At least 2014 is getting off on the right foot for Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM), though after last year things really couldn't have gotten much worse. The gold miner lost 55% of its value in 2013 and had the distinction of being the worst-performing stock in the S&P 500. But Newmont kicked off the New Year with a 4% jump compared to the market indexes, which were down about 1%, and gold prices had jumped around $30 per ounce as well.
However, analysts fear that may be about as good as it gets for the miner. The ISM purchasing managers index slipped 0.3 points to 57 in December, its first decline in seven months, but still near its best performance level since early in 2011. On a 100-point scale, anything above 50 on the indexes is seen as an expanding economy and the improvement being witnessed could cause the Federal Reserve to cut back further on its quantitative easing policies. It was that concern that had the markets falling to start off the year.
Yet I'm not so sure Newmont won't do better than that. The gold miner, like others in the industry, has initiated cost-cutting programs that helped it produce better-than-expected earnings results, with fiscal year second-quarter net income coming in at $408 million, or $0.82 per share, up from $367 million a year ago. Although the adjusted results of $0.46 per share showed a near-50% drop from last year's $0.86 effort, it was still much better than what Wall Street anticipated.
Sure, revenues were down for the year but it was also able to reduce consolidated spending by $700 million year to date. And with its Akyem gold mine in Ghana and Phoenix Copper Leach expansion project in Nevada both achieving commercial production, some of the pressure will be coming off the miner to produce.
Now I'll admit I'm not so certain the Minas Conga project in Peru will be a helpful addition anytime soon, but it does have the government's backing and ministers there seem to be doing their level best to minimize what has up till now been fairly potent opposition. Considering Southern Copper's (NYSE:SCCO) Tia Maria mine found itself in a similar situation as Newmont and seems poised to secure its environmental permits to become operational, it just might be that Conga gets the green light, too.
Of course, there's going to be a hit to reserves early on in 2014 when they reset them based on estimated gold prices, though each miner sets its own. When Newmont calculated its reserves last February, it used a gold price of $1,400 an ounce, about $200 an ounce below the going price at the time. Barrick Gold (NYSE:GOLD) used $1,500 per ounce and Kinross Gold (NYSE:KGC) calculated it at $1,200 per ounce.
With miners like IAMGOLD (NYSE:IAG) and AngloGold Ashanti having relatively high all-in sustaining costs that are hovering around the current price of gold, they may need to take substantial writedowns on their assets just as Barrick did last year when it wrote off billions of dollars as prices fell. Now, however, the revaluations will be based on their reserves.
I think Newmont Mining took the hard road it needed to in 2013, and though it certainly paid the price, I think that works to its advantage in 2014 and investors should find more than a nugget of hope in that result.