Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s biggest gold miner, may take a writedown of as much as $5.5 billion on its Pascua-Lama project in the Andes after the price of the metal plunged close to a three-year low.
Barrick is also likely to take other “significant” impairment charges for the second quarter as it reviews goodwill and other assets, the Toronto-based company said yesterday in a statement.
Barrick now expects first production from the mine on the Chile-Argentina border in mid-2016, compared with a previous target of the second half of 2014. It will provide an updated capital cost estimate during the third quarter, after finalizing a new construction schedule. Barrick raised the cost estimate twice last year to as much as $8.5 billion.
Gold futures in New York have plunged 27 percent this year and slipped below $1,200 an ounce on June 27 for the first time since August 2010. A “storm of writedowns” is coming from the gold mining industry, Jake Greenberg, a metals and mining specialist at Jefferies International Ltd., said in a June 19 note.
Newcrest Mining Ltd. said earlier this month it expects to take a writedown of as much as $5.5 billion on its mines because of lower gold prices. The Melbourne-based company, which expects to write down its assets by about 25 percent of their book value as of Dec. 31, has seen its market value fall A$3.6 billion this month to A$7.6 billion.
Barrick said it plans to resequence development of Pascua-Lama, which means staffing levels will be reduced because construction is spread over a longer period of time. The company expects total spending on the project in 2013 and 2014 will now be $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion lower.
Construction on the Chilean side of Pascua-Lama has been halted since April, after a Chilean court accepted an injunction filed by indigenous communities and Chile’s environmental regulator later ordered workers to protect water supplies before the project can resume.
Barrick has submitted a plan for review by Chilean authorities to build the project’s water-management system in compliance with permit conditions, which it plans to complete by the end of 2014, followed by restarting the remaining construction work in Chile.
Pascua-Lama, which was originally forecast to cost no more than $3 billion when the construction was approved in 2009, is expected to produce an average of 800,000 to 850,000 ounces annually in its first five years of production.
The mine has “significant and strategic value for Barrick shareholders,” Chief Executive Officer Jamie Sokalsky said in the statement.
Barrick has dropped 52 percent this year. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Gold and Silver Index of 30 companies has fallen 46 percent in 2013.
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