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Feb 18 (Reuters) – African miner Petra Diamonds named a new chief executive on Monday as it works to cut debt and generate free cash flow after first-half core earnings were hit by lower diamond prices.

The news helped lift its shares more than 8 percent by 1010 GMT. The broader mining market was little changed.

Analysts said appointing Richard Duffy, who has held finance posts in his 27 years in the mining industry, would benefit the company as it sought to cut debt. He has previously worked at Anglo American and AngloGold Ashanti.

Petra's stock had fallen about 30% this year as the company sought to cut borrowing after heavy capital investment in infrastructure and opening up a new section of ore at its flagship Cullinan mine

Petra's stock had fallen about 30 percent this year as the company sought to cut borrowing after heavy capital investment in infrastructure and opening up a new section of ore at its flagship Cullinan mine in South Africa. Diamond prices meanwhile have dropped below historical annual averages.

The company said on Monday adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell 6.4 percent to $75.6 million in the six months to Dec. 31, from $80.8 million in the same period a year earlier.

The company stuck to its production forecast of 3.8 million to 4.0 million carats for fiscal 2019.

"The focus to generate free cash flow remains paramount for the company," said outgoing CEO Johan Dippenaar, whose departure was announced in September.

Duffy takes over on April 1.

Dippenaar said the company had delivered "solid production" but recognised the impact lower value diamonds had in the six months to the end of December and said the company was...

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