LONDON (Reuters) - A possible breach of its banking agreements does not pose a big risk to Petra Diamonds because its finances will improve following the end of a labour dispute in South Africa and the lifting of an export ban in Tanzania, its chief executive said.
“We don’t regard it as a high risk to the business,” said Johan Dippenaar of the possible breach of loan terms, adding the mining firm was in talks with its banks on a monthly basis.
“Should we not make it, we know we will have a sensible discussion with the bankers,” he said. “As we turn cash flow positive between January and June then that pressure comes off.”
London-listed Petra flagged a possible breach of two of its debt covenants in October due to a three-week strike at its South African operations and a confiscated consignment of diamonds in Tanzania.
“It’s a measure that only takes place at the end of March, based on the December numbers,” Dippenaar said, adding that getting the diamonds released for sale was vital to the company meeting its covenants.
Petra’s net debt increased 11 percent to $614 million in the three months ending in September versus the prior three months, mainly due to a lack of sales from its Williamson mine in Tanzania.
As part of a wider crackdown in its mining industry, Tanzania blocked the export consignment after accusing the company of under-declaring the value of the stones by about half. Petra denied this.
Tanzania hopes to boost government revenues and stamp out alleged corruption through sweeping new laws introduced in July.
“You can’t blame governments for making sure that the country gets its fair share and that values are properly recorded within the country and so forth,” Dippenaar said, adding he hoped “cooler heads” would prevail.
Tanzania has since lifted a wider ban on diamond exports and Petra is currently preparing its second consignment of diamonds for export since the ban was withdrawn, Dippenaar said.
In South Africa, members of the National Union of Mineworkers downed tools for about three weeks demanding higher wages. Although the dispute was resolved, analysts warned at the time that the strike could lead to a covenant breach in December.
In a presentation to shareholders on Friday, Petra said it had reached peak capital expenditure this year and reiterated it expected to return to generating cash in the first half of next year.
Petra shares are down nearly 60 percent this year compared with a near 18 percent increase in the wider sector in London.
Reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Mark Potter