Newcrest defends Lihir buy

THE board of Newcrest Mining has faced scrutiny at its annual general meeting in Melbourne over the 2010 acquisition of Lihir Gold.
Newcrest defends Lihir buy Newcrest defends Lihir buy Newcrest defends Lihir buy Newcrest defends Lihir buy Newcrest defends Lihir buy

The company faced a number of questions from disgruntled shareholders, with Australian Shareholders Association representative Gavin Morton summing it up: "It's all about Lihir."

Expecting the criticism after a trying year for the company, Newcrest chairman Don Mercer tried to pre-empt the questions in his address to shareholders.

Mercer acknowledged the challenges of the massive Papua New Guinea operation, which included landowner negotiations and the ramp-up of the new plant, but said Newcrest was well-placed to tackle the complexities.

"The obvious question therefore is: If you knew what you now know, would you do the Lihir transaction again? The answer is: yes, absolutely," he said.

"Is it difficult and complex? Yes.

"Would you do anything differently? Yes. With the benefit of hindsight, we may have done some things differently.

"For example, we might have managed and prioritised some of the reliability issues in different ways, but this is a short-term thing in the context of a very long-life operation and does not materially affect the value of the asset."

Newcrest also faced criticism over the $A3.24 billion Lihir goodwill write-down.

"Goodwill is required to remain on the balance sheet until it can be written down as a result of factors affecting the value of the underlying assets such as depletion of reserves or a sustained fall in the gold price, the latter of which occurred," Mercer said.

"I pause here to make the point that the accounting standards require us to write down assets, but perversely we are not able to write anything up to reflect increased value.

"The balance sheet, on that basis, is not necessarily a good indicator of ‘fair value'."

Mercer pointed out that at the time of the Lihir merger, the asset comprised about 32% of the combined value of the companies and it remained at about 30%.

"Shareholders have yet to see the full financial benefit of the Lihir merger, but I believe they will," he said.

Newcrest CEO Greg Robinson acknowledged the "near-term frustration" of the asset, but said it remained a world-class orebody.

And any speculation that Newcrest may be backing away from the Wafi-Golpu project in PNG was quashed, with Robinson seeing the future of the company with the project.

"It has the potential to become a significant producer," he said.

Robinson noted that Lihir and Cadia Valley in New South Wales were among the world's top 10 orebodies.

"It is our hope that Wafi-Golpu will be classified as a similar opportunity for the next decade," he said.

The AGM was still going as published, but proxy voters had given incoming chairman Peter Hay the thumbs up, with his re-election approved by 98.8% of shareholders.

Fellow new appointee Philip Aitken received an 89.8% approval rating, Tim Poole was re-elected with 76.9% of the proxy votes, John Spark with 73.7% and Rick Lee with just 70.3%.

And 87% of proxy voters were in favour of the remuneration report.


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