LUSAKA/LONDON (Reuters) - Shares Glencore fell almost eight percent on Thursday after Zambia said it wanted to save jobs at mines the commodities giant plans to suspend and ratings agency Moody’s changed its outlook on the company to negative.
Glencore acknowledged on Monday the severity of the commodity market slump as it suspended dividends and said it would sell assets and new shares to cut debt by a third to around $20 billion - built up through years of rapid expansion - to protect its rating.
The strategy, which also includes plans to shut down some copper mines to support flagging prices, had triggered a rally in Glencore’s stock and propelled copper - hit by worries over the Chinese economy - to a seven-week high.
But on Thursday the stock - which this month fell to the lowest level since being floated in 2011 - resumed its fall after Zambia said it would hold talks with Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) over parent Glencore’s plan to suspend operations after a drop in the metal’s price.
“We are about to start discussions with Mopani. We get very concerned when pronouncements are made about retrenchments,” Zambia mining minister Christopher Yaluma told reporters. “Glencore is a parent company, so when they talk, they are talking at that level. That is a little bit distant.”
Officials at Mopani were not available to comment.
Moody’s affirmed its Baa2 ratings on Glencore but changed the outlook to negative “to reflect the scope for a prolonged difficult market that may cause a slower recovery in Glencore’s financial profile”.
The agency said the measures announced by Glencore would help strengthen its credit profile although challenges could mount if copper prices stayed lower for longer because of a slowdown in China.
“The rating is also materially underpinned by Glencore’s prudent financial policy, with the company taking appropriate proactive steps to re-build its financial flexibility and safeguard its balance sheet,” Moody’s said.
On Wednesday, ratings agency S&P affirmed Glencore’s BBB rating and kept a negative outlook, citing worries over China and copper prices.
In Zambia, an electricity shortage and weaker copper prices have put pressure on its mining industry, threatening output, jobs and economic growth in Africa’s second-biggest producer of the metal.
The power problems and slide in copper prices have driven the kwacha currency to record lows amid a sell-off in commodity-linked currencies as key consumer China’s economy has slowed, renewing pressure on Zambia to diversify its economy.
Glencore, Vedanta Resources and China’s NFC Africa and CNMC Luanshya Copper Mine have all said they will shut down some operations because of the harsh business environment.
Yaluma said the government would not respond to Glencore directly but would instead negotiate with Mopani because it is more familiar with the local economy.
The president of Zambia’s largest mining union said the move by the government could help to save thousands of jobs.
“We have also been talking to Mopani and are happy that the government is doing so. This will save jobs,” Nkole Chishimba told Reuters.
Yaluma also said that Zambia would not make further changes to mining taxes despite the drop in copper prices: “We want to maintain some consistency”
Zambia’s government set the royalty tax rate for open-cast and underground mining at 9 percent in April, rowing back from earlier plans to charge as much as 20 percent.
However, the state said on June 5 that it would cut mineral royalties for underground mines to 6 percent because underground mining was more expensive than open-cast mining.
Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; editing by James Macharia, David Goodman and Susan Thomas
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