What Will It Take to Get Barrick Gold Back on Track?

Barrick Gold continues to expand its mining operations in Nevada. Will this be enough to pull the company’s stock back up?

Jul 7, 2014 at 1:42PM

Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX) continues to face problems with high debt, a failed merger with Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM), and delays in construction at its Pascua-Lama mine. Conversely, the company's expansion in Nevada could be a silver lining in the near term. Let's take a closer look at two of Barrick Gold's assets: Goldrush in Nevada, and Pascua-Lama. What are the main advantages and challenges these assets pose on this company?

Nevada -- rising output
Barrick Gold's two largest assets in Nevada, Cortez and Goldstrike,  will account for nearly 30% of its total output in 2014. Moreover, both of these mines' all-in sustaining costs are expected to be below the company's average cost per ounce at $765 and $935, respectively.

The company plans to expand its reach in Nevada with its Goldrush project, which is expected to become operational by mid-2015. Goldrush's proven resources are estimated at 10 million ounces of gold as of the end of 2013 -- nearly 16% higher than early projections. Probable reserves are projected at 5.6 million ounces of gold. This project could increase Barrick Gold's contracting annual output, which is estimated at 6.25 million ounces for this year; this is roughly 13% lower than 2013's output.

Considering that the all-in sustaining costs in Barrick Gold's other sites in Nevada are low, Goldrush's production per ounce could also be low. This would further bring down the company's average all-in sustaining costs per ounce.

The company is putting a lot into expanding its operations in Nevada, as around 50% of its $2.5 billion capex is allocated toward North America and a big portion of this budget is dedicated to Goldrush in order to meet its guidance. Barrick Gold also has other assets that could keep curbing its growth, however, such as Pascua-Lama on the border of Chile and Argentina. 

Pascua-Lama: Risky business
On the other end of Barrick Gold's assets, there is Pascua-Lama. This mine continues to hemorrhage cash, and it's still unclear when the company will resume construction on site. This year alone, Barrick allocated $300 million to spend on environmental and social obligations related to this mine. The construction was suspended back in last 2013 and has yet to reopen.  

The delay and additional costs will have a strong negative impact on this project's net present value. A back-of-the-envelope calculation of the NPV of this project (assuming a gold price of 1,300 per ounce, 850,000 ounces of gold produced annually for 18 years, an all-in sustaining cost of $850 per ounce, and a discount rate of 8%) comes to $3.5 billion. This figure doesn't take into account the additional investments that the company has put into this project or that it may have to incur in the coming years. 

Based on this figure, the $300 million environmental obligations to be spent this year will bring down this project's NPV by over 8%. Down the line, this project might require additional and unexpected funds, which could only further reduce its NPV. Therefore, this project will keep dragging down the company's valuation. 

The company also has additional obligations toward other companies that have a stake in this mine, such as Silver Wheaton (NYSE:SLW). Since Barrick Gold won't be able to deliver this mine's expected output on time, the company revised its streaming agreement to deliver precious metals from its other mines to Silver Wheaton. In other words, Barrick Gold recorded a drop in revenue from its other mines to compensate for the delay in Pascua-Lama. 

Foolish bottom line
Barrick Gold is making the right decision by dedicating a big chunk of its capex toward opening the Goldrush site as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Pascua-Lama site could keep dragging its valuation down until the uncertainty around this project dissipates or it sells this asset. 

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Lior Cohen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Silver Wheaton. (USA). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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