As ever, AngloGold Ashanti’s values will continue to be a lodestar in dictating our actions and our interventions – not only in response to COVID-19 and its aftermath, but in every aspect of how we do business.Maria Ramos
The terrible invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the continuing presence of COVID-19, worldwide inflation and the risk of stagflation, present a complex environment that we must continue to navigate.
With over two million refugees, countless civilian casualties and many millions internally displaced, it is hard to quantify the social, humanitarian and economic costs inflicted on the people of Ukraine. The early estimates of economic costs are huge. The impact on global supply chains from the conflict will become clearer over time.
In January 2022, the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Report pointed to rising COVID-19 caseloads due to the Omicron variant, along with mobility restrictions and rising inflation, all signalling a ‘disrupted recovery’ in the global economy. This will be compounded by the Ukraine conflict and the impact on energy prices as countries reassess energy dependency and contemplate the shift to other markets
In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, commodity prices soared to levels not seen in years, or in some cases, ever. Gold has been a beneficiary, touching near-record levels of $2,060/oz in early March 2022. Prices for oil, copper and aluminium spiked. So, too, did prices of commodities such as wheat and corn.
Inflation, which was already a concern at the end of 2021, is forecast to increase further, posing a more material risk for the global economy and our business. Commodity shortages and the subsequent second and third-order effects of rising prices, are likely to have far reaching consequences such as food shortages and hunger in many parts of the world.
The direct toll of COVID-19 has been staggering, with almost six million deaths reported from more than 400 million cases. The true number is likely far higher.
In addition to high levels of absenteeism caused by illness and quarantine requirements, border closures and travel bans changed normal patterns of labour mobility.
In Western Australia, with some of the world’s toughest restrictions, mining skills became harder to find as out-of-state workers were shut out by a hard border shutdown. Iron ore producers in Australia and Brazil, cash flush from a run of record prices, paid premiums to attract scarce skills. As with many of our gold-producing peers, the resultant wage inflation eroded margins and the vacancies hurt efficiency.
Mining was not the only sector affected by changing labour trends and rising input costs. Global supply chains experienced a range of challenges which caused delays and added to inflationary pressures.
A resilient organisation in transformation
These exogenous shocks and our difficulties dealing with many of the disruptions they brought last year highlighted the need for a more competitive, agile and resilient business.
Our new CEO, Alberto Calderon, who joined in September 2021, has introduced a new Operating Model designed to achieve just that – a more agile and robust organisation, better able to deal with an increasingly unpredictable operating landscape.
This new Operating Model, detailed elsewhere in this report, greatly simplifies the organisational structure, eliminates duplication, ensures the operating mines are appropriately resourced, and ensures clear accountability for the safe and responsible delivery of our commitments. The board strongly endorses these objectives.
As ever, AngloGold Ashanti’s values will continue to be a lodestar in dictating our actions and our interventions – not only in response to COVID-19 and its aftermath, but in every aspect of how we do business.
We’ve seen gold fulfilling its role as a haven in times of uncertainty and inflation. The ongoing conflict and negative real interest rates are also supportive for gold.
Notwithstanding this positive sentiment in the gold price, it remains a time for disciplined capital allocation. Tight cost management and overall efficiency improvement are key areas of emphasis for the board and the executive, given the inflationary pressures already evidenced in the business.
We are pleased to have someone of Alberto’s calibre and experience to lead the business through the next phase of our development. The board is fully supportive of the strategy, including the redesign and implementation of the new Operating Model, which creates a foundation for ensuring operating excellence.
Chief Financial Officer Christine Ramon has chosen to take early retirement in June of this year, and a thorough process to find and appoint her replacement has begun. I extend the thanks of the board to Christine for her exemplary service to the Company, including her stewardship through a challenging environment during the year she served as Interim Chief Executive Officer. Similarly, Ian Kramer was exemplary in his role as Interim Chief Financial Officer.
Other changes to the leadership team, detailed in the Remuneration Committee Chairperson’s letter to shareholders, have deepened the experience of the Company’s executive as it works to close the valuation gap with our peers.
The board welcomed Scott Lawson as its newest non-executive director on 1 December 2021. Scott was Executive Vice President and Chief Integration Officer for Newmont Corporation until January Prior to this, he served as Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer and in other senior technical roles at Newmont and Rio Tinto over more than 30 years. His depth and breadth of technical experience will add significant value to our business.
The most serious setback during the past year was the sill-pillar failure at Obuasi, in May 2021, which caused a fatality and led us to voluntarily suspend underground production for the remainder of the year while remedial actions were undertaken.
Daniel Nuertey-Kwao Quaynortey died in that incident, while a fall-of-ground in February 2021 at our Serra Grande mine in Brazil claimed the life of Carlos Machado Barbosa. I offer my sincerest condolences to their families and loved ones and offer my assurance that concrete steps have been taken to improve safety and eliminate injuries from our mine sites. There is no higher priority.
The stoppage at Obuasi compounded a series of challenges experienced elsewhere in the business during the year. In addition to skilled labour shortages and rising inflation, COVID-19 affected production and costs, while a complex and expensive investment in converting our TSFs in Brazil to dry-stacking facilities also contributed to lower production and narrower margins.
Although these operating and cost disappointments led to a revision of guidance in August 2021, our mines staged a recovery in the second half of the year. The business ended the year generating a cash surplus of $104m after more than replacing the Ore Reserve, self-funding a significant reinvestment programme and funding 2021’s final dividend declaration. A total dividend of 20 US cents a share was declared for 2021, in line with our policy. The balance sheet remains robust.
Environment, social and governance
The board and our leadership are focused on continued improvement in our ESG performance. While significant progress was made across a broad front this year, we realise much remains to be done, including to reach the board’s own targets on diversity and inclusion.
The approval of our Climate Change Strategy in November 2021 was an important milestone. So, too, was the publication in December 2021 of our first Climate Change Report, aligned with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, and which details our approach to dealing with the impacts of a changing climate on our business.
Notwithstanding the 69% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions since we first set targets with 2007 as the baseline year, we are focused on ensuring further improvements. A new decarbonisation target for 2030 is in the works which will provide a key milestone to meeting our commitment of reaching net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2050.
Host community expectations will continue to grow as the pandemic lingers and commodity prices rise. We will remain in a constructive dialogue with these stakeholders to better understand their expectations and how we can help in meeting them.
Our contributions to communities stem not only from our vibrant programme of direct corporate social investments, but also from ensuring we have a robust, profitable business that pays taxes, buys local goods and employs nationals in our host countries. Our Economic value-added statement provides useful detail on how we measure up in each of these areas.
Looking to the future
As we look toward 2022 and beyond, we expect to see the benefits of the changes in leadership and operational improvement efforts. We are confident that Obuasi will demonstrate its qualities as a Tier One asset as we continue to ramp up and complete the last phase of the expansion project. We see new opportunities arising at our Nevada assets to build an additional operational pillar in a proven jurisdiction.
I extend my personal thanks to my fellow directors for their ongoing guidance and commitment throughout the year. On behalf of the board, I would like to express gratitude to all stakeholders for their ongoing support, and to every member of the AngloGold Ashanti team for their efforts and sacrifice during a difficult year. We are clear-eyed in viewing the task ahead of us, which is to improve our operating performance and to maintain the very highest levels of safety and ethics as we work to deliver on our commitments to all stakeholders.
29 March 2022