Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s biggest gold miner, posted a 90% drop in quarterly profit on lower gold prices and sales amid questions about its direction after a failed merger effort with Newmont Mining Corp.
The Toronto-based firm on Wednesday reported first-quarter net earnings of $88 million, or 8 cents a share, down from $847 million, or 85 cents, a year earlier. But the results slightly beat analysts’ expectations on higher-than-expected cost savings.
Analysts say Barrick appears to be addressing their concerns about costs and the company’s large debts, and has a solid base of productive mines in the Americas. But, like all gold miners, the company faces a tough environment of lower gold prices, high costs and the increasing difficulty of finding easily accessible, high-grade gold.
Barrick said that it cost $100 less, or $833, to mine every ounce of gold in the first quarter over the same period last year.
Gold prices slumped 28% in 2013, the largest annual decline since 1981, as investors dumped gold and picked up other assets, such as stocks. Gold has been on the rise so far in 2014 and currently trades around $1,299 an ounce.
For Barrick, “it’s slowly but surely,” said Phil Russo, an analyst at Raymond James. “But they have still got some tough decisions to make.”
Barrick’s results came the day founder Peter Munk stepped down as chairman of the company he built up from one mine in 1982 into one of Canada’s largest companies. But the firm he leaves is coming off the worst year in its history, when much of the damage was inflicted by $11 billion worth of equity write-downs related to more recent empire building.
Mr. Munk handed the reins to John Thornton, the former Goldman Sachs banker who has been criticized by some Barrick shareholders for a $9.5 million 2013 pay packet. On Wednesday, 80% of investors voted to accept that compensation plan and voted in the four new directors who Barrick hopes will put an end to concerns that many of its directors lack independence.
Still, not all investors were happy. “We are troubled, and somewhat disappointed, by the newly constituted board’s decision not to take this opportunity of a fresh start to suitably convince shareholders that things will be different,” Catherine Jackson, the corporate-governance adviser of Dutch pension fund PGGM Vermogensbeheer B.V., said at the general meeting. “Real board independence continues to remain an issue at Barrick Gold.”
Mr. Thornton led the talks with Newmont that ended in acrimony Monday, with each party blaming the other for killing a deal that the companies had hoped would result in about $1 billion in cost savings.
On Wednesday executives declined to comment on talks, which had been largely welcomed by analysts. “The termination…raises questions on the next step change in the cost base for each of the companies,” said David Haughton, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.
Barrick said it is working on plans to deal with a range of market conditions that could include closing or expanding certain operations and disposing some assets. The company emphasized the importance of five of its biggest mines in the Americas that together produce 65% of its global output and were crucial to the merger plan with Newmont.
The company’s focus on the Americas is likely to stoke speculation that the firm could slim itself down even further to its operations in that region. Under the now-abandoned proposed terms, the merged companies were set to spin off mines in Australia and New Zealand, an idea that many investors welcomed.