UPDATE 1-AngloGold Ashanti earnings plunge as strikes bite
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JOHANNESBURG, Feb 20 (Reuters) - AngloGold Ashanti, the world's third-largest bullion producer, reported a plunge in quarterly earnings, hit by wildcat strikes at its South African mines and poor performance at one of its largest African operations.
The South Africa-based miner with global operations said on Wednesday fourth-quarter adjusted headline earnings were 2 U.S. cents compared with 61 U.S cents in the previous quarter.
Chief executive Mark Cutifani, who leaves to lead Anglo American in April, said he was disappointed to deliver a tough set of numbers as he prepares his exit.
Production dropped to 859,000 ounces in the quarter after 250,000 ounces, or $208 million in earnings, was wiped out by work stoppages that included illegal strikes and underground sit-ins at its South African operations.
Full-year production was 3.9 million ounces, well off the company's target of between 4.3 and 4.4 million ounces.
"We took a hit in South Africa," said Cutifani, adding the company took a little longer to re-open South African operations this year.
"We were unhappy with the way one or two operations came back to work and we sent people back home. We then spent about ten days with the guys working, reinforcing the need to treat each other with dignity and respect."
South African gold and platinum producers have been scarred by violent labour clashes that late last year halted operations and slashed production.
More than 50 people were killed in labour strife last year, including 34 shot dead by police at Lonmin's Marikana mine in August - the deadliest single security incident in South Africa since apartheid ended in 1994.
Cutifani said all of the South African mines were now back at pre-strike levels. AngloGold is targeting 4.1 to 4.4 million ounces of output in 2013.
"It is an appropriately prudent outlook. The conversations in South Africa from an industrial point of view are going to be very important in the next few months," Cutifani said.
(Reporting by Sherilee Lakmidas; Editing by Stephen Coates and Mark Potter)