Anglo American ended 2020 stronger than expected

Mark Cutifani said the fundamentals for its key commodities, which include copper, platinum and diamonds, remain strong. (Image courtesy of Anglo American.)

Anglo American (LON: AAL) became on Thursday the latest major miner to announce better than expected earnings in its full year results, as a broad-range commodity rally helped the miner balance out another difficult year for its diamond business and a fall in coal profits.

In the first half of 2020, Anglo’s underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) fell about 40% to $3.4 billion. Weak sales at De Beers, lockdowns that hit production in South Africa and operational setbacks in platinum and coal were the main issues that weighed down on the miner’s results.

The July-December period saw Anglo’s underlying EBITDA climb back up to $6.5 billion, the company’s s best second-half performance in the past 10 years, as it resumed full operations at most of its mines.

Just as its peers BHP (ASX, LON, NYSE: BHP) and Rio Tinto (ASX, LON, NYSE: RIO), Anglo announced a bumper dividend to investors of 72 cents, compared to 47 cents a year earlier. When including the interim dividend, however, the total for 2020 will be lower than 2019.

The top diversified miners’ results and payouts, along with an ongoing and sustained metal prices rally, have sparked speculation about a new commodities supercycle.

Some investment banks, including JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, believe the market is witnessing the dawn of a prolonged period of record prices as supply has struggled to keep pace with demand. Others, including BMO Capital Markets, say that while demand could outpace supply for some time, the mismatch won’t last long enough to justify predicting a supercycle.

Not easily seduced

Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani said the fundamentals for the group’s key commodities, including copper, platinum and diamonds, were strong. While demand across most sectors is also in good shape, according to Anglo’s boss, he said the company will not be “seduced by high prices”.

“I have been in the industry for 44 years and I have seen cycles and super cycles,” Cutifani said when discussing the results. Rather than going of a deals spree or pushing new project, he said Anglo would keep the discipline on its capital “because it is moments like this when companies lose sight of the basics and get themselves into trouble.”

The CEO also said the company would complete the demerger of its South African thermal coal assets within the next two years if they are spun off, which is the preferred divestment route.

Cutifani said a sale is still in the cards as bidders have approached Anglo to buy the assets. He said the company will forge ahead with plans to exit its Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia in two to three years.

The company’s coking coal business saw earnings fall to just $50 million, compared to $1.7bn in 2019, due mainly to “operational incidents” at two mines in Australia, which affected production.

Anglo rose as much as 4.9% to 2,981p a share in London early afternoon — the highest in almost a decade. The company’s market capitalization is currently sitting at $54.72 billion.

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