The Lonmin deal has set extremely dangerous precedent
The Times Editorial: Earlier this month, financial services company JP Morgan warned that a "Pandora's box" might be opened if Lonmin capitulated to the illegal strikers at its Marikana operations.
In an investors' note on the South African platinum-mining industry, JP Morgan wrote: "Were management to accede to the apparent demands of workers, it is possible an unsustainably high cost base may be created.
"The handling of the Lonmin dispute may well be looked back on as a watershed 'moment' for mining in South Africa."
Lonmin management has now reached an agreement with workers and the implications of a 22% salary increase will be closely watched.
Having gone through intense restructuring, Lonmin depends largely on its Marikana operations for its revenue. In turn, it relies heavily on the depressed automotive industry for its platinum sales.
In the early stages of the strike, Lonmin indicated it might need external funding to survive. JP Morgan estimates the mining company might need about $1.25-billion.
According to Reuters, Lonmin's higher-cost operations meant it was only just breaking even on its mines before the strikes.
"Worker pay is 60% of the company's cost base, according to Nomura [financial services company]. Six weeks of disruption will force the company to spread its fixed costs over fewer ounces of mined material, hurting mining margins further.
"If platinum's recent price rally fades as concerns over supply ease, that will also challenge the industry's economics," the news agency wrote.
The unrest is over and 45 people have died. Lonmin has capitulated by negotiating with illegally striking miners.
But the flames of discontent have spread to the other platinum mines in the area. Strikers there will expect the same result their counterparts at Lonmin achieved. A certain recipe for disaster.