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An excavator operates near the main haul road in the Fimiston Open Pit, known as the Super Pit, in Kalgoorlie, Australia, on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. The Super Pit is managed by Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd., jointly owned by Barrick Gold Corp., the world's largest producer of the metal, and Newmont Mining Corp., the second-largest gold producer.Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Mining companies are scrambling for ways to strengthen their balance sheet with the rout in metal prices showing no signs of easing.

Goldcorp Inc., the world's biggest gold miner by market capitalization, cut its dividend by 60 per cent and sold assets. Barrick Gold Corp., the world's biggest gold producer, is selling mines to slash its debt by $3-billion (U.S.). AngloGold Ashanti sold one of its best operations to lower its debt. Kinross Gold Corp. is eyeing job cuts at its West African mine after killing plans to expand operations earlier this year.

Bullion has dropped 40 per cent since the commodity boom, falling below $1,100 an ounce last month as investors sold gold in anticipation of the first U.S. interest-rate hike in nearly a decade.

"If we stay below $1,100 for a significant period of time, yeah, I think you will see mine closures and action in the industry and maybe some consolidation and some companies throwing up the white flag," Goldcorp chief executive officer Chuck Jeannes said in an interview.

So far there has been very little consolidation. Gold mines are still operating, even if at a loss. Companies whose shares have been decimated refuse to throw in the towel.

The decline in the sector is reminiscent of the late 1990s when bullion plunged 40 per cent in two years, bankrupting miners and forcing the industry to suspend production and close mines.

"I remember very well sitting in front of my computer and watching gold go to $254 an ounce," said Mr. Jeannes. "It is starting to feel very similar. When we went below $300 everybody thought 'Oh my gosh, it can't go any lower,' and then it went to $270, and then it went to $250."

Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. chief executive Sean Boyd said this downturn is harder because there are fewer high-quality gold assets left in the world.

"We are having to go further afield as an industry to find these deposits, it just puts more complexity into what already is a tough business," Mr. Boyd said in an interview.

The situation is even worse for other commodities. Steel making materials – nickel, metallurgical coal and iron ore – have deteriorated on weaker demand from the world's largest consumer, China.

More than half the nickel industry is losing money with the metal price below $5 a pound, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie.

Over four years, metallurgical coal and iron ore are down 70 per cent. Nickel is off 50 per cent.

Anglo American PLC, one of the biggest global miners, plans to cut 53,000 jobs. Teck Resources Ltd. suspended operations at its coal mines in Western Canada for three-week periods over the summer and may continue to cut production if coal prices don't improve.

Sherritt International Corp., a nickel and energy producer, has sold its corporate headquarters and recently cut 1,000 jobs from its nickel operations in Madagascar.

"In this environment, there is nothing that is not on the table," Sherritt chief executive David Pathe said in an interview.

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