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Uranium miner Cameco says 2018 production target no longer makes sense

Cameco chief executive Tim Gitzel says it no longer makes sense for the company to keep to its goal of producing 36 million pounds of uranium a year by 2018.

The company continues to like the long-term prospects for the industry, but the near- to medium-term outlook is too foggy to support that target, he says.

"There has been little to no improvement on the issues needed to help clear the oversupply and uncertainty the industry continues to face," Gitzel told a conference call with financial analysts Monday.

"We don't believe the answer is to sit idle and wait for improvement, which is why you see us moving away from our target."

Gitzel said the target made sense when the company had greater clarity for the near-term prospects for the market, but not now.

"We're not saying we won't grow, but we need to have the flexibility to adapt our production to current market conditions and not be confined by a commitment to a fixed target and a fixed timeline," he said.

Cameco (TSX:CCO) produced 23.6 million pounds of uranium in 2013, up from 21.9 million pounds in 2012. In its outlook, the company said it expects to produce 23.8 million to 24.3 million pounds in 2014.

The uranium miner has struggled with the virtual shut down of the Japanese nuclear industry in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant disaster in 2011.

The company had been optimistic about the restart of the industry, but Gitzel conceded Monday that it has been wrong about how quickly it expected the Japanese reactors to restart.

"We've quit predicting on that because we just don't know," he said.

The uranium market has also seen unexpected reactor shutdowns in the U.S. and utilities have been well covered under long-term contracts.

The new production guidance by Cameco came as the company reported the average spot price for uranium was US$35.03 per pound in the fourth quarter, down from US$42.46 a year ago.

Cameco's average realized price was C$49.80 per pound for the quarter, up from C$49.37 a year ago, while its costs increased to C$37.94 from C$32.85.

Scotiabank analyst Ben Isaacson said Cameco's earnings were lower than expected, due mostly to the higher costs.

"While shareholders should be pleased to hear management is showing capital discipline and not empire building, the decision reconfirms that uranium supply-demand tightness will likely occur later, and not sooner," Isaacson wrote in a report to clients.

The uranium miner reported Friday a profit of C$64 million, or 16 cents per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31, up from C$41 million, or 10 cents per share, a year ago.

Revenue for the three-month period totalled C$977 million, up from C$846 million.

Adjusted earnings for the company were C$150 million, or 38 cents per share, down from C$233 million, or 59 cents per share.

Last month, Cameco announced a deal to sell its stake in Bruce Power, the operator of Ontario's biggest nuclear power complex, to Borealis Infrastructure, one of its partners in the utility for $450 million.

Upon completion of the sale, Borealis will hold a 56.1 per cent ownership in the nuclear power station operator, located on the eastern shore of Lake Huron.

The Canadian Press


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