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Fitch downgrades Anglo American after restructuring announcement

London — Fitch Ratings has downgraded Anglo American's ratings after the UK-listed miner released more details of its restructuring plans, the ratings agency said Wednesday.

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"The downgrade follows the release of additional information on the group's operational restructuring, which includes the sale of approximately 25 assets, and if completed will result in AA becoming a materially smaller mining company focused on diamonds, copper and platinum," Fitch said in a statement.

On Tuesday Anglo revealed plans to sell its nickel operations as it focuses on its core portfolio; the company has also reprioritized its iron ore and coal assets as "non-core," and said it would review the disposal of interests in Kumba Iron Ore in South Africa while slashing its output, and eventually look to sell the Minas-Rio iron ore mine in Brazil.

"We believe the reduced scale of the group together with the current weak credit metrics and uncertainty related to the timing and execution of the restructuring plan/asset sales are more commensurate with a 'BB' category rating," Fitch said.

The agency has downgraded Anglo's long-term issuer default rating and senior unsecured rating to BB+ from BBB-; the outlook on the long-term IDR is negative. The company's short-term IDR has also been downgraded to B from F3.

The negative outlook "primarily reflects the high level of uncertainty regarding the ultimate success of the group's restructuring plan," the company said. "In part this comes from the large number of mining assets currently available for purchase, creating a buyers' market."

With several of AA's available assets being marginally profitable or loss making, "this raises the question of whether they will attract a purchase multiple that is acceptable to AA's management," Fitch said.

A successful implementation of the restructuring program would leave Anglo with a leaner structure focused on three commodities -- diamonds, platinum and copper.

"We note that AA will retain a meaningful market position in each of these commodities with cost-competitive assets. However, the business will be less diversified overall with a dependence on a smaller number of commodities and high exposure to Africa (around 54% of EBITDA), particularly South Africa," Fitch said.

"We believe South Africa is a less favourable country for mining companies to operate, given the recent history of an active, unionised workforce and comparatively higher wage and electricity cost inflation," it added.

Overall, "we expect 2016 to be another challenging year for AA, not only because of its major restructuring programme, but also due to the ongoing weakness in the commodities markets," Fitch said.

The agency said it recently updated its mid-cycle commodity price assumptions, which "reflected downward price revisions due to evidence of a further weakening of Chinese demand for commodities, together with the impact of investor sentiment towards commodities, which is likely to remain deeply negative into H1 2016 at least."

On Monday, ahead of the restructuring announcement, ratings agency Moody's Investors Service also downgraded Anglo's ratings, arguing that the company "now faces a higher business risk due to deterioration in commodities market conditions."

While the detailed restructuring proposals had not been announced, Moody's highlighted the "high execution risk associated with this restructuring plan as challenging market conditions are likely to slow the pace of the portfolio transformation."

The agency said it "believes that divestments of non-core assets would be difficult to execute in the current environment, particularly at valuations to allow deleveraging from the current level."

The downgrade of Anglo's ratings "reflects Moody's view that the current environment is not a normal cyclical downturn, but a fundamental shift in the operating environment for the global mining sector," it said, adding that its Ba3 rating "takes into account the ongoing wholesale recalibration of Moody's ratings in the mining industry" launched earlier this year.

"With the downturn likely to be deeper and longer than previously anticipated, the rating agency believes that price risk remains to the downside, given global economic uncertainties and slowing growth in China," it said.

--Andy Blamey,
--Edited by Jeremy Lovell,