World Economy

World’s Top Gold Miners Locked in Standoff

Newmont Mining Corp. plans to purchase Barrick's 50% share out for sale.Newmont Mining Corp. plans to purchase Barrick's 50% share out for sale.

Deep in the heart of Australia’s dusty outback, the world’s biggest gold mining companies are locked in a standoff.

At the center of the impasse is a 50% stake in the country’s largest open-pit gold mine, known as the Kalgoorlie super pit. Barrick Gold Corp., the No. 1 bullion producer, wants to sell its 50% holding of the pit. Newmont Mining Corp., which stands at No. 2 and already owns half the mine—and operates it—wants to buy. That’s where the simplicity ends, Bloomberg reported.

Toronto-based Barrick has opened up a bidding process for its half of the mine, and President Kelvin Dushnisky expects the auction to be competitive.

“Initial indications are very positive,” Dushnisky said Monday in an interview from Colorado Springs during the Denver Gold Forum. “We think it’s going to be a strong process.”

Newmont Chief Executive Officer Gary Goldberg said the company will participate in Barrick’s sale process, but is only going to buy at the right price.

  Good Value

“We welcome their process as they go through, and we’d like to participate in it to see where it lands,” Goldberg said Monday during a separate interview also from the Denver Gold Forum. “But we would want to acquire it for good value.”

The showdown is a sign of the times in the gold world. This year’s 24% surge for bullion prices has been a welcome surprise for many producers, but it comes after three straight years of annual declines. Investors, wary of a return to the bear market, are demanding that companies maximize value in all potential deals.

The super pit negotiating dynamics may have shifted as the recovery in metal prices drives earnings growth and makes debt-fighting efforts easier.

Investors have rewarded Barrick for discipline. The company is emerging from a three-year push to cut costs and reduce debt, which peaked at $15.8 billion in 2013. Last year, it sold $3.2 billion worth of assets and Dushnisky made clear the company isn’t done with divestitures yet. The stock has more than doubled in Toronto this year.

Barrick is also taking a value-driven approach when it comes to asset sales and project funding. The company in July said it would start looking at ways to restart its stalled Pascua-Lama project on the Chile-Argentina border. Plans still remain in the “concept stage,” Dushnisky said Monday.

Part of the slow process for the Kalgoorlie sale may come from a broad range of estimates for what Barrick’s stake is worth. It was at last year’s Denver Gold Forum that Newmont’s Goldberg first expressed interest in buying Kalgoorlie. Analyst valuations range from $400 million to about $1.5 billion.

Goldberg declined to provide an estimate of the valuation, saying that has to be negotiated.