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Mark Bristow, the chief executive officer of Barrick Gold Corp., says he has no intention of buying Kinross Gold Corp., putting an end to speculation that the big Canadian gold miner was poised to pounce on its struggling competitor.

Over the past few months, analysts have speculated that Toronto-based Barrick was in prime position to scoop up Kinross at a bargain. Shares of Kinross, also based in Toronto, have taken a beating since late last year, after the company unveiled the acquisition of Great Bear Resources Ltd., and after it was forced to sell its Russian mines in a hurry at a discount after the invasion of Ukraine.

A trio of Scotia Capital Inc. analysts recently speculated in a note to clients that a Barrick-Kinross combo made sense. By buying Kinross, Scotia pointed out, Barrick would regain its position as the world’s biggest gold producer, a crown it lost a few years ago to Newmont Corp. The deal would also have seen Barrick land Great Bear, a promising junior miner that it had long coveted, but Kinross snatched from under it. The Globe and Mail reported that Barrick was among a cadre of big miners that tried to buy Great Bear last year in an brisk bidding war that saw Kinross emerge as the victor.

But Mr. Bristow said in an interview earlier this week that buying Kinross now in order to get Great Bear doesn’t make financial sense. In fact, he doesn’t hold Kinross’s core portfolio of gold mines in Brazil, the United States and West Africa in high regard. He characterized the assets as “marginal” and compared them to cow dung.

In particular, Mr. Bristow singled out Kinross’s giant Tasiast mine in Mauritania as a long-time laggard whose best days are behind it.

“The problem with marginal assets,” he said, “if you sit on them for 10 years, there’s no juice left to squeeze.”

Kinross inherited the Tasiast mine after its widely panned acquisition of Red Back Mining Inc. in 2010. Since then, Tasiast has fallen short on production and profit expectations. Last year was a particularly tough one, with a mill fire severely curtailing production.

Kinross doesn’t agree with Mr. Bristow’s characterization of its assets. In an interview, Louie Diaz, spokesperson with Kinross, defended the company’s portfolio. Tasiast is on track to produce 600,000 ounces of gold this year, and generate strong cash flow, he said. In addition, Mr. Diaz said that the company’s Paracatu mine in Brazil is “world class.” Last year, Paracatu produced 550,000 ounces of gold and generated a profit of US$384-million.

Mr. Diaz added that Kinross has substantially rebalanced and reduced the risk of its portfolio over the past year by getting out of Russia. Last month, the company announced the sale of its Kupol mine and Udinsk development project in Siberia to Highland Gold Mining Ltd. for US$680-million.

While Barrick has no intention of buying Kinross, Mr. Bristow isn’t ruling some sort of large-scale M&A deal over the next few years. Barrick hasn’t made a major acquisition since it bought Randgold Resources Ltd. in 2019 for US$6-billion, but it has come close on several occasions. In the past 12 months, Barrick has kicked the tires on Pretium Inc., Kirkland Lake Gold Ltd., and Great Bear. On each occasion, Mr. Bristow refused to be drawn into a bidding war, and elected to let each company go to a competitor.

Mr. Bristow currently has a lot on his plate at Barrick even without considering M&A. Last month, the company announced it is moving forward on a US$7-billion new gold mine construction in Pakistan, alongside the Pakistani government. Barrick is also considering building the Donlin gold mine in Alaska, which it co-owns alongside Novagold Resources Inc. That project was last estimated to cost in excess of US$9-billion. Yet despite potentially having two giant projects on its books over the next few years, and billions of capital to outlay, Barrick is ready to pounce on an M&A target if the right deal comes along.

“If we saw an opportunity to acquire something of value that fits our filters, we’d do it,” he said. “In a heartbeat.”

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