Big gold miners post billions in Q4 losses as lower gold price takes a bite

Canada's big gold miners posted billions in losses for their most recent quarter as a lower price of gold took a bite out of the bottom line and their reserves.

Barrick Gold chief executive Jamie Sokalsky called 2013 a year of recalibration for the company - one of the world's largest gold miners.

"We have been intensely focussed on managing the things we can control and, during 2013, we made significant progress in reducing costs," Sokalsky told a conference call with financial analysts Thursday.

"I believe we are transforming into a leaner, more agile organization, one that is focussed on assets that hold longer term shareholder value and getting higher returns on our investments."

Toronto-based Barrick, which keeps its books in U.S. dollars, reported a loss of US$2.83 billion or $2.61 per share in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $3 billion or $3.01 per share a year ago.

Revenue for the quarter fell to $2.93 billion, down from $4.15 billion.

The quarter included some $2.82 billion in impairment charges, primarily related to its Pascua-Lama, Porgera, Veladero and the Australia Pacific gold operations, as well as $176 million in other costs at Pascua-Lama in the Andes.

Excluding the one-time costs, the gold miner said it earned an adjusted profit of $410 million or 37 cents per share compared with an adjusted profit of $1.16 billion or $1.16 a year ago.

The average analyst estimate compiled by Thomson Reuters had predicted a profit of 41 cents per share.

Meanwhile, Vancouver-based Goldcorp, which also keeps its books in U.S. dollars, said it lost $1.1 billion or $1.34 per share compared with a profit of $504 million or 62 cents per share a year ago. Revenue fell to $1.2 billion, down from $1.4 billion.

During the fourth quarter, Goldcorp took $763 million in tax charges due primarily to changes to Mexico's income tax laws. The company also took $443 million in other impairment charges.

Excluding the one-time items, Goldcorp said it earned an adjusted profit of $74 million or nine cents per share compared with $465 million or 57 cents per share a year ago.

Analysts had expected a profit of 23 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

"Most mines in our portfolio ended the year with significantly lower all-in sustaining costs than when the year began, while meeting or exceeding production guidance," Goldcorp president and chief executive Chuck Jeannes said.

"Initiatives under our operating for excellence program have taken root, resulting in significant efficiency and productivity gains and a culture that continues to place a premium on safe, profitable production growth despite lower gold prices during the year."

Gold started out last year close to the US$1,700 level, but the price started to fall rapidly in early May to end the year at about US$1,200, taking the stocks of the gold miners down with it.

However, gold stocks have started out 2014 on a strong note.

Shares in Barrick which fell 40 per cent in 2013 are up more than 15 per cent so far this year. Goldcorp, which fell about 35 per cent last year is up more than 25 per cent since the start of January.

Barrick shares closed up C$1.27 at C$22.08 on Thursday, while Goldcorp shares ended the trading day up $1.02 at C$29.64 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Barrick, which has been has been paring down its assets in recent months as it has moved to focus its operations, also said Thursday that it expected to produce between six million and 6.5 million ounces of gold this year.

That compared with nearly 7.2 million ounces produced in 2013.

Sokalsky said many of the decisions made by the company last year, including a cut to its dividend and the temporary suspension of its massive Pascua-Lama project in South America, were difficult, but necessary.

"With our high quality assets and a cost structure that is among the lowest in the industry, we are much better protected against further price downside and importantly more strongly positioned to take advantage of opportunities and benefit when metal prices recover," he said.

All-in sustaining production costs are also expected to rise to between $920 and $980 per ounce compared with $915 for 2013.

The lower expected production comes as Barrick slashed its gold reserves to 104.1 million ounces at the end of 2013 from 140.2 million ounces at the end of 2012.

The new reserve estimate is based on a $1,100 per ounce price for gold compared with $1,500 per ounce used in the earlier estimate.

Goldcorp reported Thursday probable gold mineral reserves of 54 million ounces for Dec. 31, 2013, down from 63.9 million ounces at the start of last year, due to mining and a lower gold price assumption.

The decrease came as Goldcorp produced 768,900 ounces of gold in the fourth quarter compared with 700,400 a year ago. Production for the year totalled 2.7 million ounces.

All-in sustaining cash costs totalled $810 per ounce in the fourth quarter, down from $915 a year ago.

Goldcorp has made a C$2.6-billion hostile takeover bid for Osisko Mining Corp. (TSX:OSK), however analysts have suggested it will have to raise its offer if it wants to close the deal.

Osisko's main asset is the Canadian Malartic gold mine in northern Quebec where it has been ramping up operations since its first commercial production in May 2011.

Jeannes has said Canadian Malartic would rank among his companies' best operations if the takeover is successful.

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