Ramu cash for Highlands

MINER Highlands Pacific has conditionally exercised its right to its share of a $44 million net cash surplus generated from Papua New Guinea’s Ramu nickel project, after the mine’s operator, Metallurgical Corporation of China, posted its first annual operating surplus last year.
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The company has an 8.56% interest in the project, and its decision to participate in the operating results was on the provision that MCC completed audited joint venture accounts for the 2014 year, confirming the profitability of mining operations.

Under the joint venture agreement between Highlands and MCC, the former was entitled to nominate when it wished to start participating in the operating results - effectively shielding the company from losses during commissioning.

The surplus was generated while Ramu was continuing to ramp up to full capacity, achieving a production rate of about 64% of nameplate for the full year and 72% in the December quarter; full capacity is expected to be reached in 2016.

Highlands' share will contribute to its on-going capital expenditure commitments, with 80% to be used initially to repay its 8.56% share of a capped Ramu capital cost of US$86 million, and the remaining 20% being made available of other purposes.

It is projected, based on a nickel price of $20,000 per tonne, that the company would have repaid the capped capital expenditure by 2025. Once completed, Highlands share in the Ramu nickel project would rise to 11.3% at no cost.

In the meantime, the company is expected to receive about $US50 million in cash flow after debt repayments, with a further option to purchase an additional 9.25% - taking its interest in Ramu up to 20.55%.

Highlands Pacific managing director John Gooding said the decision to nominate was good news, giving the company access to project cash flow and returns for investors and the PNG government.

"We are obviously delighted to see the project reach profitability … it has taken great technical skill and dedication from the many participants in the project over the past 50 years to reach this development milestone," he said.

"Highlands took over management of the project in 1992, and in the ensuing period we have worked tirelessly with our partners MCC and PNG's Mineral Resource Development Company which represents the landowners to deliver the project to production and profitability.

"Our hard work is now beginning to be rewarded, and the cash flows we expect to receive from the project in the future will underpin our further development plans at Frieda River and Star Mountains, providing the potential to generate significant returns to our shareholders."

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