October 10, 2018 / 7:48 AM / 10 months ago

LMEWEEK-Poland's KGHM focused on balance sheet, not dividends

* Will deliver updated strategy by year-end

* No plans to sell foreign assets

* For Reuters coverage of LME Week, click on

By Barbara Lewis

LONDON, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Polish miner KGHM, one of the world’s leading copper producers, is focusing on shoring up its balance sheet rather than any early return to dividends, its new CEO said.

Marcin Chludzinski, who was named chief executive in June, said he will deliver an updated strategy for the company by the end of the year.

But after shareholders in July approved the company’s decision not to pay any dividend, in an interview on the sidelines of LME Week, an industry event in London, he gave no promises of paying out to shareholders soon.

“The dividend policy has not changed,” he said, adding up to 30 percent of income can be returned to shareholders, but for now the focus is on containing debt.

“As a company we have to be very careful with regard to our balance sheet,” he said, adding the net debt to EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) ratio was 1.7, only just below the level of 2, which the company has set as a maximum.

KGHM earnings have been hit by maintenance at operations in Poland as well as reduced output at its Sierra Gorda mine in Chile, in which it has a 55 percent share. The rest is held by Sumitomo Metal Mining (31.5 percent) and Sumitomo Corp (13.5 percent).

The mine produces around 110,000 tonnes of copper ore a day.

Chludzinski said KGHM was working on “de-bottlenecking” or improving efficiency at the mine, and the goal was to increase output to 130,000-140,000 tonnes by 2020-21.

The Chilean authorities have given environmental approval for a $2 billion expansion and upgrade that could increase output to 220,000-230,000 tonnes daily, but Chludzinski said his focus was on the first phase.

KGHM’s purchase of foreign assets in 2011 for around $2 billion was the largest foreign acquisition by a Polish company.

Chludzinski said he did not envisage selling the foreign assets, although Poland, which accounts for around 80 percent of the company, was the priority.

There the intention is to exploit other minerals in KGHM’s reserves - including rare earths and lithium - as well as the copper and silver that are the basis of KGHM. (Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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