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Barrick Gold Corp. CEO Mark Bristow in his Toronto office on Feb. 12, 2020. It has been a little more than a year since Mr. Bristow took over as head of Toronto-based Barrick, and he has made a big imprint on the company during his brief tenure.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Mark Bristow, the chief executive officer of Barrick Gold Corp., says the gold sector is in desperate need of fresh young blood to rejuvenate what has become a “dinosaur” industry.

“The industry needs to grow and be more relevant,” Mr. Bristow said in an interview in Toronto, after the release of the company’s fourth-quarter financial results.

Mr. Bristow stressed the need for mining companies to both attract younger employees with fresh ideas, and a sprier set of investors.

Attending the annual Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference – one of the industry’s premier events – Mr. Bristow said, is like “walking into an old age home.”

It has been a little more than a year since Mr. Bristow took over as head of Toronto-based Barrick, and he has made a big imprint on the company during his brief tenure. In 2019, Barrick generated US$1.1-billion in free cash flow, compared with only US$364-million in the previous year, as the miner cut reams of head office staff and made productivity improvements across many mine sites.

Barrick also forged a joint venture agreement with Newmont Corp. in Nevada last year, which should generate significant cost savings for both miners over the next decade. And after years of pain in the east African country of Tanzania, Barrick last month finalized an agreement with the country’s government to end a multiyear tax dispute that had sidelined the operations of its former subsidiary Acacia Mining PLC. Barrick reached the accord after buying back Acacia last summer.

While the situation on the ground in Tanzania is slowly normalizing, a number of challenges remain, not least of all freeing a number of jailed employees. In 2018, three current or former employees of Acacia were charged with money-laundering offences and imprisoned without chance of bail. Mr. Bristow confirmed the employees are still incarcerated, and wouldn’t comment on when they might be freed, other than saying the situation is “delicate.”

Rising bullion prices are pushing up profits again across the gold mining industry.

On Wednesday, Barrick reported a net profit of US$1.38-billion for the three months ending Dec. 31, 2019 – drastically better than the comparable period a year earlier.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, the company booked a US$1.2-billion loss, after incurring heavy impairment charges on a number of South American gold mines.

On an adjusted basis, Barrick reported a profit of 17 US cents a share in its most recent quarter, 3 US cents better than analysts expected.

Barrick’s full-year gold production rose to 5.5 million ounces last year, compared with 4.5 million in 2018. For this year, Barrick said its production is expected to fall to about five million ounces of gold. Credit Suisse analyst Fahad Tariq called the 2020 guidance “a touch light,” in a note to clients.

Shares in Barrick fell by 0.6 per cent to close at $24.39 apiece on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Over the past year, gold prices have climbed 16 per cent, with the precious metal benefiting from waves of investor uncertainty, including global trade wars and lately fears over the coronavirus. Historically, investors buy bullion during turbulent periods.

Despite the co-operative commodity price environment, Barrick still faces a number of challenges and like every other major gold company, is trying to attract the interest of the elusive generalist investor.

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