--Buenaventura says start of work on Minas Conga water reservoirs will depend on social climate
--Buenaventura is on track to meet full-year production guidance
--Company's CFO says stronger sol is having an impact on operating costs
--Sociedad Minera Cerro Verde to invest $750 million in 2012 as part of large-scale expansion
By Ryan Dube
LIMA--Mining company Minera Yanacocha expects to spend about $150 million to build water reservoirs at its stalled Minas Conga copper-gold project in Peru, which could increase the total investments in the project to almost $5 billion, a company executive said.
Carlos Galvez, chief financial officer of Compania de Minas Buenaventura SAA (BVN, BUENAVC1.VL), which has a 43.65% stake in Minera Yanacocha, said the company aims to start construction of the reservoirs in the third quarter, but this will depend on social conditions in Cajamarca region.
Yanacocha had previously expected to invest up to $4.8 billion in Minas Conga, which has been on hold since late last year. Minas Conga, the largest private-sector investment project in Peru, has been the target of protests over concerns about its impact on the local water supply. Resolving the dispute is seen as key to showing that Peru can provide a strong investment environment for mining companies.
While the company and government have rejected that Minas Conga would harm water quality, three international experts were hired to review Minas Conga and make recommendations to improve the project in an effort to ease tensions.
On Friday, Yanacocha disclosed it would implement the recommendations, which include building the reservoirs at the mine site to increase water supplies before starting work on the mining installations. While President Ollanta Humala strongly backed the company's decision during a weekend speech, protests against the project have continued.
"The company is prepared to go forward with this project immediately but this depends on the conditions to be able to work," Mr. Galvez said during an interview on Tuesday. "You can't bring in trucks and workers if the population doesn't want what you are doing. No one is going to impose the project against the will of the population," he added.
Construction of the reservoirs is expected to take about two years, pushing back the start date of Minas Conga to 2017 from previous estimates of around early 2015. Production is seen at an average annual output during the first five years of 580,000 to 680,000 ounces of gold and 155 million to 235 million pounds of copper.
Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM) has a 51.35% stake in Yanacocha, while the International Finance Corp. has the remaining 5% interest.
In addition to its interest in Yanacocha, which also operates South America's biggest gold mine, Buenaventura runs a number of other operations in Peru.
Earlier this year, Buenaventura said it planned to produce this year 1.05 million ounces of gold and 17 million to 18 million ounces of silver. Mr. Galvez said that the company is on track to meet its production target.
Mr. Galvez added that the company's operating costs are being affected by the strengthening of Peru's sol against the U.S. dollar. The impact of the stronger sol is most evident in labor costs, which is the company's biggest expense in the Peruvian currency. Mr. Galvez said the company looks to hedge against exchange-rate volatility by maintaining most of its expenses in dollars.
In 2011, the sol appreciated about 4% against the dollar, a trend that has continued this year. Most economists expect the Peruvian currency to continue to strengthen.
Mr. Galvez also said Sociedad Minera Cerro Verde SAA (CVERDEC1.VL), one of Peru's biggest copper miners, plans to invest $750 million this year as part of a large-scale expansion project. That project, which will require a total investment of $4.0 billion, is expected to triple extraction and processing of sulfide ore in Peru, making Cerro Verde one of the world's top five copper producers.
Buenaventura has a minority stake in Cerro Verde, which is majority-owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc (FCX).
Write to Ryan Dube at email@example.com.