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New Aquarius boss as sector struggles

Nov 05 2012 14:52 Reuters

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Johannesburg - World no. 4 platinum producer Aquarius Platinum [JSE:AQP] said on Monday it has appointed a new chief executive, the latest management shakeup in a sector crippled by labour unrest and falling profits.

Jean Nel, formerly the company's chief operating officer, replaces industry veteran Stuart Murray, who became the third boss of a major platinum producer to step down this year when he resigned in October.

Aquarius, which gets most of its platinum from South Africa but also mines in Zimbabwe, was one of the first major platinum miners to scale back activities because of low prices and violence stemming from a bloody union turf war between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

The company shut its Everest mine in June, citing labour infighting, with the loss of 2 000 jobs. It also closed its unprofitable Marikana joint venture with Anglo Platinum [JSE:AMS] (Amplats).

The closures come as companies feel growing political pressure from the government to do more for the workforce against the backdrop of rising labour tensions and persistent income disparities.

"Jean is the latest in a raft of CEO appointments in the platinum sector after a very difficult period for the industry. The CEO role has become increasingly political," Liberum Capital said in a note.

The company's share price was up almost 2% in London and 1% in Johannesburg.

Violence linked to wildcat strikes and union battles has killed over 50 people this year and dented South Africa's image as an investment destination. The country accounts for about 80% of the world's known platinum supplies.

Chief executive jobs have been among the sector's casualties this year.

David Brown left the helm of Impala Platinum Holdings [JSE:IMP] at the end of June, to be replaced by former Metorex boss Terence Goodlace, while Amplats, the world's top producer of the precious metal, replaced veteran Neville Nicolau with iron ore executive Chris Griffith in July.

Platinum woes also contributed to the departure of Anglo American [JSE:AGL] chief executive Cynthia Carroll, Amplats' biggest shareholder.

The third-largest platinum producer, Lonmin [JSE:LON], has appointed an acting chief executive as boss Ian Farmer pursues treatment for an unspecified illness.

 
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