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Barrick Gold chairman Peter Munk speaks at a press conference to announce his retirement in Toronto, Wednesday December 4, 2013.

Mark Blinch/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Barrick Gold Corp.'s founder and chairman Peter Munk said merging with rival Newmont Mining Corp. could result in "significant" cost savings, especially in Nevada where the two North American gold miners operate.

The world's two largest gold producers had hoped to announce an all-stock merger deal before Newmont's annual shareholder meeting in Delaware on Wednesday, but disagreed over which assets to spin off, sources have said.

Although talks were halted late last week, the companies are still open to merging in an effort to cut costs amid the deep slump in gold prices, sources have said.

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"Combining Barrick and Newmont could result in significant synergies and cost savings, particularly in Nevada, where our operations are literally next door to one another," Mr. Munk said in an e-mailed statement.

Gold has lost more than a third of its value since peaking above $1,900 (U.S.) an ounce three years ago. The weaker precious metal price, now trading below $1,300 an ounce, has forced the gold industry to overhaul operations to preserve cash.

Toronto-based Barrick, the world's largest gold producer, has taken drastic steps to improve its balance sheet, including suspending a key project in the Andes. Colorado-based Newmont, the world's No. 2 gold producer, has also cut costs by selling assets and curtailing capital expenditures.

"These synergies are even more meaningful in today's lower gold price environment," Mr. Munk said in the statement.

It is unknown whether the North American miners will revive talks before Barrick's annual shareholder meeting April 30. This is the third time the companies have seriously entertained a merger.

The companies had identified $1-billion in annual savings, sources have said. Analysts dispute that number and say the potential savings are anywhere between $150-million and $500-million a year.

Some of the savings would come from the Carlin Trend, an area in Nevada that is home to Barrick's fertile Goldstrike mine and eight of Newmont's mines.

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In the Southwestern U.S. state, Barrick operates six mines and Newmont 18.

Other savings could be extracted from combining the miners' regional offices in the Americas and Australia.

If Barrick ends up buying Newmont, it will be the Canadian company's biggest acquisition.

A merger with Newmont would also be the last deal for Mr. Munk, who is expected to retire as Barrick's chairman next week and will hand over the role to former Goldman Sachs banker John Thornton.

The 86-year-old Mr. Munk spent three decades building Barrick into the world's largest gold producer through a series of acquisitions.

Under the terms of their latest deal, Barrick would have issued 730 million shares, the equivalent of $13-billion in stock, to buy its U.S. rival. The all-stock deal would have diluted Barrick's shares significantly.

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But after the miner borrowed heavily to buy copper company Equinox Minerals for $7.3-billion, Barrick cannot afford to use cash for an acquisition. The company had $12.9-billion in long-term debt at the end of the fourth quarter.

Barrick and Newmont have not confirmed that they are in merger talks. A spokesman for Newmont declined to comment.

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