South African diversified miner Exxaro Resources Ltd. shut a furnace at its Namakwa mineral sands unit for maintenance earlier than planned partly due to weak demand for metals, it said on Tuesday.

Exxaro's Furnace 1 at Namakwa Sands was due for scheduled maintenance in the third quarter of 2009.

The furnace will be re-started in about 2-1/2 months, subject to market conditions, Exxaro said in a statement. The Namakwa Sands business produces zircon, titanium slag and pig iron, Ilmenite among other mineral sands.

Exxaro said Furnace 2 at Namakwa Sands was fully operational, but the outage at Furnace 1 was expected to result in lower production of both slag and pig iron this year compared with last year.

The decision to bring forward the planned shut (down) was taken after an assessment of the current adverse market conditions together with an evaluation of the current operating condition of the furnace, the company said.

Exxaro acquired Namakwa Sands from Anglo American (AAL.L: Quote) in October last year for 2.8 billion rand ($290 million).

From Oct. 1 to the end of December 2008, Namakwa Sands contributed 491 million rand in revenue to the group's total revenue of 13.8 billion rand. It also added 155 million rand in operating profits. (Reporting by James Macharia; editing by Sue Thomas)

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