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When CEO Nick Holland took the reins at Gold Fields more than a year ago, his company had been forced into a reactive posture by a spate of challenges, including mine fatalities and electricity shortages. While fellow South African miners like AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE: AU ) and Harmony Gold Mining (NYSE: HMY ) faced similar conditions, I noted at the time that Nick Holland needed an "Easy Button."
When the company last year revealed an ambitious plan to increase gold production to 1 million ounces per quarter during 2009, I wondered whether the "Easy Button" had been found.
As any mining industry CEO will tell you, though, the path to increased production is invariably lined with potholes and pitfalls. The goal has now been deferred to sometime beyond fiscal 2010, but the accompanying roadmap makes the milestone appear well within reach.
Gold Fields' flagship South Deep mine, featuring almost 30 million ounces of gold reserves, is outpacing the company's own timetable for achieving 300,000 ounces of production next year. Citing "much greater confidence in the South Deep orebody and mine plan," Holland reiterated a longer-term production target approaching 800,000 ounces by 2014. Gold Fields is focusing efforts upon accessing additional ores at its underground operations, with an emphasis upon automation of extractive processes.
Meanwhile, Gold Fields is stepping up exploration efforts around the globe to enhance its already impressive trove of 81 million ounces of gold reserves. To place that collective treasure in context, consider that Goldcorp's (NYSE: GG ) 46 million ounces in reserves could convert to more bullion than the popular SPDR Gold Shares (NYSE: GLD ) ETF reports holding. With an astonishing 271 million ounces in reported resources, Gold Fields has plenty of room to convert resources to the more reliable category of reserves through exploratory drilling.
Selling its stake in Eldorado Gold (AMEX: EGO ) , Gold Fields recently opted for debt repayment over exposure to Chinese gold production. Holland also indicated a reluctance to seek acquisitions, citing difficulty locating accretive prospects. I disagree with this assessment, and believe that other miners like Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC ) will find bargains remaining in the gold patch.
The road ahead will not be easy for Gold Fields, as production from the depths of mature South African deposits seldom is, but I believe Holland will deliver on his revised production target, and see significant long-term potential in vetting and then developing some promising resources around the globe.