Even though gold has seen a modest price jump recently, the precious metal has been in a slump for so long that Barrick Gold (NYSE:GOLD) is being forced to change its outlook for pricing this year, whacking the valuation of its assets and marking them down by some $3 billion.
Barrick recently announced preliminary production guidance for the full year of 2015, saying it was in line with its previously revised outlook. Gold production would come in around 6.12 million ounces, in line with its forecast of 6 million to 6.15 million ounces, and copper would hit 511 million pounds, also within the range it set out before of 480 million to 520 million pounds.
However, the miner had previously forecast gold production for the year would be between 6.1 million and 6.3 million ounces -- itself a revision of its original outlook, which estimated production between 6.2 million to 6.6 million ounces -- but was hurt by equipment failure at its Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic.
Barrick owns 60% of the project while Goldcorp (NYSE:GG) owns the other 40%, but Goldcorp still expects to be able to hit the midpoint of its guidance of between 3.3 million and 3.6 million ounces.
Barrick's Latin American markets have proven to be a real headache, and none more so than its open pit Pascua Lama project in Chile that has been stalled for years. Potentially lucrative with 15.4 million ounces of gold reserves and more than 674 million ounces of contained silver, the gold miner faces numerous outstanding legal and regulatory hurdles, and after spending years battling local communities and environmentalists who opposed its development, it's going take years more to resolve all the issues.
The miner admits it's sunk billions into a project that's gone nowhere and continues to drain resources, and it needs to decide whether it remains economically feasible to continue pouring money into it in the future.
But Barrick is not alone in its struggle, as gold miners globally are suspending operations. Whether it's like Eldorado Gold (NYSE: EGO), which is battling the Greek government over its Skouries mine because of environmental concerns, causing it to take a $1.6 billion charge, or Goldcorp permanently closing underground operations at its Timmins Dome project in Canada -- one of the oldest operating gold mines in North America -- because of crumbling gold prices, the mining community is under siege.
That combination is also causing Barrick to take a big writedown on the valuation of not only Pascua Lama, but also Pueblo Viejo. In its preliminary production report, Barrick said it was taking asset impairment charges of between $1 billion and $1.2 billion related to the two mines, but would also be writing down as much as $1.8 billion in goodwill relating to them.
The miner says the charges are based on a gold price assumption of $1,000 per ounce for 2016 and a long-term gold price assumption of $1,200 a troy ounce. That would be a 14% drop in the average realized price it saw in 2015, which was worse than the 8% decline it experienced the year before. BloombergBusiness reports last year the miner used $1,250 an ounce as its short-term gold price assumption for impairment tests and $1,300 for long term value.
Yet Barrick Gold remains one of the lowest cost majors with all-in sustaining costs of $771 per ounce, and is better able to weather the weakness in the gold market than can other high-cost producers. Yet as oil and other commodities continue to collapse, gold is regaining its luster and recently closed around $1,120 per ounce.
The doomsday scenario the gold miner is using is more of a rear-facing mirror, but it could very well set the stage for a strong rebound as it looks out the windshield over the very near future.