Skip to main content

The Tasiast open pit mine in Mauritania has been a money loser, but Kinross plans to correct that with an expansion.Kinross

Kinross Gold Corp., one of the hottest companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange this year, says it is on track with its plan to turn around its problem-plagued Tasiast project in West Africa.

The Toronto-based miner announced on Tuesday that it has completed a prefeasibility study for the second phase of an expansion that it says has the potential to transform the project into the company's largest mine.

In March, Kinross committed to an initial phase of the project. The goal is to revive the fortunes of Tasiast, which has been a steady money loser since Kinross's previous management bought the mine in Mauritania near the height of the mining boom in 2010 for $7.1-billion (U.S.).

Kinross's share price has soared more than 180 per cent since the start of January. Its leap largely reflects investors' renewed enthusiasm for gold and gold stocks, but the stock's remarkable gain also appears to demonstrate hope that Tasiast might finally begin to produce a profit.

"This has been the year in which we seem to have finally turned a corner," Paul Rollinson, Kinross's chief executive officer, said in an interview. He said investors have responded enthusiastically to the company's plans for Tasiast as well as its new mines in Nevada.

First-quarter earnings announced on Tuesday show that Kinross's turnaround remains a work in progress. Revenue of $782.6-million was in line with year-ago numbers, while the company's loss widened to $13.9-million, or 1 cent a share, meeting analysts' expectations.

Kinross lost its investment-grade credit rating in February and it has not reported an annual profit since 2010, in large part because of repeated writedowns of its asset values.

As with other gold miners, Kinross has gone on an economy drive. Over the past year, it has closed its Denver office and chopped corporate jobs as well as more than 200 positions at its Tasiast mine. It expects its overhead expense to be 20 per cent lower this year than last.

The company, which operates in Russia, Africa and the Americas, is attempting to execute a difficult geographic rebalancing.

Kinross's two Russian mines, Kupol and Dvoinoye, account for roughly a quarter production and are expected to peter out in 2021. Even if new discoveries extend the mines' lives, investors and credit-rating agencies view them with discomfort, given the uncertainties of any foreign investment in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Kinross has responded in part by finding growth projects closer to home. Last year, it bought a pair of Nevada properties from Barrick Gold Corp. for $610-million (U.S.). Its half-dozen mines in the Americas, ranging from Alaska to Brazil, now account for 61 per cent of its output.

However, the most dramatic lift for Kinross could come from re-engineering Tasiast.

Mr. Rollinson announced in March that he was going ahead with a budget-conscious expansion that will boost the mine's output from 8,000 tonnes a day to 12,000 tonnes by 2018.

The expansion will make use of existing infrastructure and is expected to involve a relatively modest $300-million (Canadian) in capital expenditures as well as $428-million in earth-removal, costs. If all goes according to plan, the expansion will chop the mine's all-in sustaining cost for producing gold from $1,000 an ounce to around $760.

The company is still pondering a second phase that would further boost the mine's capacity to 30,000 tonnes a day. If it chooses to go ahead, it anticipates reaching full production in early 2020.

"A year from now is probably when we'll be making the decision," Mr. Rollinson said on Tuesday. "Protecting the balance sheet is our priority."