Home » Panama Copper Mine Shutdown: A Blow to First Quantum

Panama Copper Mine Shutdown: A Blow to First Quantum

The company has lost more than half of its market value and is exploring various options to raise funds and reduce debt

by Victor Adetimilehin

First Quantum Minerals, a Canadian mining company, is facing a major crisis as its flagship copper mine in Panama remains closed due to public protests. The company has lost more than half of its market value since the unrest began in October 2023, and is exploring various options to raise funds and reduce debt.

Why Panama matters for First Quantum

The Cobre Panama mine is one of the largest copper projects in the world, with an estimated annual production of 375,000 tonnes of copper and 100,000 ounces of gold. The mine accounted for about 40% of First Quantum’s revenue in 2023, and was expected to generate significant cash flow for the company in the coming years.

However, the mine has been shut down since late October 2023, when local communities blocked access roads and demanded more benefits from the project. The protesters claim that the mine has caused environmental damage, violated indigenous rights, and failed to provide adequate jobs and services for the surrounding areas.

Political instability in the country, which led to a change of president in November 2023, has also complicated the situation.

How First Quantum is coping with the crisis

The closure of the Panama mine has put First Quantum in a precarious financial position, as it has a debt of C$7.5 billion ($5.6 billion) and a debt repayment of $1.05 billion due in April 2025. The company also faces the risk of a credit rating downgrade and a covenant breach if the mine does not resume operations soon.

To address these challenges, First Quantum announced a series of measures last week to cut costs, boost liquidity, and improve its balance sheet. These include:

  • Reducing its capital expenditure guidance for 2024 by $300 million
  • Selling some of its smaller mines, such as Las Cruces in Spain and Ravensthorpe in Australia
  • Seeking strategic partners or investors for its larger mines, such as Sentinel in Zambia and Cobre Panama
  • Implementing a hedging program to protect its cash flow from copper price volatility
  • Reviewing other options, such as asset sales, equity issuance, or debt refinancing

The company said it remains confident that it can overcome the current difficulties and resume normal operations at the Panama mine as soon as possible. It also said it has the support of its lenders and shareholders, and that it has sufficient liquidity to meet its obligations.

What analysts and investors think

The market reaction to First Quantum’s announcement was mixed, as some analysts and investors welcomed the company’s proactive steps, while others remained skeptical about its prospects. The company’s shares rose 3% on the day of the announcement, but have since fallen back to their previous levels.

Some analysts praised First Quantum for taking decisive action to address its liquidity and leverage issues, and for exploring various options to unlock value from its assets. They also noted that the company has a strong track record of delivering on its projects and managing its operations.

However, other analysts questioned the feasibility and timing of the company’s plans, and warned that the Panama situation could worsen or drag on for longer than expected. 

Some investors also voiced their concerns about the company’s governance and communication, and urged the management to be more transparent and accountable.

The outlook for First Quantum

First Quantum is facing a critical moment in its history, as the fate of its Panama mine hangs in the balance. The company has taken some bold steps to deal with the crisis, but it still faces many uncertainties and challenges ahead.

The company’s future will depend largely on how quickly and effectively it can resolve the conflict with the Panamanian communities, and how well it can execute its cost-cutting and fund-raising plans. The company will also need to cope with the fluctuations in the copper market, and the competition from other mining companies.

First Quantum has proven its resilience and adaptability in the past, and has the potential to emerge stronger from the current situation. However, the company will need to demonstrate its commitment and credibility to its stakeholders, and to deliver on its promises and expectations.

The company’s motto is “Expect more”. For now, many are hoping for more.

Source: Reuters

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