Barrick Gold's Chairman Lashes Out at Newmont Mining

The failure for the two gold giants to tie up this month is laid at the feet of the chairman's rival.

Apr 29, 2014 at 1:09PM

Well, that's one way to pursue a merger. Outgoing Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX) Chairman Peter Munk blasted his counterparts running Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM) as not being shareholder-friendly.

Peter Munk

Source: Barrick Gold.

"That's the kind of people they are, and that's why it's so difficult to make a deal," Munk said, obviously not caring to endear himself any longer to the Newmont team. Of course, Munk is on his way out the door, retiring from the company he founded following a string of decisions on Barrick's end that its shareholders weren't exactly fond of either, including overpaying for Australian copper miner Equinox, a stalled gold and copper project in Chile, and a stock price that's lost two-thirds of its value over the past few years as the price of gold tumbled.

Munk sets up the clash between the world's top two miners as one of differing cultures. On the one side is the conservative team at Newmont, which cautiously approached acquisitions, and on the other is Barrick, a miner willing to at times go out on a limb. Case in point is Barrick's Goldstrike mine in Nevada that Newmont had passed on buying in the mid-1980s because it believed the grade of gold wasn't worth the trouble, but for which Barrick paid $65 million -- a sum that it was criticized for as overpaying -- and subsequently found rich grades buried deep that eventually turned it into a premier mine.

The two have engaged in merger talks for decades and Munk says each time they've fallen apart because of their differing corporate cultures. Although they've operated on quite friendly terms over the years on their adjacent properties in Nevada, and Barrick has resisted taking a hostile posture against Newmont as a result, it must be something of a bitter loss for Munk that he wasn't able to bring his rival to heel before his tenure ended.

Reports, however, say Barrick isn't giving up its pursuit, having recently sent revised terms to Newmont to get the deal done. If successful, the merger would create a $33 billion mining behemoth with quality assets around the globe, one that both sides say could achieve upwards of $1 billion annually, though analysts are skeptical they could be so high, believing instead they might range closer to $150 million to $500 million.

So I'm not sure how publicly chastising the people you're wooing fits into the larger merger scheme, but the stakes for both miners are higher now than they have been in the past. Their stock prices remain depressed, gold still trades 30% below its highs, and the two need to reduce high debt loads. Barrick Gold can't be afford to be seen as overpaying for an acquisition once again, but after Newmont Mining just posted first-quarter results showing it achieved lower costs and is anticipating higher production, Peter Munk's outburst does nothing to help jawbone the price lower.

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