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FILE - This May 2, 2013 file photo shows the Stillwater Mining Co. complex, the only platinum and palladium mine in the United States, near Nye, Mont. South Africa's Sibanye Gold Limited completed its $2.2 billion purchase of Littleton, Colorado-based Stillwater on Thursday, May 4, 2017, positioning it as the world's fourth-largest producer of precious metals. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)
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Sibanye Gold expands platinum holdings with US acquisition

FILE - This May 2, 2013 file photo shows the Stillwater Mining Co. complex, the only platinum and palladium mine in the United States, near Nye, Mont. South Africa's Sibanye Gold Limited completed its $2.2 billion purchase of Littleton, Colorado-based Stillwater on Thursday, May 4, 2017, positioning it as the world's fourth-largest producer of precious metals. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A South African gold mining company completed a $2.2 billion purchase of the only U.S. producer of platinum and palladium on Thursday, its third such acquisition in the past year as the company looks to expand its precious metals holdings.

Sibanye Gold Limited’s merger with Littleton, Colorado-based Stillwater Mining Co. on Thursday positions it as the world’s fourth-largest producer of precious metals that include platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold.

The value of platinum and palladium, which are used in vehicles’ catalytic converters and in jewelry, has plunged since a high in 2008. However, Sibanye officials said in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that they are optimistic about the future of the market, due to the expected growth in worldwide vehicle sales in coming years.

Last year, Sibanye bought Bermuda-based Aquarius Platinum Limited, with mines in South Africa and Zimbabwe, for $294 million and Rustenburg Platinum Mines in South Africa for $326 million.

The acquisition of Stillwater, which operates a mining complex in Montana whose third mine is scheduled to start producing next year, will be a huge boost to Sibanye’s platinum and palladium production. The purchase “will create in Sibanye a globally competitive South African mining champion with a unique commodity mix,” CEO Neal Froneman in a statement.

The precious metals market downturn had hit Stillwater hard, leading to 120 layoffs at the mining complex in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains and at its smelter and refinery in nearby Columbus. As part of the acquisition, Sibanye is taking on $500 million of Stillwater debt.

“I am grateful for the hard work of our employees and management team in building this great company,” Stillwater president and CEO Mick McMullen said in a statement. “Stillwater’s leadership team is well positioned for success as part of Sibanye.”

Sibanye is buying Stillwater’s outstanding shares for $18 a share, compared to the $14.94 Stillwater share price a day before the acquisition was announced in December. The South African company took a $2.7 billion loan to complete the purchase.

The purchase was approved last week by shareholders of both Sibanye and Stillwater. The U.S. government also reviewed the acquisition to ensure that there were no national security issues with the takeover by a foreign company that is 20 percent Chinese-owned.

The deal includes a compensation package for McMullen and other Stillwater executives if they’re fired, with McMullen’s severance payout listed at $12.9 million, according to SEC documents.

Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is Stillwater’s chairman. The SEC filings show Schweitzer owns 30,703 shares of Stillwater common stock and another 18,828 deferred shares that he can cash out as common shares.

The fillings show Stillwater compensated Schweitzer last year with $154,000 in cash and $80,000 in deferred shares.

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