Our two mines are in trouble: Munk

BARRICK Gold founder and chairman Peter Munk has defended the company’s decision to build the troubled $US8.5 billion ($A8.2 billion) Pascua-Lama mine, while chief executive Jamie Sokalsky has not ruled out the suspension of the entire project.
Our two mines are in trouble: Munk Our two mines are in trouble: Munk Our two mines are in trouble: Munk Our two mines are in trouble: Munk Our two mines are in trouble: Munk

In his annual general meeting address, a reflective Munk touched on Barrick's recent woes, including poor share price performance, the suspension of construction on the Chilean side of Pascua-Lama and gold's recent drop, worries which he said kept him awake at night.

Munk described the company's two major growth projects - the newly commissioned Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic and Pascua-Lama - as "spectacularly unique".

"Now our two mines are in trouble," he said.

At Pueblo Viejo, a joint venture with Goldcorp, the government is seeking a larger share of returns after the project reached commercial production in January.

Munk said resource nationalism was the "ultimate threat to the very lifeline of our industry".

He said the company had done what it felt was right in pursuing growth but now it felt it was being "penalised" for being the biggest.

"We shot ourselves in the foot because we could have stayed put in a great financial position, not started Pascua-Lama, not started Pueblo Viejo," Munk said.

"Did we know then that we were going to run into every year, more and more difficulty?

"Did we know then that the same governments who practically begged us to invest in their remote areas to provide jobs, to provide opportunities for education, to provide foreign exchange, to provide for taxes, were going to be changed and newcomers would say, ‘who are these foreigners? Why would they take our gold away from us?'

"All you can do in life … is build on your past example."

At Pascua-Lama, earlier this month construction on the Chilean side had to be suspended after a court injunction was filed over environmental concerns.

"We recognise the need to eliminate the uncertainty created by this injunction and we're taking a hard look at all of our alternatives, including materially reducing the rate of spend or even suspending construction at the entire project," Sokalsky told a teleconference.

Barrick said overall construction was around 46% complete with $4.8 billion spent.

"Once you're halfway, it's very difficult to walk away," Munk said.

The issues prompted Moody's Investors Service to place Barrick's Baa1 senior uncured rating under review for possible downgrade.

Barrick shares slumped to a 13-year low this month.

Making matters worse for the company, shareholders voted down the executive remuneration plan in what was seen as a protest vote against a proposed $11.9 million sign-on bonus for new co-chairman John Thornton.

Munk said Barrick wouldn't give up.

"Barrick will still be a global leader," he said.

"Barrick will still be a Canadian icon."

Results

In positive news, Barrick reported a strong first quarter, with adjusted net earnings of $923 million and operating cash flow of $1.16 billion.

The company produced 1.8 million ounces of gold at total cash costs of $561 per ounce and all-in cash costs of $919/oz.

The result prompted the company to lower its all-in cost guidance for the year to $950-1050/oz from $1000-1100/oz.

Copper production was 127 million pounds at C1 cash costs of $2.46 per pound and C3 cash costs of $3/lb.

Australia

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Barrick had appointed Bank of America Merrill Lynch and UBS to manage the sale of the Darlot, Granny Smith and Lawlers mines in Western Australia.

Sokalsky refused to comment on the process, though he didn't deny it.

"Those are media reports so ultimately we don't intend to comment on rumours of sales in the market," he said.

When asked about possible closures of higher cost operations in Africa and Australia, Sokalsky said it couldn't be ruled out.

"Those types of decisions in a prolonged weak gold price environment are definitely on the table," he said.

The Australian Pacific operations produced 450,000oz gold at all-in sustaining and total cash costs of $1096/oz and $785/oz, with Porgera in Papua New Guinea the largest contributor at 120,000oz.

It represents the company's second-highest cost region behind Africa.

Full-year guidance for the region remains at 1.7-1.85Moz at all-in sustaining and total cash costs of $1200-1300/oz and $880-950/oz.

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