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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Miners Prepare To Slash Production

The country's top miners announced Thursday that they would significantly cut production and expenditures for the rest of this year and 2009.

The widely anticipated announcement came amid falling prices and demand and a scarcity of bank loans over the past two months.

Evraz, the country's largest steel producer, will cut production at its Russian and Ukrainian plants by 25 percent beginning next month, company vice president Pavel Tatyanin said at a UBS investment conference Thursday.

Evraz said in September that it planned to invest about $1.5 billion this year.

Tatyanin said Thursday that capital expenditures in 2008 would be cut by about a third from earlier forecasts, lowering monthly expenses to $40 million. Expenses for 2009 will also be slashed, Tatyanin said, without elaborating.

"The companies that used to buy our steel are facing difficulties," Tatyanin said. "The real cash-supported demand has shrunk."

As of Sept. 30, Evraz's total debt amounted to $10.17 billion, according to company data. Total interest payments will amount to some $700 million in the next 12 months.

Severstal said Thursday that it would considerably cut its capital expenditures in the fourth quarter and 2009 and will postpone acquisitions.

Severstal said in September that it would spend from $2.7 billion to $2.9 billion next year. "We'd rather conserve the cash," Severstal chief financial officer Sergei Kuznetsov said at the conference Thursday.

Severstal's net debt at the end of this year is expected to amount to $5.5 billion, of which $470 million will come due in the fourth quarter, according to the Alfa Bank.

Mechel, Russia's largest coking coal producer, will cut its $5.5 billion, five-year investment program and slash its operations and working hours at some production units, the company said Thursday.

Mechel CFO Stanislav Ploschenko told the conference that the company has a net debt of $4.8 billion that it does not have to refinance until the end of the year. The next payment is due in March.

"We desperately need more information about the prospects of steel demand," Ploschenko said, adding he hoped that the situation could be clarified this year.

"We used to sell 4,000 tons of rebar per day, while now we only sell 3,000 to 3,500," Ploschenko said. "On the market, people simply have stopped paying each other."

Mechel might increase its coal and steel sales to Europe amid payment delays and lower demand in Russia. "We see fewer orders from our European clients, but they are way more disciplined in payments than Russian businesses," Ploschenko said.

Mechel, the country's sixth-biggest steelmaker, may also reduce dividends as it prepares to sell preferred shares or use other financial instruments, Ploschenko said.

Overall steel production by Russian producers may fall by up to 20 percent in November and December, Alfa Bank said in a report Thursday.

"As steel prices soared in the first half, metal traders stockpiled the materials that they are now trying to sell," said Maxim Semenovykh, metals analyst at Alfa Bank. "They will still be selling them at least until the first quarter of 2009, but even then the demand will be far from the previous level."

TMK, Russia's largest steel pipe maker, said Thursday it would cut capital expenditures to about $150 million next year from $750 million this year to settle its debt, TMK head of strategy Vladimir Shmatovich said at the conference. "Our focus is on refinancing debt," Shmatovich said, adding that his company had to refinance $200 million to $300 million in loans this year and that the biggest payments will come in the second half of 2009.

He said TMK's debt amounted to three times its earnings before taxes, interest, depreciation and amortization. EBITDA is expected to be $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion this year, he said.

TMK said earlier this month that it planned to spend $300 million next year.

Polyus Gold vice president German Pikhoya seemed to be the only manager who delivered good news. "We are not revising the horizon of our planning and the realization of our projects," he said, smiling. "Labor costs are getting lower, construction materials are getting cheaper and fuel prices are going down. Our company is becoming a hedge against the deterioration of Russia's economy."

Gold for immediate delivery advanced $9.64, or 1.3 percent, to $764.59 an ounce in London on Thursday, Bloomberg reported.

Pikhoya said his forecast was $800 per ounce for 2009.