Gold Fields says SEC probe hinders its access to debt markets

Thu Feb 13, 2014 10:21am EST

* Probe centres on 2010 black economic empowerment deal

* CFO says financing is fine at present

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 13 (Reuters) - South Africa's Gold Fields said a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) probe of a deal in which it gave a stake in a mine to black investors was hindering its access to debt markets but it could still make use of bank financing.

Such investigations raise legal concerns with issuers in debt capital markets, making it more arduous for companies under investigation to tap them.

"If we had to enter the debt capital markets it becomes difficult. But in terms of bank financing it's a lot easier to do it," the bullion producer's chief financial officer, Paul Schmidt, told journalists on Thursday in response to a question about the issue.

"It's a lot easier to deal with the banks because they need to make a call. When you go to the capital markets you need sign off from the lawyers," he said, adding that the company was working on a bank deal in Ghana where it has operations.

Gold Fields, which is also listed in the United States and so subject to scrutiny from U.S. regulators, said in September it was being probed over the 2.1 billion rand ($191 million) 2010 deal and the granting of a mining licence for its South Deep mine near Johannesburg.

The transaction saw Gold Fields give a 9 percent stake in South Deep to a group of black investors to meet government targets for black economic empowerment - known as BEE - which include ownership.

Such targets are designed to address the racial imbalances and economic disparities that still exist in Africa's largest economy two decades after the end of white apartheid rule.

The South Deep deal has come under particular scrutiny because the beneficiaries include Baleka Mbete, chairperson of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), as well as relatives of anti-apartheid heroes including the late Nelson Mandela.

"We're working on bank debt and it's not inhibiting my financing plans at the moment," Schmidt said.

Chief Executive Nick Holland said SEC investigations were fairly routine.

"There are thousands of companies in the U.S. with SEC investigations. And they carry on operating their businesses," he said. "We're not concerned with our funding."

The Gold Fields executives were speaking after the company posted a slight quarterly rise in earnings as production rose 21 percent but its share price took a pounding as investors focused on a $672 million impairment.

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