $1 billion syndicated loan restructure in December, it said.

Its cash and cash equivalents rose to $582 million from $151 million as the end of September, while operational cash flow reached its highest since 2009, the company added.

The rise in third-quarter net borrowings to $9.1 billion was due to the rouble strengthening, a nalysts said. The rouble strengthened about 4 percent against the dollar in the third quarter, increasing the dollar value of Mechel's debt, a half of which is held in roubles.

The New York-listed firm put its non-core assets up for sale earlier this year in an attempt to raise around $4 billion to cut its debt leverage. It has yet to make any major sales.

Mechel plans to finish its asset restructuring and to sell a stake in its mining assets during the first half of 2013, Mikhel said during the call.

Mechel shares fell 38 percent in Moscow in the last 12 months, while its preferred stock lost 54 percent in New York.

Mechel shares were down 0.3 percent in Moscow by 1451 GMT on Wednesday, underperforming a 0.57 percent increase in the local metals and mining index.

The firm's net debt/EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) ratio stood at 5.5 at the end of September compared with rivals like Evraz and Severstal which have a ratio below 3 times, Yuri Volov, an analyst from Nomos bank, said.

Mechel plans to sell 25.5-26 million tonnes of coal in 2013, the company added during the call. Its nine-month coal output stood at 20.8 million tonnes this year.

($1 = 30.7530 roubles) (Reporting by Polina Devitt and Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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