After years of excess in the mining industry, gold miners are now starting to wake up and realize that they need to get their act together. Indeed, there has been a lot of talk about restructuring and cost cutting during the last year or so, and Newmont Mining Corp (NYSE:NEM), one of the first large gold miners to report its fourth-quarter production results has confirmed that things within the industry are changing. In addition, there is an amount of consolidation going on within the gold mining sector as profitable companies make use of depressed valuations to swoop in on peers; Primero Mining Corp (NYSE:PPP) is one of these predators.
Within its fourth quarter production report, Newmont revealed that is was making progress streamlining operations, cutting spending while driving profits higher. The company's attributable gold production for the fourth quarter was 1.5 million ounces, taking yearly production to 5.1 million ounces; at the top end of estimates. The company also divested $600 million of non-core assets in the period.
However, what's really interesting here is the company's outlook for 2014. In particular, Newmont's management is forecasting gold output for the year of 5.1 to 5.3 million ounces, while overhead expenses are slated to fall 20%. Current forecasts predict an all-in-sustaining cost of production per ounce of gold to be in the region of $1,075 to $1,175. This forecast is slightly lower than Newmont's full-year 2013 forecast, which predicted AISC's in the region of $1,100 to $1,200 -- a lower AISC brings to an end years of rapidly rising costs in the mining industry.
So all in all, with a 20% cut in overheads and a lower cost of production, Newmont should be ready for a good year next year, as long as the gold price moves in its favor.
Across the industry
But it's not just the larger miners that are driving down costs. Indeed, as I mentioned above Harmony Gold Mining (NYSE:HMY) has also been driving down costs despite struggling with a volatile labor market within South Africa. In addition, the company is ramping up output. During the fiscal third quarter the company's output increased by 12%, operating profit increased 55%, and the company's AISC dropped 19% from the previous quarter.
That being said, Harmony's AISC stood at $1,264 for the third quarter, above the current gold price, so it's not all good news.
However, the current turmoil in emerging financial markets and unrest in South Africa have sent the South African rand to a 10-year high against the dollar. As a result, the price of gold, expressed in South African rand has rebounded to levels not seen since 2012 -- Great news for Harmony as the company pays its workers in rand, which implies that costs will drop further over the next few months.
While some miners have been overspending and struggling with rising costs, other have remained prudent and profitable from the outset; Primero Mining is one such company. Primero has been ramping up production recently, averaging 41,998 gold equivalent ounces in the third quarter of last year, up from 25,582 in 2012. Production costs were $974 per ounce in the third quarter, down 22% year on year. Primero is also financially stable with a reported debt-to-equity ratio of only 4.6% at the end of the fiscal third quarter. On a net-debt-to-equity basis Primero was sitting in a net cash position.
With this robust financial position, Primero has made a swoop on Brigus gold, an equally profitable gold miner. For example, during the fiscal third quarter Brigus sold 28,344 ounces of gold, a 49% year-on-year increase. The company's AISC of production was $992 per ounce of gold sold, and cash generated from operations was $15.5 million, a 38% year-on-year increase. Primero's management expects this merger to be immediately accretive to both production and cash flow and shareholders should reap the benefits from the joining of these two great mining companies .
In conclusion, it would appear that the gold mining industry is changing for the better. Costs are falling and miners are starting to realize that they need to make up for the mistakes they made in the past. Meanwhile, companies such as Primero, which have remained profitable throughout, are looking for acquisitions, which, if conducted correctly should be long-term beneficial for shareholders.
Rupert Hargreaves has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.