Barrick Gold Corp. plans to sell at least five more mines, as the company doubles down on its strategy to focus on profitable mining over growing its production.
In a wide-ranging town hall speech made earlier this week to employees, executive chairman John Thornton also made it clear that the company has no interest in buying Detour Gold Corp., despite a Bloomberg report a few weeks ago that said Barrick was an “undisclosed bidder” for the struggling junior gold company.
Barrick, the world’s biggest gold company by production, has been relentlessly selling assets over the past few years after its debt ballooned to US$15.8-billion in 2013 − the firm sank about US$8-billion into the construction of a South America mine that was eventually abandoned − and in the aftermath of a disastrous acquisition.
“We have some assets right now which are neither Tier 1, nor strategic,” Mr. Thornton said.
“The likelihood of us continuing to own these over time is zero.”
He defined Tier 1 as a mine that produces 500,000 ounces of gold a year, has a life of more than 10 years and is low cost. Mr. Thornton used its Veladero mine in Argentina as an example of a strategic asset. While not gigantic in terms of production, it is located close to an area that holds potential for new discoveries. He also views the company’s copper assets as strategic.
Barrick is planning on selling Kalgoorlie in Australia, which it co-owns with Newmont Mining Corp., Hemlo in Northern Ontario, which has been in operation for more than 30 years, and Lagunas Norte in Peru, which is nearing the end of its life cycle. It is also planning to sell Porgera in Papua New Guinea, in which Barrick owns a 47.5-per-cent stake, and Golden Sunlight in Montana.
Barrick’s last big asset sale was in 2017 when it sold 50 per cent of its Veladero mine to China’s Shandong Gold for US$960-million.
In terms of making acquisitions of its own, Mr. Thornton stressed Barrick will be disciplined before pulling the trigger. He was extremely critical of Barrick’s last major purchase. In 2011, the company paid US$7.3-billion to acquire copper producer Equinox Minerals Ltd. Two years later, Barrick wrote down its value by US$3.8-billion after copper prices collapsed.
“The acquisition of Equinox might have been, if not the worst, one of the five worst acquisitions in [mining] history,” Mr. Thornton said.
One company Barrick will not be buying is Detour. One of the junior miner’s biggest shareholders, Paulson & Co., has been pushing for a sale and Detour itself has said it is open to a takeover after a series of operational stumbles.
“You see speculation, is Barrick going to acquire Detour?” Mr. Thornton said.
“The answer is no. Why is it no? Because it’s crystal clear it doesn’t fit the [Tier 1] criteria.”
Since 2013, Barrick’s mine portfolio has fallen to 13 from 27, and its debt has been trimmed to a much more manageable US$5.8-billion. But the company’s share price has suffered this year amid continuning uncertainty over a long-running geopolitical spat in Tanzania that has impacted a large chunk of its African gold production. A number of analysts also recently downgraded the stock, partly because of uncertainty over the company’s long-term strategy. Barrick is in the lower tier of the 40 member S&P/TSX Metals and Mining Index in terms of stock performance, down 22 per cent year to date.
Mr. Thornton did not give any clues on who might take the place of outgoing president Kelvin Dushnisky who is leaving at the end of the month to become chief executive of South African gold major, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. He said that chief financial officer Catherine Raw, chief investment officer Mark Hill and Greg Walker, senior vice-president, operational and technical excellence, have been working well together, and that "Kelvin moving on actually assists that because it makes it cleaner, clearer and easier.”
In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Dushnisky said he took no offence to the remark from Mr. Thornton. “I had 16 great years at Barrick and nothing but positive experiences. I feel that I am leaving on very good terms.”