For thousands of years -- since ancient Egypt -- people have been digging gold out of the ground, and it likely will continue to be highly valued for many years to come.
Around the world, people have found places to sink their shovels and satisfy their appetites for the yellow stuff. But what are the largest mines producing gold today? The answers may surprise you.
Located in Nevada, the Cortez mine produced 1.059 million ounces of gold in 2016 -- about 6% more than its gold production from 2015. One of Barrick Gold's (NYSE:ABX) core mines, Cortez has proven-and-probable gold reserves of 10.2 million ounces as of December 31, 2016. Presumably, Cortez will stay among the largest producing gold mines for the foreseeable future -- management estimates gold production between 1.25 million and 1.29 million ounces in 2017.
Besides a rise in production, Barrick reported several other successes at the mine in 2016. For one, the company reduced all-in sustaining costs (AISC) by 14% year over year, to $518 per ounce. This, in part, contributed to an increase in profitability compared to 2015.
According to Barrick, the mine generated 18% more income and 33% more in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). Additionally, the company has numerous projects in development focused on mine expansion, ensuring gold production will continue for many years to come.
One of the more interesting aspects of Cortez is that it's the focus of a collaboration between Barrick and Cisco Systems . Working to digitize the operation, Barrick and Cisco will employ predictive data and analytics, among other things, to further reduce costs, illustrating how the mining industry stands to benefit from the advancement in digital technologies.
Jointly owned by Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) and the government of Indonesia, the Grasberg minerals district is comprised of three operating mines, which, together, produced 1.061 million ounces of gold in 2016. One of the largest gold deposits in the world, Grasberg has recoverable proven-and-probable gold reserves of 25.8 million ounces. Accounting for 98% of Freeport-McMoRan gold production in 2016, Grasberg generated $1.03 billion in operating income for fiscal 2016 -- about 32% of the total operating income that the company reported from mining operations.
It's questionable -- at best -- whether the mine will appear on the list of the largest gold-producing mines in 2017. The company halted operations at the mine in February, due to a disagreement with the Indonesian government regarding concentrate exports and other issues. According to the company's press release, "For each month of delay in obtaining approval to export, [the company's] share of production is projected to be reduced by approximately 70 million pounds of copper and 70 thousand ounces of gold."
Prior to the suspension of operations, the company had been engaged in numerous mine-expansion activities, which the company had forecast to total $1 billion in annual capital expenditures from 2017 through 2021.
For the second time, Barrick Gold appears on the list of the top gold-producing mines. This time, it's because of its ownership of the Goldstrike mine -- another of Barrick's core mines. Like Cortez, Goldstrike is located in the Carlin Trend, which Barrick recognizes as "the most prolific gold mining district in the Western Hemisphere."
In 2016, Goldstrike produced 1.096 million ounces of gold -- a 4% year-over-year increase -- due, in part, to higher autoclave production. The coming year is not expected to be as productive, though. Management forecasts gold production between 910,000 to 950,000 ounces. However, that's not to say that the future is losing its luster: Goldstrike has 8.08 million ounces in proven and probable gold reserves.
Although the company reported a 9% year-over-year increase in AISC, this didn't adversely affect profitability -- Goldstrike reported year-over-year increases of 8% in income and 25% increase in EBITDA. In the years to come, the profitability should improve further as the company unifies operations at Goldstrike with Cortez. On the company's fourth-quarter conference call, management suggested the unification of operations would ideally "secure at least $100 an ounce of [Barrick's] combined all-in sustaining cost there on a consistent and sustainable basis, primarily due to better planning and capital allocation and enhanced business improvement execution, including the implementation of digital systems."
According to Barrick, there's plenty of gold left to strike at Goldstrike. In the company's 40-F filling, the company reported "the expected remaining mine life at Goldstrike extends to 2023 for underground mining, to 2027 for open pit mining and to 2032 for processing operations."
2. Pueblo Viejo
Located in the Dominican Republic, Pueblo Viejo is a joint venture between Barrick Gold, which retains a 60% interest, and Goldcorp (NYSE:GG), which retains the remaining 40% interest. Pueblo Viejo, an open pit mine, accounted for 1.167 million ounces of gold in 2016.
Between Barrick's share and Goldcorp's share, Pueblo Viejo has proven-and-probable gold reserves of approximately 13.48 million ounces. In addition to Barrick and Goldcorp, Royal Gold also has an interest in Pueblo Viejo. In September 2015, Barrick signed a gold and silver streaming transaction with Royal Gold linked to Barrick's 60% interest in the mine.
Another of Barrick's core mines, Pueblo Viejo, remains a vital part of its portfolio. The mine holds a prominent position in Goldcorp's portfolio, as well. The company recognizes Pueblo Viejo as playing a key role in its goal of growing gold reserves by 20% over the next five years.
Like Barry Bonds' home-run record, Muruntau, the world's top gold-producing mine in 2016, comes with an asterisk. The Muruntau mine is owned by the Uzbekistani government, which is not very forthcoming when it comes to information relating to its mine. Nonetheless, according to mining.com, Muruntau produced approximately 2.15 million ounces of gold in 2014 and 2015. Presuming it produced a comparable amount, the mine retains the title of the top gold-producing mine in the world. In fact, its gold production would have to be nearly cut in half for it to fall behind Pueblo Viejo.
Muruntau is the world's largest open-pit mine, by area, and the world's fifth deepest. Again, due to the absence of free-flowing information, it's difficult to be certain, but some estimates place Muruntau's gold reserves as high as 170 million ounces.