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PLATINUM WEEK-Sibanye-Stillwater plans to resume dividend payments in 2020

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LONDON, May 16 (Reuters) - Higher prices for industrial precious metals palladium and platinum have boosted earnings at Sibanye-Stillwater, enabling the miner to repay debt and plan to resume dividends next year, its chief executive Neal Froneman said.

Sibanye , once the industry's highest dividend payer, last made a payout to investors in 2016.

The company also expects to halve the amount of job cuts previously announced in the gold division to 3,000, Froneman told Reuters in London.

"We haven't got final numbers yet because the process isn't complete, but it's probably about half what was expected."

Palladium , now around $1,300 an ounce, hit record highs above $1,600 in March, while platinum prices have recovered to around $850 an ounce after falling to 10-year lows below $800 last year.

This, combined with production rising after safety disruptions and a strike, will mean a healthy balance sheet next year, Froneman said.

"We will be sufficiently deleveraged to start paying dividends again in 2020. Our current net debt to EBITDA ratio is three, we are projecting that at less than 1.5 by the end of this year," he said.

"We should see significant EBITDA increases from the good performance of our South African platinum business and of course bringing Lonmin into the mix also creates earnings."

Sibanye is in the process of buying South Africa's Lonmin . South Africa's Competition Appeals Court will on Friday rule on a union request to block the deal. Shareholders vote on it at the end of May.

Sibanye's U.S. platinum business will also help the company to a solid performance, as Stillwater is primarily a palladium producer.

"It is 78% palladium and 22% platinum. If you couple that with our South African business, our group ends up with a 50-50 platinum, palladium exposure."

South African ore is typically 60% platinum, 30% palladium and 10% rhodium and other minor precious metals.

Sibanye heads into platinum wage negotiations for the first time next month after it bought Anglo American Platinum's Rustenburg operations and is acquiring mining company Lonmin Plc .

"Continuous above-inflation wage increases are not sustainable, you end up with a margin squeeze and eventually job losses," Froneman said.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.

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