It's fun to root for the little guy, but it's hard to view the big picture through a microscope.
Although I have consistently encouraged Fools to focus their forays into the precious-metals mining sector upon select intermediate and junior-scale producers, investors aiming to keep their fingers on the pulse of this sector must pay close attention to the titans of gold.
The Titanic begins to resurface
To fund the cancellation of the offending contracts, Barrick diluted shareholder equity to the tune of 12.5% with an offering of 109 million shares, and recently added a further $1.25 billion to long-term debt. Although the growing consensus for advancing gold prices renders these moves entirely necessary, Barrick's bitter medicine is certainly a tough pill for investors to swallow. Roughly $3 billion has been deployed thus far to reduce total liabilities from hedges and floating contracts to $2.8 billion as of October 28, while $2.1 billion in raised capital remains available.
Barrick expects to achieve its full-year 2009 production guidance of 7.2 million to 7.6 million ounces of gold at total cash costs of $450 to $475 per ounce. Adjusting for copper and other by-product credits, that cost could come in as low as $360 per ounce. Anticipating further cost reductions in 2010 amid production approaching 8 million ounces, Barrick's already-healthy operating margins appear to offer further room for improvement.
In the all-important quest for major producers to replace production amid a tightening global supply of defined resources, Barrick Gold leveraged a silver stream agreement penned with Silver Wheaton
A second opinion from No. 2
The world's second-largest producer, Newmont Mining
Unlike Barrick, Newmont is projecting higher gold production costs in 2010 as a result of rising fuel costs and unfavorable currency exchange rates. Because those particular cost drivers represent common inputs throughout the mining industry, this Fool finds Newmont's projections more indicative of the coming cost trend for the sector. Just as costs peaked for gold miners more than a year ago, I believe that they are now poised to resume their upward trajectory.
With another timely reminder that mine development plans and commissioning schedules are never etched in stone, Newmont cited the sluggish ramp-up of production at the world-class Boddington mine in Australia for the reduction in full-year production guidance to the low end of its prior range at 5.2 million ounces.
The quickening pulse of the gold miners
Echoing Newmont's experience with the Boddington mine, similar downward revisions to gold production estimates have emerged from some significant producers in recent weeks ... including Kinross Gold
As a collective, gold miners face a daunting array of challenges in the years to come. In addition to the likelihood of rising production costs and the increasing scarcity of new discoveries to replace current production pipelines, miners must brace for the potential income-eating impact of a deteriorating U.S. dollar. Increasing scrutiny of the environmental impacts of gold mining appears likely amid an overdue cultural shift into greater environmental awareness. As gold prices rise, so too does the potential for protectionist measures ... or even nationalization of gold assets.
Risks and challenges abound, but careful investors can take solace in the expectation that each of these challenges is common to the industry as a whole, and therefore would ultimately be reflected in the price of gold. I continue to view the mid-tier miners as particularly well-positioned to confront these myriad challenges, and I recommend some measure of gold exposure for every Foolish portfolio. Now that you know what I think, vote in the Motley Poll below to voice your own Foolish perspective.