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Talk about a face-lift!
After taking its long-overdue shot in the foot last year to cancel the gold mining industry's most infamous (and formerly paralyzing) book of gold hedges, Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) has reinvented itself as a massive machine of earnings growth in a rising gold-price environment.
Barrick this week reported adjusted net income of $741 million for the first quarter of 2010, which represents a phenomenal 149% increase over its prior-year result. Even as gold's ascent took a minor breather during the quarter -- after peaking near $1,220 per ounce in early December -- Barrick notched a sequential earnings gain of 22.7%.
The miner increased production 19% over prior-year volume, yielding more than two million ounces of gold in a single quarter. As a reference point to understand Barrick's enormous scale of operations, consider that well-known mid-tier miner Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY ) strives to double its annual production to 2 million ounces of gold by 2012. The world's second largest producer, Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM ) enjoyed a stellar first quarter on just 1.3 million ounces of production.
For all that heft, Barrick is well poised to grow larger still. After taking in net proceeds of $882 million for its recent spin-off of African operations, Barrick sits atop the golden food chain with a cash balance of $3.5 billion and an additional $1.5 billion in untapped credit. Even in this highly competitive environment for gold acquisitions -- exemplified by rival Goldcorp's (NYSE: GG ) contentious move to block Barrick's bid for an attractive asset in Chile -- Barrick enjoys both the resources and the healthy cash flow to ponder some sizeable acquisitions. The company already added an additional 25% interest in its Cerro Casale joint venture with Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC ) . I view this as Barrick's Chilean consolation prize for losing that key bid to Goldcorp.
Gold is presently exhibiting impressive price-strength. In fact, as denominated in several key currencies like the euro, the pound, and the yen, gold has already broken out to fresh new all-time highs. I believe we have entered the latter stages of this nearly five-month corrective pause in U.S. dollar gold prices. Recognizing this, I believe that cash-rich majors like Barrick and Newmont will not wait long before triggering the next round of consolidation that continues to alter the landscape of this dynamic industry.
For Barrick, which is already progressing rapidly toward production at key near-term growth projects like Pascua Lama and Pueblo Viejo, it may finally be time to make the long-anticipated move to acquire Donlin Creek joint-venture partner NovaGold Resources (AMEX: NG ) ... and fast-track two highly prospective projects that have recently regained some momentum after a long hiatus. With a reasonable $2 billion enterprise value, and exposure to two of the larger-scale gold and copper prospects in North America, I continue to view NovaGold as a terrific fit. After all, if you're going to undergo a face-lift, you might as well buy some fancy digs to show it off.