First Quantum touts interest in its Zambia copper operations

First Quantum Minerals Ltd. has attracted interest from multiple parties wanting to buy a minority stake in its Zambian copper operations, as the Canadian miner continues efforts to shore up its balance sheet.

First Quantum has signed non-disclosure agreements with several groups interested in the African mines, and expects to soon provide access to a data room for due diligence, said First Quantum chairman Robert Harding. He didn’t specify details about the parties or a timeline for signing a potential deal.

Talks to sell a minority stake in the Zambian business are underway as the company faces pressure to strengthen its balance sheet and raise cash following the closure of its flagship copper mine in Panama. The firm sold about US$1.15 billion in stock and raised US$1.6 billion from a notes offering last month, and it has said it may look at selling smaller mining assets

“We’re busy getting the data room available for people to be able to look at the data, but there isn’t a specific time frame,” Harding said. “It’ll take whatever it takes for those other organizations to go through the data room and make decisions, and come back to us with potential proposals.”

First Quantum’s Zambian copper assets are the Sentinel and Kansanshi mines. The southern African nation accounted for about half of the company’s copper output and revenue last year, and delivered more than US$450 million in operating profit. First Quantum is also ramping up a nickel mine in the country, which entered production in July.

For the Zambian assets, Harding said the company is specifically looking for a partner that could “perhaps take interest in that asset, but also be interested in working with us on a future project.” He said the firm is looking for a party that is interested in exploring and developing greenfield mining projects globally.

Last month’s refinancing efforts included an agreement to amend some terms of its loan facilities with its lenders to avoid a covenant breach at the end of this year, which Harding said puts First Quantum in a position where it has no major debt maturities within the next couple years. The measures also help on company projects including a major expansion in Kansanshi known as S3.

“We will have the runway to be able to complete the S3 expansion and focus on other projects going forward,” Harding said. “And that will give us time to work through whatever that time frame may be with Panama.”

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