Barrick Gold Corp. is shutting a major American office and dismantling its copper unit, the company's latest steps to cut costs and overhaul operations amid the slump in gold prices.
The closing of its Salt Lake City office along with the unwinding of its copper business will help the world's biggest gold producer save $2-billion (U.S.) by the end of next year, the company said.
Four years of declining gold prices have forced a broad retreat at Barrick and battered the company's share price. In addition to selling a slew of mines and non-core assets, Barrick recently reduced its dividend again and sold a stake in its top copper mine in Chile as well as part of one of its most profitable gold mines, in the Dominican Republic.
Barrick's Salt Lake office, which employs about 110 staff, will close in November after supporting the miner's core Nevada operations for nearly two decades. It follows the shutdown of Barrick's Perth bureau and job cuts in its Santiago office.
Barrick's standalone copper unit, which was established after the miner bought pure copper company Equinox Minerals Ltd., will no longer be a distinct division within the company. The copper unit's managers and staff will be laid off and the overhead expenses associated with the separate business will be cut.
"This is not simply about cost cutting," said Barrick spokesman Andy Lloyd. "All these actions will contribute to our target of $2-billion in costs savings … but importantly they are also making us a leaner and faster-moving company," he said.
Barrick tried to diversify into the red metal in 2011 when it bought Equinox for its Lumwana mine in Zambia. Lumwana has since been written off and Barrick has been frenetically freeing up cash to pay down its $13-billion debt, about half of which stems from the acquisition.
Lumwana will now be integrated with the rest of the miner's business. Meanwhile, Chile's Antofagasta PLC will operate Barrick's top copper mine and a state-owned Saudi Arabian miner operates Barrick's copper project in Saudi Arabia.
Barrick has shed about 10,000 jobs since John Thornton became co-chairman in 2012. The former Goldman Sachs executive, who is now Barrick's sole chairman, has shaken up his management team twice over the past year, setting up a co-president structure only to kill it.
Barrick's Toronto head office, once the centre of operations, is now a skeleton crew with its main function being to allocate capital.
Mr. Thornton is shifting power from head office to the operations. He wants the individual mine managers to run their mines as a business with the goal of generating free cash flow, or the cash leftover after all expenses are paid.
"The lean, decentralized model we are putting in place is central to our strategy to maximize free cash flow from the business over the long-term," Mr. Lloyd said.
Barrick produced free cash flow in the latest quarter ended in June, but still its stock price continued to drop along with the bullion prices. Gold prices are down 40 per cent over four years. It is now trading around $1,120 an ounce and is expected to fall further if the U.S. Federal Reserve raises interest rates. Other mining companies are also looking for more ways to lower expenses after selling their prized assets and suspending projects.
Barrick recently won praise from analysts and investors for raising nearly $3-billion to pay down its debt. But rating agencies still whacked Barrick's credit to the lowest investment grade level because the miner's debt was too high to deal with the low gold price.
"It's miserable out there," said Chris Mancini, analyst with the Gabelli Gold Fund, which holds Barrick stock.
Barrick's stock is trading around $9 (Canadian) a share, a low not seen since 1989.