‘Supercycle’ a cue for Saudi state miner to cut debt

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s state miner will use a windfall from the recent boom in commodity prices to pay off debt, as it seeks to strengthen its balance sheet before embarking on international acquisitions.

The new chief executive officer of Saudi Arabia Mining Co, known as Maaden, said he plans to halve the ratio of debt to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) over the next five years. Net debt was equivalent to 6.5 times ebitda in March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The focus will be on “sweating our assets” and ensuring Maaden is “one of the biggest winners” from the commodities rally, Abdulaziz Al Harbi, who was appointed last month, said in an interview. “We are capitalising on the supercycle.”

Raw materials from metals to oil and crops have soared this year as major economies reopen and recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The frenzy has upended global supply chains and led to warnings of faster inflation.

Maaden digs up minerals including bauxite, a feedstock for aluminum smelters, and phosphates, which it uses to make fertilisers. Fertilisers have benefited from the steep rise in food prices, Al Harbi said.

Al Harbi, Maaden’s third CEO in the past 18 months, said the company needed to prioritise debt reduction after it invested almost US$40bil (RM165.55bil) in Saudi projects in the past several years. “The decision at the moment is not to pay dividends, ” he said.

Mining is a key part of Saudi Arabia’s plan to diversify the economy from oil. Maaden is listed in Riyadh, the capital, but controlled by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, which has helped it de-leverage by swapping some loans into equity.

Maaden’s profit increased to 761 million riyals (US$203mil or RM840mil) in the first three months of 2021, the highest quarterly figure since 2013. The company’s shares have gained 42% this year to 57.40 riyals (RM63.35), giving it a market capitalisation of US$19bil (RM78.64bil).

Still, Al Harbi said he was “cautious” on the outlook for commodity prices. A rise in virus cases in India and South America could reduce global demand, while some miners will look to capitalise on the boom by boosting supplies, he said. Maaden is unlikely to buy any foreign companies or mines in the next 12 to 18 months, Al Harbi said. ─ Bloomberg

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