August 9, 2012 / 8:53 PM / in 7 years

Kinross CEO eyes cost controls; no clarity on Tasiast

* New CEO to clamp down on capital, operating costs

* Company to slow mine development, focus on value

* No timetable for expansion decision on Tasiast

* Shares close up 2.57 percent at C$7.97 on TSX

By Julie Gordon

TORONTO, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Kinross Gold Corp’s new chief executive laid out a strategy to cut costs on Thursday, but did not provide any clarity on expansion plans for the underperforming Tasiast mine in Mauritania.

On his first conference call since being promoted to the top job, J. Paul Rollinson said his mandate is to manage for value and focus on enhancing performance while reducing costs.

“We’re going to try to be much more aggressive on controlling capital, operating costs and looking for ways to optimize the assets,” he told analysts and investors.

Rollinson, a corporate development executive and former investment banker, replaced Tye Burt as CEO in a management shake-up last week.

Burt, who championed Kinross’s $7.1 billion takeover of Red Back Mining in 2010, took the fall for setbacks at Tasiast, the acquisition’s centerpiece. The deal, which also included the Chirano mine in Ghana, led to a $2.94 billion writedown earlier this year.

The company grew rapidly under Burt’s leadership, but soaring cost inflation in the mining industry has led to massive budget overruns on projects around the world, prompting Kinross to shift to a more measured approach to mine building.

Part of that approach includes sequencing its main development projects, with Tasiast remaining Kinross’s top focus for the foreseeable future.

Kinross was expected to outline the details of its Tasiast expansion plan in its quarterly earnings release on Wednesday, but the gold miner instead said it is now studying a smaller mill option, even as it continues to review the original 60,000 tonne a day option and a heap leach plan.

The company has also slowed development at its Fruta del Norte project in Ecuador and Lobo-Marte project in Chile as it reviews plans to better balance capital spending with returns.

Rollinson, answering analysts’ questions on the conference call, avoided setting a clear timetable for making a decision on the processing options at Tasiast.

“I guess the answer to that is: when we’ve finished our work,” he said. “We haven’t finished our work and as a result we’re not in a position to make a recommendation.”

Studies at the underperforming West African mine are expected to continue into 2013 and the lack of clarity did little to calm analysts’ jitters, with a number of them cutting their price targets for the stock.

“They’re still disorganized on Tasiast,” said George Topping, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus who has a “hold” rating on the stock. “They are spending, this year, $800 million on Tasiast - without a plan - it’s hard to fathom.”

Topping noted the mine has been on Kinross’s books since 2010 and said the expansion should be further advanced at this point.

Rollinson, who plans to visit the company’s various projects in the Americas, West Africa and Russia over the coming weeks, has moved quickly to make his mark on the embattled company, with numerous management changes announced on Thursday.

Brant Hinze, Kinross’ chief operating officer, was given the added role of company president. Geoffrey Gold, chief legal officer, added corporate development to his portfolio, while James Crossland, formely head of external relations and corporate responsibility, became head of corporate affairs.

Kinross’s shares closed 2.57 percent higher at C$7.97 on Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange, outperforming its peers, which also rose on higher gold prices.

The stock has fallen more than 30 percent so far this year, and is down 60 percent since September 2010, when the Red Back acquisition closed.

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