MELBOURNE Feb 26 Australia's Whitehaven Coal
reported a first-half loss on Tuesday, whacked by weak
coal prices and a strong Australian dollar, but said it is on
track to start construction of its key growth project in
Whitehaven, 19 percent owned by struggling tycoon Nathan
Tinkler, warned in January that operating earnings this year
would drop to less than A$20 million if thermal coal prices
stayed around $95 a tonne, their current price.
Operations at its Narrabri mine were hit by a rail outage in
December and increased moisture in its coal. Whitehaven said on
Tuesday it expects the moisture problem to ease in the June
quarter this year.
It reported a net loss of A$47 million ($48.3 million) for
the six months to December 2012, down from a profit of A$19.9
million a year earlier.
Analysts on average expect full year earnings before
interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of A$52
million, and a net loss of A$4 million, according to Thomson
Whitehaven's shares fell 1.7 percent on Tuesday to A$2.95 in
a broader market that was down 1.2 percent, trading near a
Most of Tinkler's wealth is tied up in his Whitehaven stake,
worth about A$1.1 billion at its peak and now just A$580
million, with creditors circling his stable of mining, sports
and horse racing businesses.
Whitehaven appointed Paul Flynn, a former Tinkler ally, as
its new managing director last week to replace Tony Haggarty,
who flagged last year that he would step down following the
takeover of Tinkler's Aston Resources.
Tinkler declined to comment on Flynn's appointment and was
not available on Tuesday to comment on Whitehaven's results, his
Whitehaven said it expects to start construction of its 10.8
million tonnes a year Maules Creek mine in mid-2013, aiming for
first coal sales in the second half of the 2014 calendar year.
"Despite the current weakness in coal markets, Whitehaven
intends to bring the mine into operation as soon as possible,"
it said in its results announcement.
Whitehaven has two Japanese partners in Maules Creek.
Trading house Itochu Corp owns 15 percent and Electric
Power Development Co (J-Power) owns 10 percent of the
($1 = 0.9728 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin)