Barrick Gold Corp (USA) (NYSE:ABX) reported strong first quarter results, with operating cash flow of $495 million, free cash flow of $161 million, and production and costs in line with expectations. Our focus remains on maintaining and growing industry-leading margins, driven by innovation and our digital transformation, managing our portfolio and allocating capital and talent with discipline and rigor, and leveraging our distinctive partnership culture as a competitive advantage.
Reflecting our focus on operational excellence and Best-in-Class performance, the integration of our Cortez and Goldstrike mines in Nevada is on track, with stronger-than-anticipated first quarter results and the accelerated rollout of digital mining solutions. Higher capital expenditures in the first quarter were in line with plan, and underscore our commitment to disciplined investment in 2017, as we re-invest in our business to deliver high margin ounces and growth in free cash flow per share over the long term.
We further optimized our portfolio through the creation of distinctive new partnerships. In early April, we announced a partnership with Shandong Gold Group that will help us generate more value from the Veladero mine in the short term, while potentially unlocking the untapped mineral wealth of the El Indio Belt in Argentina and Chile over the long term. In addition, we announced the creation of a new joint venture with Goldcorp at the Cerro Casale project in Chile, and new exploration partnerships with ATAC Resources and Osisko Mining, opening up new avenues to grow the long-term value of our portfolio.
First quarter net earnings were $679 million ($0.58 per share), compared to a net loss of $83 million ($0.07 per share) in the prior-year period. A significant improvement in net earnings was largely due to approximately $1.125 billion of net impairment reversals ($522 million net of tax effect and non-controlling interest) recorded in the first quarter of 2017, reflecting the indicative fair value of the Cerro Casale project resulting from our divestment of 25 percent, and the associated partnership agreement with Goldcorp. Net earnings also benefited from lower currency translation losses compared to the first quarter of 2016, when the Company recorded $91 million of currency translation losses, primarily related to Australian entities.
Adjusted net earnings for the first quarter were $162 million ($0.14 per share), compared to $127 million ($0.11 per share) in the prior-year period. Higher adjusted net earnings reflect the impact of higher gold and copper prices, partially offset by higher depreciation, higher exploration and evaluation expenses, and slightly higher direct mining costs.
Operating cash flow increased to $495 million, compared to $451 million in the first quarter of 2016. Higher operating cash flow was driven by higher gold and copper prices, as well as lower interest payments, reflecting the impact of significant debt reduction completed over the past year. These favorable movements were partially offset by unfavorable working capital movements compared to the prior-year period. Free cash flow for the first quarter was $161 million, compared to $181 million in the first quarter of 2016. Lower free cash flow primarily reflects higher planned sustaining capital expenditures in the first quarter, as well as increased project spending at Barrick Nevada, primarily related to the development of Crossroads and the Cortez Hills lower zone, in addition to Goldrush project expenditures. These increases were partially offset by higher operating cash flow.
Restoring a Strong Balance Sheet
Achieving and maintaining a strong balance sheet remains a top priority. We intend to reduce our total debt from $7.9 billion at the start of 2017, to $5 billion by the end of 2018-half of which we are targeting this year. We will achieve this by using cash flow from operations, further portfolio optimization, and the creation of new joint ventures and partnerships.
In the first quarter, total debt was reduced by $178 million. In early April, the company announced the sale of 50 percent of the Veladero mine in Argentina to Shandong Gold for $960 million, the majority of which will be allocated to debt reduction.
At the end of the first quarter, Barrick had a consolidated cash balance of approximately $2.3 billion. The Company now has less than $100 million in debt due before 2019. About $5 billion, or 64 percent of our outstanding total debt of $7.8 billion, does not mature until after 2032.
Operating Highlights and Outlook
Barrick produced 1.31 million ounces of gold in the first quarter at a cost of sales of $833 per ounce, in line with plan. This compares to 1.28 million ounces at a cost of sales of $810 per ounce in the prior-year period.
All-in sustaining costs in the first quarter were $772 per ounce, compared to $706 per ounce in the first quarter of 2016. Approximately 90 percent of this increase, or roughly $58 per ounce, is a result of higher sustaining capital expenditures compared to the prior-year period. Significant items in the first quarter included planned capitalized stripping at Barrick Nevada, increased expenditures at Veladero relating to phase 4B and 5B of the leach pad, and other equipment purchases. Over the same period, cash costs decreased, from $553 per ounce in the first quarter of 2016 to $545 per ounce in the first quarter of 2017.
