Barrick Gold and Newmont Mining May Still Merge

First gold pour at Pueblo Viejo, Domincan Republic. Source: Barrick Gold.

Even though merger talks apparently broke down between Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX  ) and Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM  ) , it doesn't mean they still won't be able to find common ground and arrive at satisfactory terms; they'll just need more time to reach an agreement.

The Wall Street Journal reported the two gold-mining giants had been trying to reach an agreement before Newmont's annual meeting this week, and though no details of possible terms were disclosed, joining the No. 1 and No. 2 gold miners would create a $30 billion behemoth with mines stretching around the world, though the locus of their activity would be in Nevada where Barrick derives some 60% of its production and nearly a third of Newmont's assets are domiciled. 

The industry in general has been wracked by the precipitous decline in gold's price at the same time that many of its major participants, particularly Barrick, are trying to come to grips with an excessive level of debt that's led to many miners to shed assets to raise cash. Barrick alone has dumped some $1 billion worth of properties since mid-2013 while Newmont has excised $600 million worth.

Yet this isn't the first time the two have danced this card and though those previous discussions didn't pan out either, it suggests additional talks going forward aren't precluded, especially because it makes a lot of sense economically that they join up. By sharing operations, they can substantially rein in costs by eliminating duplicative processes. Besides, they already have a history of working cooperatively.

The two jointly own the Turquoise Ridge mine in Nevada, where Barrick owns a 75% stake and operates the venture. While they evenly share the Kalgoorlie project in western Australia,  they have several neighboring mines in the Carlin Trend area of Nevada -- one of North America's most prolific gold-producing areas -- and Newmont has made no secret of its desire to find partners to help defray costs.

Goldstrike mine in the Carlin Trend, the largest Carlin-type deposit in the world. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Even if no merger materializes, the two miners could continue synergistically pooling their resources in areas where they already have commonality, just like they did at Barrick's Goldstrike mine where Newmont grants its rival access to the site (Newmont's properties envelope the Goldstrike project) and where they once shared mining costs at Deep Post. As Barrick owns six mines in the state and Newmont, 18, there's rich opportunity for cooperation and cost savings.

Newmont Mining has been an especially unloved gold stock, and is one miner I've thought represented a truly rare opportunity this year. As it and Barrick Gold have been at the merger table before, going back decades, this latest attempt could be just another false start. But with industry consolidation going strong, this may be their best chance yet to tie the knot.

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