HONG KONG (Reuters) - RUSAL, the world’s top aluminum maker, posted a 92 percent fall in yearly net profit, hit by a write-down in the value of its stake in miner Norilsk Nickel as it grapples with a damaging boardroom row between two Russian billionaires.
RUSAL (0486.HK) (RUAL.PA) said fourth-quarter earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, stripping out Norilsk, fell 46 percent to $382 million, while its full year earnings were down slightly, both in line with expectations in a Reuters poll.
It forecast near-term pressure on aluminum prices, which fell sharply in late 2011, due to global volatility and excessive stock, but expected growth in developing countries to keep demand robust through 2012.
“We continue to believe that RUSAL is well-placed in the global aluminum industry due to its low-cost position. Hence it should be able to sustain better operating performance relative to its peers,” RBS analyst Jeannette Sim said in a research report after the results were released.
“However, the boardroom disputes which have resulted in the resignation of its chairman are uncertainties that could weigh on the share price performance,” she added.
RUSAL’s shares added 1.4 percent in Hong Kong after tumbling 14 percent last week as its former chairman and Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg said the company was in “deep crisis”.
RUSAL results graphic: link.reuters.com/fep27s
RUSAL shares vs aluminum link.reuters.com/myv96s
The company on Sunday threatened to sue Vekselberg, saying his comments had damaged its reputation and shareholder value, and named Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange chairman Barry Cheung as its new chairman.
Vekselberg, who with a partner holds a 15.8 percent stake in the firm, quit as chairman last week in a row over strategy with Oleg Deripaska, the main shareholder and another Russian billionaire.
The boardroom row has highlighted a bitter dispute over how to relieve the company of an $11 billion debt burden inherited from its $14 billion purchase of a quarter of Norilsk Nickel (GMKN.MM) at the top of the market in 2008. Vekselberg wants to sell the stake back to Norilsk but has been consistently overruled by Deripaska.
However, RUSAL faces no significant principal debt repayments until 2016, and analysts believe Deripaska, who holds a 47.4 percent stake in the company, is unlikely to part with the Norilsk stake.
“We do not have any scheduled repayments in 2012,” Deputy CEO Oleg Mukhamedshin said in a conference call after the company’s results. “The company is comfortable with existing debt requirements.”
The company’s priority was to continue reducing debt, but it was not currently considering a refinancing, Mukhamedshin said.
RUSAL, also listed in Paris, posted a net profit of $237 million for 2011 against $2.87 billion a year earlier, lagging an average forecast of $1.91 billion from 22 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
RUSAL said its adjusted net profit, which it described as the major indicator of its core business, rose 25 percent to $987 million from $792 million in 2010 due to lower debt costs.
Its aluminum output edged up one percent to 4.12 million metric tonnes (4.54 million tons) in 2011 and output of alumina, the key material for the production of the lightweight metal, rose 4 percent to 8.15 million metric tonnes.
RUSAL’s shares, correlated to the aluminum price, are trading around half their 2010 Hong Kong IPO price of HK$10.80 in January 2010. The Hang Seng Index .HSI was up 6.1 percent in the same period.
Many high cost producers suffered losses in the last quarter of 2011 as increasing uncertainties in the global economy depressed demand while production continued to be in surplus.
RUSAL’s competitor in China, Aluminum Corp of China Ltd (Chalco) (2600.HK) (601600.SS), on Friday posted a bigger-than-expected quarterly net loss of 729.6 million yuan ($115 million)and warned of losses in the first quarter of 2012.
RUSAL said it planned to cut aluminum production by 6 percent, but did not give a time frame. The company said in February it may introduce a 6 percent cut over 18 months.
It has forecast 6-8 percent of global capacity will be shut in the first half of 2012 and that could help make the market more balanced this year, it said.
Global consumption of aluminum, widely used in aerospace, construction, auto, packaging and other industries, would rise 7 percent this year with the largest growth from China and India while Europe is likely to be flat, RUSAL said.
Reporting by Alison Leung; Editing by Richard Pullin