* Nord Gold to buy out minorities in subsidiary High River Gold
* Should help lift freefloat closer to 25 percent
* Sticks to production, cost targets for 2012
* Targets cost control with GPS, fuel efficiency, other measures
By Clara Ferreira-Marques and Andrey Kuzmin
MOSCOW, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Russia’s Nord Gold, the country’s third-largest gold producer, will press ahead “soon” with the buyout of minorities in a Toronto-listed subsidiary, a move that could boost its free float and pave the way for a full London share listing.
The minorities in the miner’s 75-percent owned subsidiary High River Gold are being offered cash or paper for their shares. If enough chose to take Nord Gold paper, that would bring the miner closer to the 25 percent free float normally required for a premium London listing.
But the step from global depositary receipts (GDRs) to a premium listing in London is not expected within the coming year, Chief Executive Nikolai Zelenski said, as he concentrates on resolving operational issues after a difficult first half.
This includes better cost control, with initiatives stretching from better mine planning to a more efficient use of fuel, and satellite navigation systems so the miner can do a better job of tracking its trucks.
“My personal view is (a premium listing) is less of a critical issue, compared to things like increasing the liquidity of the shares, resolving all the issues around operations,” Zelenski told Reuters.
One of several Russian miners to put a full London listing on its horizon, Nord Gold saw costs jump and production fall in the first half, squeezing its margins.
“I am confident that our 2013 will be much stronger than 2012, as we get back to our growth path after this year of consolidation.”
Nord Gold, controlled by billionaire Alexei Mordashov, was spun off from Mordashov-owned Severstal earlier this year and listed its global depositary receipts in London as part of efforts to pursue an ambitious expansion strategy.
Unusually for major Russian gold miners more accustomed to exploring and developing resources closer to home, Nord Gold, a relative newcomer, has bet heavily on Africa, with assets in Guinea and Burkina Faso.
Successfully buying out minority shareholders in High River, a plan unveiled in July, would give Nord Gold full control of the producer in which the miner first bought a stake in 2008, and which has since become a cornerstone of the group’s production and resources, not least with its Taparko mine and Bissa project in Burkina Faso.
“We have announced the intention to make an offer and now it is in the preparation phase. As soon as we have satisfied the requirements of the Canadian (regulators), the offer will proceed,” Zelenski told Reuters. “It should happen fairly soon.”
The deal should prove a step towards achieving the 25 percent free float. If enough High River shareholders swap their stock for (Nord Gold) paper, the free float could double from current levels of under 11 percent.
“We would certainly prefer to have as many as possible to participate in the (paper) offer,” Zelenski said. “But it is very difficult to forecast this decision making process, as in among the shareholders of High River Gold there is a large component of retail shareholders.”
Zelenski said the firm was sticking to its revised production target of 720,000-770,000 ounces for 2012 and a cash cost target of $800 per ounce.
“People forget that we have seasonal production in our heap leach operations, and as a result volumes are higher in the second half than in the first,” he said.
“Our mills are working much more consistently at different plants, so we will have better productivity of milling equipment. The only variable is grade.”