Kinross Gold Digging Itself Out of Hole

Gold miner Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC  ) reported third-quarter earnings yesterday after the market closed and though revenues were obviously going to be lower considering the price of gold has fallen so far, it still beat Wall Street's expectations by a large margin.

Revenue fell 21% to $876.3 million and earnings tumbled to $41.9 million, or $0.04 per share compared to $224.9 million, or $0.20 per share last year. After adjusting for one-time items, the gold miner earned $0.05 per share, a big drop from the $0.22 per share it earned last year. Even so, analysts were anticipating Kinross would earn just $0.03 per share on revenues of $758.6 million.

Fort Knox, Alaska. Source: www.facebook.com/pages/Kinross-Gold

While Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY  )  also recently reported a drop in revenues and profits, it also came up far short of analyst expectations, and questions remain whether it will be able to hit its 2013 production targets after having cut them this past summer. It maintains it should be able to produce between 1.32 million and 1.37 million gold equivalent ounces, but that's down from earlier forecasts of 1.44 million ounces. 

In contrast, Kinross said it produced 680,580 gold equivalent ounces this quarter, up more than 1% from last year, and also raised its full-year production to 2.6 million to 2.65 million ounces from 2.4 million to 2.6 million ounces previously.

Having largely gained control over its costs, Kinross anticipates being able to achieve production cost of sales in the range of $740 to $790 per ounce with 2013 all-in sustaining cost around $1,100 to $1,200 per ounce. The "all-in sustaining costs" incorporate costs related to sustaining production and include additional costs that reflect the varying costs of producing gold over the mine's life.

Last month Goldcorp (NYSE: GG  ) reported earnings that while generally positive, also held some concerns, particularly because of the mining tax Mexico is proposing to impose (with an even higher one of precious metals miners). While Goldcorp said it won't abandon its operations there and will just suck it up on paying the levies, it's going to look elsewhere for investment opportunities. Southern Copper (NYSE: SCCO  ) has made similar comments that it will be obligated to invest in countries that are more hospitable to its business.

One place that likely won't be is Argentina as Goldcorp announced it is deferring spending at its Cerro Negro project there and suspending all exploration activity because it can't get the permits it needs to advance, is suffering from labor strife, and the government is yet another one grasping for more revenues by imposing a "resource tax."

Kinross also finds itself in need of cutting costs more, and fortunately has identified another $50 million it can squeeze out this year in addition to the $150 million it says it's already achieved, bringing total 2013 capital expenditures to approximately $1.4 billion. Next year, though, the budget will go under the knife again, with planned capex in the range of $800 million to $900 million.

With gold prices having lost a quarter of their value so far this year, miners everywhere have felt the pinch. Yet it's important for investors to focus on those who can keep a lid on their costs. Yamana, for example, despite its harsh report, still exhibits a conservative bent and uses forecasting models of gold at $950 an ounce -- well below the current $1,280 per ounce. That means it ought to survive and even thrive should the precious metal fall further.

Kinross projects somewhat higher levels and might find its operations in the red should gold fall much further. Even though it's still clawing its way out of the hole the entire industry finds itself in, you might want to look elsewhere at the moment, at Yamana or even Goldcorp, which projects low, all-in sustaining costs of between $1,050 and $1,100 per ounce for the rest of the year. 

In tough times, miners that can tighten the belt most ought to be the ones investors dig into first.

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