Will This Gold Miner Thrive in 2014?

Just like other gold miners, Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM  )  has been pressured by depressed gold prices. At the same time, Newmont has company-specific obstacles, such as its stalled Conga project in Peru and a new Indonesian tax on copper-concentrate exports. Will the company overcome those difficulties in the current year?

Conga project
Conga is a big mining project, with 6.5 million ounces of gold reserves and 1.7 billion pounds of copper reserves situated near Newmont's Yanacocha mine in Peru. The project received heavy opposition from the local community, and Newmont decided to build the water-management system first before proceeding with the other work.

The situation is similar to Barrick Gold's (NYSE: ABX  ) Pascua-Lama project. Barrick decided to suspend construction of Pascua-Lama and to allocate money exclusively for the water-management system. However, there is an important difference between Barrick's and Newmont's cases.

For Barrick, Pascua-Lama is a growth project. For Newmont, Conga's ounces must replace gold from Yanacocha when the mine runs out of reserves -- and there isn't much time left. In the last year's annual report, Newmont estimated that Yanacocha possessed 3 million ounces of gold reserves.

The company recently stated that Yanacocha was on track to produce 550,000–600,000 ounces in 2013. This means that there were less than 2.5 million ounces of reserves left at the beginning of this year. If the reserve numbers do not change significantly, Newmont has five years to start its Conga project. Otherwise, its production levels could suffer.

It's worth noting that the company sounded optimistic when it was talking about the Conga project at the CIBC Annual Whistler Institutional Investor Conference. Newmont stated that it was really progressing with the water-management system and was working on the access road between Yanacocha and Conga.

Possible reserves cut
Newmont's last year's reserves estimates were calculated with a price assumption of $1,400 per ounce. Clearly, gold is significantly below this level. If Newmont changes this assumption, reserves estimates will be lower.

Some companies, like Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC  ) , were cautious in lifting their gold-price assumptions when the price of gold was rising. As a result, Kinross calculated last year's reserves at $1,200 per ounce, so there shouldn't be any negative surprises when the company reports its reserves estimates when presenting its full-year results on Feb. 12.

Uncertainty in Indonesia
Newmont and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX  ) faced a progressive tax on copper-concentrate exports in Indonesia. Indonesia tries to force copper producers to process ore within the country. Both companies stated that the new tax contradicts their existing contracts of work.

This could be the start of a lengthy battle. Bachrul Chairi, director general of foreign trade at the trade ministry, told Reuters that there had been no concentrate export since Jan. 12. Copper is not a major source of revenue for Newmont, but the company needs every bit of revenue in current conditions.

Bottom line
Newmont is facing several headwinds at the beginning of the year. The Conga project needs to get going in order to replace Yanacocha's ounces in the future. The uncertainty about the copper-concentrate exports in Indonesia will most likely hurt Newmont's results, at least in the short term.

Newmont managed to lower its all-in sustaining costs to $993 per ounce in the third quarter. A lot will depend on whether the company is able hold its costs under the $1,000 level. As for now, I don't think that Newmont will be an outperformer this year.

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