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Barrick Gold Corp. President and CEO Mark Bristow in Barrick's Toronto office on May 3.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Barrick Gold Corp. ABX-T chief executive Mark Bristow is talking down the chances of buying either of his two biggest competitors, Newmont Corp. and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., as he shuns deal-making in favour of growing Canada’s biggest gold company from the ground up.

Barrick has sat on the sidelines in large-scale mergers and acquisitions since Mr. Bristow joined the company in 2019, after it bought Randgold Resources Ltd., a company he founded and ran for two decades.

Newmont in 2018 passed Barrick as the world’s biggest gold company by production, and it has widened its lead in recent years with the acquisitions of Canada’s Goldcorp Inc. in 2019 and Australia’s Newcrest Mining Ltd. earlier this year.

Barrick under Mr. Bristow attempted to buy Newmont in 2019. While he failed in his attempt to buy the whole company, he forged a joint venture around both companies’ portfolios of giant Nevada gold mines, a transaction that delivered much of the strategic rationale behind the two companies merging.

Four years on, Mr. Bristow is a lot less enthused about taking another run at Newmont, saying the company’s large portfolio of smaller projects, its exposure to jurisdictions such as Peru, as well as its “command-style management philosophy,” which dictates that “everything runs out of Denver,” makes it less attractive.

“To fix something where there’s a tail that comprises eight, nine assets, and you’re going to pay a premium for it, doesn’t make a whole pile of sense,” Mr. Bristow said.

Toronto-based Agnico AEM-T, the world’s third-biggest gold company, has steadily moved up the industry rankings by doing M&A. In 2022, it bought Kirkland Lake Gold Ltd. and earlier this year it snapped up Yamana Gold Inc., a transaction that Mr. Bristow characterized as a “neat deal,” in part because Agnico patiently bided its time before pouncing on its prey.

But Mr. Bristow characterized Agnico’s current valuation as “very expensive” for a potential acquirer.

Similarly, in the copper market, Mr. Bristow said he wouldn’t buy Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., which has a major copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a jurisdiction considered to be among the world’s riskiest, although one where Barrick operates successfully.

Mr. Bristow said that Ivanhoe’s significant Chinese ownership is a concern for Barrick. He also expressed reservations about doing a transaction with Robert Friedland, Ivanhoe’s founder, who is known for driving a hard bargain.

“I know Robert well, very well. I know his assets, know his person, and the one thing I can tell you is, if you want to be involved with Robert, make sure you’re on the same side of the table as him,” he said.

“There’s an old story about the man with money meets the man with experience. And the man with experience ends up with the money and the man with the money ends up with the experience. That’s Robert.”

Mr. Friedland has been active in the mining industry for decades, and made his early fortune as a promoter of penny stocks. In the 1990s, he discovered the massive Voisey’s Bay nickel project in Labrador, and eventually sold it to Inco Ltd. (now Vale Canada Ltd.) for $4.3-billion.

Ivanhoe Mines declined to comment for this story.

With M&A seemingly on the backburner at Barrick, Mr. Bristow is focused on several in-house challenges.

A long-running tax dispute with Papua New Guinea appears to be finally nearing a conclusion, with the company hoping to restart production at its Porgera mine later this year. Production at the mine has been suspended since 2020. Under a new agreement, Barrick has granted the country, and stakeholders such as local landowners, a much bigger share of economics of the mine.

One of Barrick’s other major projects over the next few years is building a massive new copper and gold mine in Pakistan. Reko Diq is expected to be in production in 2028.

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