Zimbabwe Gold Mines Begin to Reopen, Uncertainty Stifling Big Investment

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"If you are prepared to take a long-term view. . .then it makes sense to buy in Zimbabwe."

Gold producers are restarting shut mines in Zimbabwe after new rules allowed them to sell gold directly on world markets, but uncertainty is likely to block big new mine investments for years.

The rush to reopen mines comes at a time when Zimbabwe's unity government of President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai are seeking to repair a tattered economy, but investors are holding out for major reforms.

The global credit crunch has also dried up cash for investment, and even once this hurdle is crossed, Zimbabwe is unlikely to see new cash flowing its way immediately.

"It's going to take a long time to build people's confidence to invest in the country," said analyst Cailey Barker at RBC Capital Markets in London.

"In terms of a big rush into the country, I think there are far better opportunities in other countries that people are not even doing because of the rest of the problems with debt and capital markets."

A key stumbling block to mining investment in Zimbabwe - which has the world's second-biggest platinum reserves and hefty deposits of diamonds, coal and nickel - is a law limiting foreign ownership of mines to 49%.

Gold producers already in the country have jumped at the opportunity presented by the central bank, which in February relinquished its role as sales agent for gold, allowing firms for the first time to sell the metal and keep all the proceeds.

Zimbabwe's central bank, which owes gold miners millions of dollars, plans to repay this in special foreign currency bonds.

A wave of gold firms that had shut down mines leading to near halt in output are now seeking funds to resume business. They had shut their mines in the face of sharply rising costs, frequent power cuts, equipment and foreign currency shortages.

Analysts said opportunities in Zimbabwe at the moment were mainly for those already established in the country.

But Zimbabwe's wealth of mineral resources could attract some daring investors, analyst Nick Hatch at ING in London said.

"If you are prepared to take a long-term view and you don't bet every dollar in your portfolio, then it makes sense to buy in Zimbabwe," he said.

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