Gold production in the first quarter was impacted by the timing of autoclave maintenance at the Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic. Heavy rains, road closures. and power outages associated with the El Niño weather pattern also impacted production at the Lagunas Norte mine in Peru. Both operations remain on track to achieve their original full-year production guidance.
The Company produced 95 million pounds of copper in the first quarter, at a cost of sales of $1.73 per pound, and all-in sustaining costs of $2.19 per pound. This compares to 111 million pounds, at a cost of sales of $1.34 per pound, and all-in sustaining costs of $1.97 per pound in the first quarter of 2016. Lower copper production in the first quarter was primarily the result of lower production at the Lumwana mine in Zambia, as a result of lower tonnes processed, combined with lower grades.
We now expect full-year gold production of 5.3-5.6 million ounces, down from our previous range of 5.6-5.9 million ounces. A significant portion of this reduction is attributable to the anticipated sale of 50 percent of Veladero, which is expected to close at the end of the second quarter. Our updated guidance assumes no change to Acacia’s full-year guidance as a result of the export ban on concentrates currently affecting Acacia’s operations in Tanzania. It also assumes the resumption of normal processing activities at Veladero in June, subject to government approval of proposed modifications to the mine’s operating systems.
We continue to expect full-year cost of sales attributable to gold to be $780-$820 per ounce, and all-in sustaining costs of $720-$770 per ounce.
Our copper production guidance for 2017 is unchanged at 400-450 million pounds, at a cost of sales applicable to copper between $1.50-1.70 per pound, and all-in sustaining costs of $2.10-$2.40 per pound.
On March 28, a coupling on a pipe carrying gold-bearing solution at the Veladero mine heap leach facility failed. Solution released from the rupture was contained within the operating site and did not result in any impact to the environment or people. The Company promptly notified San Juan provincial authorities, who inspected the site on March 29. On March 30, the Government of San Juan province temporarily restricted the addition of cyanide to the Veladero mine’s heap leach facility, pending the completion of works to strengthen and improve the mine’s operating systems.
Barrick presented its proposed work plan to San Juan provincial authorities on April 21, following extensive consultation with both federal and provincial officials and regulators. The provincial government has indicated it will take approximately two weeks to review the Company’s proposals, a process that will also include federal authorities, including the national Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. Initial work on the proposed modifications to the heap leach facility has already begun, concurrent with the review by provincial and federal authorities. Our updated guidance assumes a resumption of normal leaching activities at the mine in June, subject to approval by the Government of San Juan province, the lifting of operating restrictions by the San Juan provincial court, and the resolution of regulatory and legal matters by the federal and provincial courts (for more information about these matters, please see Note 17 “Contingencies” of Barrick’s first quarter financial statements and the notes thereto). This assumption is based on our assessment of the time required to complete the proposed modifications to the leach pad. The timing of approval for the resumption of leaching activities will depend on the actual progress of work, any potential new requirements, and a final evaluation of the completed modifications by provincial authorities. In parallel with the submission of a new technical plan for the operation, Barrick has also presented an updated community investment and engagement plan to the Government of San Juan and federal authorities for review.
On a 100 percent basis, we now expect full-year production at Veladero of 630,000-730,000 ounces of gold, at a cost of sales of $740-$790 per ounce, and all-in sustaining costs of $890-$990 per ounce. Barrick’s share of full-year production, assuming 50 percent ownership from July 1, is expected to be 430,000-480,000 ounces of gold. This compares to our original 2017 guidance of 770,000-830,000 ounces (100 percent basis), at a cost of sales of $750-$800 per ounce, and all-in sustaining costs of $840-$940 per ounce.
PORTFOLIO OPTIMIZATION AND PARTNERSHIPS
The creation of new partnerships and joint ventures is a core element of our strategy to grow free cash flow per share over the long term. So far this year, we have entered into four new partnerships in support of this long-term strategy.
Strategic Cooperation Agreement with Shandong
On April 6, Barrick announced that it had entered into a strategic cooperation agreement with Shandong Gold Group Co., Ltd., the leading underground mining company in China, based in Jinan, Shandong province. As a first step in the new partnership, Shandong Gold Mining Co., Ltd, the listed company of Shandong Gold Group, will acquire 50 percent of Barrick’s Veladero mine in San Juan province, Argentina, for $960 million. As a second step, Barrick and Shandong will form a working group to explore the joint development of the Pascua-Lama deposit. As a third step, both companies will evaluate additional investment opportunities on the highly prospective El Indio Gold Belt on the border of Argentina and Chile, which hosts a cluster of world-class gold mines and projects including Veladero, Pascua-Lama, and Alturas. The transaction is expected to close at the end of the second quarter.
