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TORONTO (Reuters) - Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) raised its dividend by 33 percent on Wednesday and reported a higher quarterly profit, but worries about costs at its copper operations pulled down the shares of the world's top gold miner.
The Toronto-based miner reaffirmed full-year gold production and cost forecasts, but copper output costs at its Lumwana mine in Zambia were higher than expected, and Barrick said it expects production from the mine to fall in the ongoing quarter, due to mill maintenance work.
Barrick shares fell 2.6 percent in midday trading and were among the top drags on the Toronto Stock Exchange's benchmark index on Wednesday. Barrick's New York-listed shares were down 2.7 percent at $39.34.
"Costs were higher and the copper production was not what everybody was expecting, so that's putting pressure (on the stock)," said Sid Mokhtari, director of institutional equity research at CIBC World Markets.
In a nod to investors who have been anxious for dividend increases from the cash-rich gold miner, Barrick raised its quarterly payout to 20 cents a share from 15 cents. The company is holding its annual shareholder meeting in Toronto on Wednesday.
Shares of Barrick and other gold miners have languished in recent months despite a strong gold price as investors have been concerned by rising costs and operational setbacks.
Gold miners have also faced a tougher time wooing investors recently due to the lure of exchange traded funds invested in the precious metal. Many see such funds as ideal vehicles for exposure to gold as they are not affected by the political and operational risks faced by miners.
The Arca Gold Bugs Index .HUI, which tracks stocks of the world's largest bullion miners, has fallen nearly 25 percent in the past 12 months even though the price of gold risen roughly 7.5 percent over the same period.
Barrick reported net income of $1.03 billion, or $1.03 a share, in the quarter ended March 31. That is up from $1 billion, or $1 a share, a year earlier.
Excluding one-time items, the company reported earnings of $1.09 billion, or $1.09 a share. This was roughly in line with the average Wall Street forecast of earnings of $1.11 a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
"We had good operating performance, which translated into solid financial results," said Barrick Chief Executive Aaron Regent said in a statement, adding that the company continues to make progress in advancing its key growth projects.
Barrick said its average realized gold price for the first quarter was $1,691 per ounce, up more than 20 percent from year-earlier levels.
Gold production in the quarter was 1.88 million ounces at a total cash cost of $545 an ounce. That compares with output of 1.96 million ounces at a total cash cost of $437 per ounce in the year-before quarter. Gold sales were 1.78 million ounces, down from 1.86 million ounces.
Barrick said its Zaldívar mine in Chile produced 76 million pounds of copper at a cash cost of $1.51 a pound in the period, while Lumwana - acquired in 2011 via Barrick's C$7.3 billion takeover of Equinox Minerals - produced 41 million pounds at a cash cost of $3.15 a pound.
The miner said production and cash costs at Lumwana were hurt by lower mining rates caused by poor ground conditions due to the wet season. It said these conditions are also likely to affect production at the mine in the current quarter.
Barrick reiterated its full-year gold production forecast of 7.3 million ounces to 7.8 million ounces, at a total cash cost of $520 to $560 per ounce.
Reporting By Euan Rocha and Jon Cook; Editing by Maureen Bavdek; and Peter Galloway