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Report on Business Barrick Gold eyeing Canada for acquisition opportunities

Barrick Gold Corp.’s new chief executive Mark Bristow at the London Stock Exchange, U.K. on Nov. 6, 2018.

HENRY NICHOLLS/Reuters

Barrick Gold Corp.’s new chief executive says the company is sizing up a number of acquisition opportunities in Canada as it looks to boost investment in its home country.

“If you look at the corporate structure, the biggest gap is the fact that it’s under invested in Canada,” Barrick chief executive officer Mark Bristow said in an interview late last week.

Barrick last week completed its US$6-billion acquisition of rival gold miner Randgold Resources, and Mr. Bristow, Randgold’s founder, formally took over as Barrick’s CEO after being named in September to take the post. Amid Mr. Bristow’s pending leadership, Barrick made steep cuts to staff at its Toronto head office and a revamp of the board has left just one Canadian director.

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Despite the corporate pullback in Canada, Mr. Bristow says the Toronto-based miner is considering buying Canadian mining companies or exploration assets. In particular, Barrick, the world’s biggest gold miner, is looking at acquiring what are known as single-asset companies, smaller firms with only one mine, that may be struggling for various reasons, Mr. Bristow said.

“We’re looking at some due diligence opportunities, which are assets that might not be working as well as they should be,” he said.

“You can deliver synergies in some of these big single-asset projects that are inefficiently run,” he added.

When asked if the company could buy Vancouver-based Pretium Resources Inc., whose sole British Columbia mine is known for its tricky geology, Mr. Bristow replied, “maybe.”

With a market capitalization of $2.1-billion, Pretium operates the Brucejack underground mine in the northwestern part of the province. Brucejack went into production in 2017 after weathering a number of controversies. In 2013, Pretium’s shares sank after two mining consulting firms disagreed on how much gold was minable from the deposit after reaching different technical conclusions on the geology. Brucejack remains a technically difficult property to mine, with its CEO Joseph Ovsenek telling analysts in a conference call after the release of its most recent financial results that its defining hallmark is its “extreme variability” of gold mineralization. Despite its challenges, Brucejack is a large, low-cost and high-grade mine in a safe jurisdiction.

“I can understand why our name would come up," Mr. Ovsenek said in an interview on Monday.

“We’re in Canada. British Columbia. It’s a good place to mine. We make a lot of money.”

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But he made it clear that Barrick has not approached the company with a takeover offer.

Shares in Pretium are down 20 per cent over the past year and closed at $11.39 Monday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Mr. Bristow also pointed out that Barrick has neglected spending on exploration over the past few years as paying down debt became the priority, but the company is now looking at acquiring development assets in Canada. Barrick is particularly open to looking at opportunities in Western Canada.

“The geology in the western part of Canada has significant potential,” said Mr. Bristow, who is a geologist by training.

Last year, executive chairman John Thornton indicated that Barrick was planning on selling its only Canadian gold mine, the Hemlo property, but Mr. Bristow now says Barrick is planning on holding on to the Ontario mine and will instead try to make it profitable. Hemlo’s production for 2018 is expected to come in at roughly 190,000 ounces of gold, which makes it one of the smallest mines in Barrick’s portfolio. Hemlo is also a high-cost operation, with a projected all in sustaining cost (AISC) of US$1,185 an ounce for last year.

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