Sibanye-Stillwater CEO says firm prepared to mothball US mine

Neal Froneman, CEO, Sibanye-Stillwater

SIBANYE-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said the company was prepared to put its Stillwater mine in the US on care and maintenance as palladium prices continued to languish.

“The future of Stillwater remains in the balance. It’s as simple as that. If there is no correction in price, as strategic as it (the mine) is, we will have to put it on care and maintenance,” he said at the London Indaba conference earlier this month.

Stillwater, which produces palladium and platinum, was one of the first of Sibanye-Stillwater’s operations to be restructured. In November the company cut about 287 employees including 187 contract workers at the mine.

A year earlier Sibanye-Stillwater delayed an expansion of Stillwater to 700,000 ounces a year. Then it abandoned the expansion, and set a production target of between 440,000 to 460,000 oz for the 2024 financial year.

However, Froneman has been reluctant to shut Stillwater. “The good news is we are Ebitda positive at Stillwater,” he said in April.

“We are not cash flow positive, but we won’t close it. If you think taking out 400,000 ounces (in annual PGM production) out of the market … no, it’s not happening. It’s too strategic,” he said. One concern for Froneman is the optics of cutting jobs in a country where it’s proposing to build a lithium/boron mine (Rhyolite Ridge).

The palladium price has fallen nearly 30% in the last 12 months. Currently trading at $995/oz, the metal slumped to a six year low in February of $958/oz.

“Palladium is the one platinum group metal (PGM) that is most a risk but also the one that has had the least market development,” said Froneman at the conference. But he remained positive in the longer term prospect for PGM prices, predicting “a pop” in the basket price of the metals.

“I think we have got to understand what is going to make up future mobility especially based on issues of global warming and carbon footprints,” he said of future demand for PGMs. “In the medium term PGMs have specific qualities. Fundamentals show that they are in deficit. It is not long now before we will see a pop in the price.”

The slump in PGM prices last year bore down on Sibanye-Stillwater which reported a basic earnings loss of R37.7bn (2022: R18.4bn) for its 2023 financial year ended December. In addition to passing the final dividend, it ended the period with net debt of R11.9bn.

The group sought to ease the pressure with an agreement last month in which lenders relaxed their covenants on the firm’s debt.

Sibanye-Stillwater is expected to announce prepayment on by-product metal sales before its reports its half year results, scheduled for August 29, potentially generating $500m to $1bn in additional cash.