February 5, 2009 / 8:49 PM / 9 years ago

PREVIEW-Writedowns, prices seen hammering Canada base miners

* Earnings expected to drop, losses seen

* Weaker prices, writedowns, pricing adjustments to weigh

* Result to be released beginning Monday

By Cameron French

TORONTO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The collapse of base metals prices likely dragged down the results of Canadian miners in the fourth quarter, forcing them to write down the value of newly unprofitable assets and adjust for revenues booked but never realized.

Year-over-year results for the group are expected to drop by more than 25 percent, according to some estimates, with some likely to report losses even before factoring in the impact of the writedown of assets that have lost value over the past year.

“It’s going to be very messy with a lot of noise and probably pretty weak,” said David Whetham, who manages a fund for Scotia Cassel.

“I don’t think anybody is expecting anything good out of this quarter.”

The reporting period gets under way on Monday with Inmet Mining IMN.TO, which is seen eking out a profit of 3 Canadian cents a share before exceptional items. This is down from a year-before profit C$1.32 a share.

Teck Cominco TCKb.TO, the top Canadian base metals player, will likely show that fourth-quarter profit dropped by about two-thirds to 28 Canadian cents per share from 86 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Much of that decline is expected to reflect prior-period pricing adjustments, or revisions of sales initially booked in the third quarter but finalized later at much lower fourth-quarter prices.

Copper prices CMU0 dropped 52 percent during the October-December period, while zinc MZN0 fell 29 percent, and nickel MNI0 dropped 26 percent.

Year-over-year, all three fell by more than 50 percent, as slowing economic growth sapped demand for materials.

“Clearly, these adjustments will have a significant impact on fourth-quarter earnings, and we are expecting many companies to report losses, partially due to pricing adjustments,” Paradigm Capital analyst David Davidson said.

For Teck, such adjustments could strip more than C$300 million from the bottom line, Davidson estimates, while mid-size players such as First Quantum Minerals (FM.TO) and Lundin Mining LUN.TO could take a hit of more than C$100 million each.

LOSSES, WRITEDOWNS EXPECTED

Lundin, which is the target of a takeover attempt by HudBay Minerals (HBM.TO), is expected to lose 33 Canadian cents a share in the fourth quarter, compared with a year-ago profit of 14 Canadian cents a share, while HudBay is seen falling to a loss of 2 Canadian cents a share, from a year-ago profit of 36 Canadian cents a share.

First Quantum, a copper miner active in Africa, is expected to post a loss of 1 Canadian cent a share, while Sherritt International (S.TO), is expected to report a profit of 9 Canadian cents a share.

Asset writedowns could yank some results down even further, as the falling metals prices have rendered some operations unprofitable.

In a research note forecasting an “earnings train wreck”, RBC analysts Fraser Phillips and Adam Schatzker said to expect such charges.

“Given the drop in metal prices, annual year-end impairment tests will likely result in significant charges at year end,” they said.

Slightly offsetting the impact of the lower metals prices will be a decline in mining costs, due in part to lower energy prices and the benefits of currencies depreciating versus the U.S. dollar in the quarter, which reduces labor costs relative to metals prices.

$1=$1.23 Canadian Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Frank McGurty

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