Cerro Casale Joint Venture
On March 28, Barrick announced that it has reached an agreement with Goldcorp Inc. to form a new partnership at the Cerro Casale Project in Chile. Under the terms of the agreement, Goldcorp has agreed to purchase a 25 percent interest in Cerro Casale from Barrick, as well as Kinross Gold Corporation’s 25 percent interest, resulting in a 50/50 joint venture between Barrick and Goldcorp. The agreement brings a fresh perspective to the project, along with the potential for synergies in the district. It also allows us to direct capital elsewhere in our portfolio, while ensuring Barrick shareholders retain exposure to the optionality associated with one of the largest undeveloped gold and copper deposits in the world. The resulting increase in carrying value illustrates how Barrick’s partnership approach is surfacing value associated with otherwise dormant options within our asset portfolio.
ATAC Resources Exploration Earn-In and Private Placement
On April 10, ATAC Resources announced that it had reached an earn-in agreement with Barrick at ATAC’s Orion project in the Yukon, Canada. The Orion Project hosts the Orion and Anubis Carlin-type gold discoveries, in addition to eight other early stage Carlin-type gold prospects. These form part of the largest Carlin-type mineralized system in North America outside of Nevada. Barrick has extensive experience and expertise with Carlin-type deposits in Nevada. Barrick has the option to spend C$35 million over five years to acquire a 60 percent interest in the project, after which the companies would form a joint venture. We will then have the option to earn an additional 10 percent by spending a further C$20 million at the project. Barrick will also purchase ATAC common shares through a charity flow-through private placement for a total cost to Barrick of C$6.3 million, increasing Barrick’s shareholding in ATAC from approximately 9.2 percent to 19.9 percent.
Osisko Mining Exploration Earn-In
On March 27, Osisko Mining Inc. announced that it had commenced its previously announced earn-in agreement with Barrick on the Kan property in northern Québec. Under the earn-in agreement, Barrick must commit $15 million in exploration expenditures by December 31, 2020, to earn a 70 percent interest in the Kan property, subject to certain annual expenditure thresholds. Following the formation of a joint venture, Barrick may earn a further five percent interest by funding an additional $5 million of project level expenditures. The Labrador Trough in northern Québec is home to numerous well known iron ore deposits and base metal prospects. We believe it has been under appreciated for its gold potential, and could develop into a core mineral district for Barrick. The partnership will leverage the on-the-ground experience and expertise of Osisko in this region, with Barrick Exploration team members embedded at the project.
Shares of Barrick Gold are down nearly 2% to $18.61 in after-hours trading Monday. ABX has a 1-year high of $23.47 and a 1-year low of $13.81. The stock’s 50-day moving average is $19.05 and its 200-day moving average is $17.41.
On the ratings front, ABX has been the subject of a number of recent research reports. In a report issued on April 18, RBC analyst Stephen Walker reiterated a Buy rating on the stock, with a price target of $23, which implies an upside of 21% from current levels. On April 6, Jefferies’ Chris LaFemina reiterated a Buy rating on the stock and has a price target of $21.
According to TipRanks.com, which ranks over 7,500 financial analysts and bloggers to gauge the performance of their past recommendations, Stephen Walker and Chris LaFemina have a yearly average return of 6.2% and a loss of 5.1% respectively. Walker has a success rate of 52% and is ranked #520 out of 4557 analysts, while LaFemina has a success rate of 42% and is ranked #4190.
Overall, one research analyst has rated the stock with a Sell rating, 2 research analysts have assigned a Hold rating and 4 research analysts have given a Buy rating to the stock. When considering if perhaps the stock is under or overvalued, the average price target is $23.50 which is 23% above where the stock opened today.
Barrick Gold Corp. engages in the production and sale of gold and copper, as well as related activities such as exploration and mine development. The firm produces gold mines in Canada, U.S., Peru, Argentina and the Dominican Republic and produces copper mine in Zambia. It operates through the following units: Cortez, Goldstrike, Lagunas Norte, Pueblo Viejo, and Valedero.