Kamgold to Expand Production Sixfold

Kamchatka Gold, a miner controlled by billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, plans to invest $250 million to $270 million to increase output sixfold and is considering a share float next year, its chief executive said Wednesday.

Andrei Shutov told reporters that the firm, also known as Kamgold, would use profits from its existing mine and bank loans to finance an expansion involving the construction of two more plants in the next three or four years.

He said the company was also in talks about a strategic partnership and a possible IPO of its shares in about one year.

"We need to widen our resource base and build a second plant to show the capability of our management," Shutov said.

Gold has traded at record highs above $1,000 an ounce this year, gaining momentum as a hedge against global financial uncertainty. Russia is the world's sixth-largest producer, but its reserves are second only to those of South Africa.

Shutov estimated Kamgold's potential valuation at more than $1 billion. He said the company, which owns seven gold fields on the far eastern peninsula of Kamchatka, had net debt of $50 million.

"We are quite conservative. It's better to wait until markets are more stable," Shutov said, regarding the potential listing. "In principle, our shareholders have money."

Kamgold is majority owned by Renova Group, one of Vekselberg's investment vehicles. Berkley Investments Limited Partnership, a private firm investing in mining projects worldwide, holds most of the balance.

Kamgold's one operational mine, Aginskoye, produced 2.02 tons, or 64,945 ounces, of gold in 2007, up 64 percent on the previous year. This was equivalent to 1.2 percent of the country's output of 169.2 tons.

Shutov said output would rise 25 percent this year to 2.5 tons.

"In three to four years, we plan to be among the top five gold producers in Russia," he said. Polyus Gold, the largest, produces about one-quarter of Russia's gold.

The Russian Gold Industrialists Union forecasts a reversal this year of five straight years of decline in the country's gold production, with output forecast to hit 225 tons by 2015.

Kamgold's near-term expansion will focus on its Ametistovoye deposit, where it has recently completed a feasibility study, and its Baranyevskoye deposit. The company plans to build plants at both sites by approximately 2012.

All seven of its licenses, which Shutov estimated together contained gold reserves of 300 tons, are located on Kamchatka. Shutov said the company was considering buying licenses from other prospectors in the region and teaming up with a partner.

"We'd like to find a strategic partner among Russian and foreign companies, although the latter is more complicated, as it's not yet clear how the law on foreign investment will be applied," he said.