* Hit with losses, Lonmin striving to stay afloat
* Seeking $407 mln in massively-discounted share issue
* Aims to cut 6,000 jobs by next year to cut costs
* So far more than 3,000 workers have left voluntarily
By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo
MARIKANA, South Africa, Nov 11 (Reuters) - As loss-making platinum producer Lonmin appeals for cash from shareholders and slashes costs, many of its mine workers are eager to grab redundancy deals and leave a company battling to stay afloat.
Battered by strikes, rising costs and weak platinum prices, Lonmin is seeking to raise $407 million in a share issue - priced at a 94 percent discount this week - and another $370 million in loans. It says the money is crucial for its survival.
The company, which operates in South Africa, is also closing or mothballing several mine shafts and cutting 6,000 jobs, or 15 percent of its workforce.
The cuts, announced in July, were expected to be a hard sell in a country where the jobless rate is over 25 percent and unions have reacted to lay-offs with wildcat strikes in the past. But so far more than 3,000 staff have left of their own volition, keen to snap up the voluntary redundancy and early retirement packages on offer, and others are seeking to follow.
“Some of us don’t want to wait until we die to get the money. I am a licensed rock drill operator so chances that I would be rehired at some point are high,” a miner at Lonmin’s Rowland shaft in Marikana, about 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, told Reuters.
He is set to leave a company whose shares have tumbled over 90 percent this year and which has knocked $1.8 billion off the value of its assets. The 106-year-old firm is now fighting to convince the market it can be a viable business.
“Am not sure Lonmin will exist in five years’ time,” said Bernstein Research analyst Paul Gait.
“How can you have the levels of wage inflation in South Africa, coupled with increasing mine depth against the backdrop of zero productivity increases, and believe that is going to give you a sustainable future for the mining operations.”
Lonmin’s plight was illustrated on Monday when it priced its rights issue at just 1 pence a share - a huge discount to the stock’s closing price of 16.25 pence on the previous Friday.
That meant investors would have to buy 46 new shares for every one they already hold, just to retain their current stake in percentage terms.
Analysts said the massive discount was a strategy to force investors to take up their entitlement or risk having their investment in the company almost completely diluted.
“I suspect supporting the rights is the only course of action for shareholders as the current equity is probably worthless without it,” said a top-30 investor in Lonmin.
Lonmin has said the share sale has been fully-underwritten. It said South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation, which owns about 7 percent of the company, had committed to buying its full entitlement and had “sub-underwritten a material portion” of the issue, over and above its entitlement.
But investor concerns over the company’s viability remain, due to rising costs and lower platinum prices.
Spot platinum hit multi-year lows this year on concerns about oversupply and slowing demand in top consumer China. A five-month strike last year by South African platinum-sector workers who were demanding higher wages did little to boost prices due to ample above-ground stocks.
Lonmin was hit hardest by the strike - South Africa’s longest and costliest - because unlike peers such as Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum, virtually all its operations are concentrated in the strike-affected Rustenburg area.
Chief Executive Ben Magara said the company had had a tough year and had worked hard to make its workers and labour unions understand the implications of its strained balance sheet.
But it had not yet reached at a point where it had to forcibly lay-off employees as some were leaving voluntarily, he said.
“The progressive way this process has unfolded would have been unthinkable two years ago,” the CEO added.
The biggest operation earmarked for closure is the company’s high-cost Hossy shaft, which accounts for about 8 percent of annual production of over 700,000 ounces.
Lonmin has said the proposed restructuring would take about 100,000 ounces out of production and bring in savings of 15 to 20 percent.
The miner in Marikana who wants leave the company said he had volunteered to go after finding out he would get 85,000 rand ($5,979) for nine years of service, but has yet to receive a final confirmation from the company.
Others are not so keen to head to the exit, however.
Another miner said he had also been willing to take voluntary redundancy, but changed his mind after being offered only 130,000 rand ($9,145) for 18 years of service.
“I was not satisfied with the money so I am staying.”
$1 = 14.2150 rand Additional reporting by Simon Jessop in London; Editing by Pravin Char