December 11, 2018 / 7:45 AM / a year ago

Aurubis ups dividend, expects fall in earnings this year

(Reuters) - Aurubis AG (NAFG.DE), Europe’s biggest copper producer, on Tuesday proposed a higher dividend for the financial year it has just completed while confirming a fall in quarterly operating profit and a reduced earnings outlook for the new year.

The company proposed a 2017/18 dividend of 1.55 euros (1.39 pounds) per share, up from 1.45 euros in the previous year.

Aurubis posted a 25 percent fall in operating earnings before taxes (EBT) to 65 million euros (58 million pounds) for the fourth quarter which ended on September 30.

Full year operating EBT rose 10 percent to 329 million euros. The company made an advance release of its earnings on Nov. 1, citing unscheduled maintenance shutdowns of smelters in Hamburg and Luenen for the quarterly profit fall.

Aurubis on Monday announced that CEO Juergen Schachler will leave his job in July 2019 after reaching the age of 65.

For the financial year which started in October, Aurubis said it expects a “moderately lower” full year operating EBT. It said this means a fall of between 5.1 and 15 percent.

This was announced in November because of the continued shutdowns at Hamburg and Luenen plus a shutdown at its Pirdop smelter in Bulgaria having an impact on first quarter earnings.

“In fiscal year 2018/19, we expect plant availability to be slightly lower than in the previous year owing to scheduled shutdowns in particular, as well as facility downtimes due to wear and tear,” it said.

The Luenen smelter will see two scheduled, mandatory maintenance shutdowns lasting 17 and 25 days in March and September 2019.

In May and June 2019, an 18-day legally mandatory maintenance shutdown will be carried out at Pirdop.

Negotiations for 2019 copper product sales contracts are still under way but the company was upbeat about demand.

“We expect stable to good copper product demand based on industry forecasts,” it said.

Spot prices for concentrate treatment charges, fees paid to refine ore into metal, are above the current benchmark at the moment, it said.

In October, Aurubis warned its plan to sell its flat rolled copper products business to Germany’s Wieland-Werke AG could fail as European competition authorities were likely to request new conditions before approving it.

“The final execution of the sales contract is subject to approval by the antitrust authorities,” Aurubis said. “A final decision is expected in early 2019.”

Reporting by Michael Hogan; editing by Jason Neely

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