Anglo American Earnings Tumble; Writedowns, Costs Bite

CNBC.com with Reuters
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Global miner Anglo American posted a sharp drop in 2012 earnings, hit by tumbling earnings from all core units and writedowns to the value of its troubled platinum assets and the flagship Minas Rio iron ore project in Brazil.

Anglo American's outgoing chief executive, Cynthia Carrol, told CNBC that the company had been through a challenging past year, but had got through the worst.

"We had a very challenging year in 2012, the whole industry was challenged," she said after the earnings were reported on Friday.

"This past year we've really been hit. Our drop between 2012 and 2011 was principally because of price, with about 4 billion dollars difference," she said.

"At the same time we've seeing inflationary pressures over and above CPI so we have to keep working really hard with keeping pace with that, and it's difficult."

She added that labor costs have increased 6-8 percent in Australia, Chile and South Africa and that they represented about 30 percent of underlying unit costs. "The challenges are universal, no country is exempt", she said.

Anglo came in within market forecasts with a 44 percent drop in operating profit to $6.2 billion, within the range of analyst forecasts. Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S had forecast $6.3 billion, compared to the company-provided consensus of $6.1 billion. Underlying earnings fell 54 percent to $2.8 billion.

After the impact of impairments, the loss attributable to shareholders totaled $1.5 billion.

The miner said last month it would write $4 billion off the value of its flagship Minas Rio iron ore project in Brazil, where permitting and other delays have contributed to cost overruns that mean the project will cost more than three times original estimates.

(Read More: Anglo American's $4 Billion Hit Clears Decks for New CEO)

Anglo American shares gained 2.2 percent after it was announced at the end of January that Carroll is to be replaced as CEO by Mark Cutifani. The stock was up 3.1 percent in early trade on Friday.

South African strikes, particularly in platinum, have also been a large part of Anglo's troubles; its Anglo American Platinum unit posted its first annual loss earlier this month and said there could be more labor disruption ahead as it pushes through a major overhaul."

Carroll told CNBC Europe's "Squawk Box" that Anglo American would continue to invest and expand, despite past disappointments.

"The outlook for the fundamentals of this industry are very strong," she said, denying that she had missed opportunities to transform the company during her six years as chief executive.

"We've had two record years during my tenure...It's easy to look back and ask 'What more could we have done?', she said.

"[But] we've done a lot..We've streamlined, we've divested over 4 billion dollars of value and that's been a big plus...We've been very operationally focused to outperform everyone else."