Another sale expected from Newcrest

MAJOR gold producer Newcrest Mining could sell off more assets – such as the Bonikro mine in the Ivory Coast inherited from its takeover of Lihir Gold – to focus on tier one opportunities in Papua New Guinea.
Another sale expected from Newcrest Another sale expected from Newcrest Another sale expected from Newcrest Another sale expected from Newcrest Another sale expected from Newcrest

While some pundits might have hoped Lihir just stuck to expanding its lucrative namesake mine in PNG, the company met its takeover fate in a little over two years after merging with Equigold in mid-2008.

The Equigold merger started Lihir's disastrous foray into underground mining at the old Victorian gold haunt of Ballarat, which wound up with more than $US400 million in losses after its chief executive officer Arthur Hood was shown the door.

Analysts are supporting Newcrest's plans to sell 100% of the Mt Rawdon and 70% of the Cracow gold mines in Queensland, once owned by Equigold, to Catalpa Resources, and expect more deals ahead.

A sale of the Bonikro gold mine could be a likely candidate.

Producing around 86,000 ounces per annum, Bonikro was considered part of the "great exploration package" that came from the Equigold merger, according to Hood at the time.

Royal Bank of Scotland analyst Sam Berridge told The Australian Bonikro was "effectively an exploration play" and flagged a possible sale to Perseus Mining as an obvious fit.

Macquarie Private Wealth considered that the Mt Rawdon and Cracow mines sat in the middle of the cost curve and were outliers in context of Newcrest's mining portfolio.

The MPW analysts forecast no material impact to Newcrest's share price from the completion of these sales in Queensland.

"Newcrest has made no secret that it thought these assets would sit better within a portfolio of a smaller Australian producer," MPW said.

"That said, we see this as a positive move as it allows management to focus its attention on Newcrest's portfolio of large tier one assets."

In a presentation to a mining conference in Spain last month, outgoing Newcrest managing director Ian Smith put PNG at the top of his list in a slide for exploration opportunities, followed by Indonesia, Fiji and Telfer in Western Australia.

The long-flagged million ounce production upgrade project at the Lihir mine is expected to ramp-up output during 2013.

Meanwhile, the Newcrest joint venture with Harmony Gold is advancing towards the exploration target of 40Moz of gold and 15 million tonnes of copper at the Wafi-Golpu deposits in PNG's Morobe province.

Smith's resignation was announced in February and he will be succeeded by finance director Greg Robinson next month.

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