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Section: Daily Dispatches

$1.2 Billion Bought Kinross a Great Mine But Now It Can't Be Developed

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Kinross Gold Cancels Ecuador Project over Tax Impasse

By Allison Martell
The Globe and Mail, Toronto
Monday, June 10, 2013

Kinross Gold Corp. said on Monday it is halting development at its Fruta del Norte gold project in Ecuador after failing to reach an agreement with the government over a windfall tax on revenues.

Chief Executive Paul Rollinson said Ecuador had refused to budge on the 70-per-cent tax, and had indicated that it would not approve a sale or extend the company's license beyond an Aug. 1 deadline.

"It's been a tough negotiation," Mr. Rollinson told Reuters. "Sometimes the best deal is the one that you don't sign, and that seems to be the case here."

The move is a blow to Ecuador, where the government is drafting a new mining law meant to encourage investment. Ecuador does not have a significant mining sector, but it is largely unexplored and could have major deposits.

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Kinross acquired Fruta del Norte with its $1.2-billion friendly takeover of Aurelian Resources in 2008 and called it "one of the most exciting gold discoveries of the past 15 years."

But political risk was a factor right from the beginning. Kinross bid only after fears about the investment environment sent Aurelian's shares down 93 per cent over about four months.

President Rafael Correa, who won re-election in February, is keen to cut his country's dependence on oil exports. After his election, Mr. Correa told Reuters he expected to sign a contract with Kinross within six months.

Kinross said it will write down the full net carrying value of the project, taking a $720-million charge in the second quarter, of which about $700-million will be a non-cash charge.

Asked whether there is any way for the miner to recover some of the value of the project, Mr. Rollinson said the two sides seem to be at an impasse.

"I would hope, maybe, if we can have a collaborative transition process, maybe there's something there. But they have told us they would not support a sale or provide an extension to the license," he said.

Mr. Rollinson said the recent drop in the price of gold did not drive the decision -- the proposed tax at the center of the dispute would kick in only under relatively high prices, he said. He connected the move to that tax, and Kinross' commitment to "capital discipline."

Facing a backlash from their investors over pricey takeovers and cost overruns, mining companies the world over have vowed to focus on profits instead of growth at any cost.

In April Mr. Rollinson said the Kinross would consider cutting its output to focus on profit margins.

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