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Pressure on cash resources still a concern for miners
Sarah-Jane Tasker From: The Australian December 09, 2009 12:00AM
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AUSTRALIAN miners will continue to focus on repairing balance sheets next year, with their ability to raise loans still a concern in the sector, despite the recent rush of equity deals.

The resources sector has enjoyed a quick recovery, underpinned by strong demand from China and a lift in commodity prices, but pressure on cash resources and complying with financing covenants will remain an issue for some time.

Ernst & Young global mining and metals sector leader Mike Elliott said gearing reached record highs at the end of last year because of the rush on cash-based acquisitions, leaving many miners with large debts when financial markets crashed.

The rush on equity based deals over the past year had been used mainly to repair balance sheets, he said. “While some balance sheets have been repaired it has not left a lot of capacity for further borrowings, even if banks had the money to lend,” he said.

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“For those that have not fully reduced their gearing there is the need to do that with asset sales and further equity deals.”

In a report released yesterday by Ernst and Young, Oceania Natural Resources Leader Paul Murphy said balance sheet repair would be a priority into next year and companies should seek improvements in operations.

“Debt levels of ASX 100 miners have decreased as a result of increased repayments and the strengthening of the Australian dollar,” he said.

“This is a positive sign, however there is much work to be done in this area as the ability to raise debt within the sector remains a concern.”

A total of 50 companies in the ASX 100 miners raised equity through rights issues and it is evident that it has now replaced debt as the preferred source of capital raising in the sector, the report says. The next wave of supply growth is also being funded out of China, but Mr Elliott warned local assets were no longer as attractive to Chinese investors, compared with six months ago.

The rise in the Australian dollar against the renminbi meant local assets were looking more expensive compared with where they were earlier in the year, he said.

“One of the key criteria Chinese investors look at is not discounted cashflows, but more at future levels of operating costs in renminbi terms,” he said.

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