Barrick Gold Corporation Is Struggling to Make up for Past Mistakes

Gold miners know they have been acting irresponsibly during the past few years. A rising gold price has hidden expensive megaprojects and falling returns, but now that the price of gold is falling, they have been forced to get their act together. Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM  ) and Goldcorp (NYSE: GG  ) have been able to do this relatively quickly and they are making good progress. However, the world's largest gold miner by output, Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX  ) , is struggling.

Working hard but progress slow
Barrick has actually made some really great progress trying to restructure its operations during the space of the last year. For example, the company has reduced capital spending and operating costs by about $2 billion and announced agreements to divest six high-cost, non-core mines and other assets for a total consideration of almost $1 billion. The most recent move by Barrick to streamline and reduce costs was the divestment of the company's 33.3% interest in the Marigold mine, which is jointly owned by Goldcorp.

Barrick's share of production at Marigold during 2013 was about 55,000 ounces of gold, at an all-in sustaining cost, or AISC, of about $1,545 per ounce -- almost double the company's overall AISC of production. This divestment should result in Barrick's overall AISC dropping further, but it doesn't look as if this will be the case.

According to Barrick's management, production is expected to fall, and costs are expected to rise over the space of the next year, which is concerning as it highlights the fact that despite attempts to restructure, Barrick is failing to turn itself around. Indeed, management currently predicts that Barrick's AISC of production per ounce of gold produced is expected to be in the region of $950 during 2014. In comparison, the company's AISC of production per gold ounce during 2013 was $938, falling to $918 during the fourth quarter of 2013. Further, Barrick's gold production is expected to fall to 6.5 million ounces at the high end for 2014, 10% below 2013 production of 7.2 million ounces.

Good progress
While Barrick is struggling to improve its performance, Newmont has actually made a good start reconfiguring its operations, although the market has punished the company for its efforts. Newmont revealed its 2013 production report and 2014 to the outlook a couple of weeks ago, and I felt that this report was relatively upbeat. Attributable gold production for the fourth quarter of 2013 amounted to 1.5 million ounces, up from 1.251 million ounces produced during the fourth quarter of 2012. Meanwhile, copper production for 4Q 2013 was 38 million pounds, up from 35 million pounds in 4Q 2012. All in all, Newmont produced 5.1 million ounces of gold during 2013, at the top end of guidance, up from 5 million ounces produced during 2012.

In addition, Newmont revealed that it had divested $600 million of non-core assets throughout the period and gold production for 2014 was going to be in the region of 5 to 5.3 million ounces. The company is also targeting an AISC per gold ounce of $1,075 to $1,175. This AISC figure is below the $1,100 to $1,200 figure reported for 2013. Cost cuts continue elsewhere as Newmont is planning on reducing operating expenses by 20% throughout 2014.

All of this is good news -- falling costs and rising gold production are great for profitability in the long term. However, following this report Newmont's shares slumped more than 10%, which shows that despite improved performance, investors cannot trust the market to support the gold mining industry's turnaround just yet.

Best of breed
One company that has been behaving itself is Goldcorp and for this the market has rewarded it. Goldcorp has kept its spending and expansion plans under control during the past few years and as a result the company is much more efficient than its larger peer Barrick.

Like Barrick and Newmont, Goldcorp has also released full-year 2013 and 2014 production data and guidance during the past few weeks. Goldcorp's AISC for 2013 was $1,031 per ounce, higher than that of Barrick but lower than that of Newmont. However, unlike Barrick, Goldcorp is predicting that its AISC will drop to less than $1,000 per ounce during 2014; gold production is also expected to increase around 15% for the year-impressive growth.

Additionally, Goldcorp has also sold its holding in the Marigold mine, jointly owned with Barrick as mentioned above. Goldcorp expects costs to drop following this divestment and will update the market once the deal is closed in April. With Goldcorp's production ramp-up and costs falling, it is easy to see why the company has surpassed Barrick as the world's largest gold miner by market capitalization.

Foolish conclusion
So overall, it would appear that Barrick is struggling to make up for its past mistakes, and this is not good in such a volatile environment. With this in mind, investors would be better choosing either Newmont or Goldcorp as their international gold mining investment of choice as their managements prove they are up to the job.

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