* Gold Fields profit falls 4 percent
* South Deep mine makes loss, production drops
* Improving efficiency at South Deep a priority (Recasts with South Deep loss)
By Tanisha Heiberg
JOHANNESBURG, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Gold Fields Ltd will continue to evaluate and focus on efficiency at its loss-making South African asset, South Deep, after production fell below guidance in 2017, the bullion miner said on Wednesday.
South Deep, which has faced operational challenges in an unforgiving geology 3 km (2 miles) beneath the surface, made a loss of 337.6 million rand in 2017 compared with a profit of 191.1 million rand the previous year.
If the mine’s production targets continue not to be met, the firm will look at alternatives, Chief Executive Nick Holland said during the company’s full-year results presentation.
“If the current model doesn’t deliver results, we will have to look at alternatives. What those alternatives are - we haven’t got a specific list, but clearly it’s not our mantra to sit here and lose money,” Holland said.
South Deep production fell 11 percent below original guidance to 281,000 ounces, versus 290,000 ounces the previous year, after two fatal accidents and three ground collapses resulted in a delay in mining higher-grade areas, the firm said.
South Deep had also incurred a 3.5 billion rand ($294 million) accounting writedown from the slow adoption of new mining methods, a reduction in the gold price and resource-price assumptions used in gauging the mine’s lifespan.
Gold Fields unveiled a plan in February 2017 to make its mechanised South Deep mine profitable and set a production target of 500,000 ounces to be reached by 2022.
“Broadly, South Deep is not about the ore body, it’s not about a technical solution, it’s actually about getting people to work in an effective way,” Holland said.
Shares in Gold Fields were down 7.32 percent at 44.67 rand by 1401 GMT after reporting a 4 percent drop in profit to $0.24 per share for 2017 from $0.25 the previous year.
“The second half of the year was an improvement on the first but it was not sufficient to satisfy the market’s demand for an enhancement of the performance of South Deep,” said the chief investment officer at Gryphon Asset Management, Reuben Beelders.
Gold Fields, which also operates in Ghana and Peru, declared a final dividend of 0.50 rand ($0.04) per share, taking the total dividend for the year to 0.90 rand per share compared with 1.10 rand per share in the previous period. ($1 = 11.8953 rand) (Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier; Editing by Dale Hudson)