March 28, 2017 / 12:04 PM / 2 years ago

More gold mining partnerships seen as industry eyes growth

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - More partnership deals are likely in the gold industry as miners start investing in new projects again but are keen to lower the risk, analysts said after Goldcorp Inc and Barrick Gold Corp’s announced a 50-50 joint venture in Chile.

FILE PHOTO -- An overview of Barrick Gold Corporation's Pueblo Viejo gold mine, one of the world's largest, is seen in Cotui December 11, 2013. Picture taken December 11, 2013. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas/File Photo

The joint venture will work on developing gold mines in northern Chile’s Maricunga belt and includes the Cerro Casale project, one of the world’s biggest undeveloped deposits.

After five years of painful belt-tightening as the price of gold fell, the industry’s biggest companies have started to loosen their purse strings to build mines and find new deposits to replenish falling production and reserves.

But miners remain cautious after Barrick and others suffered high-profile cost blowouts on developments during the last boom.

“The last thing the industry needs is another Sudbury (in northern Ontario), another Nevada, where you are building duplicate infrastructure on the same deposits,” Goldcorp Chief Executive Officer David Garofalo said in an interview.

Shares of Goldcorp were down 5.8 percent in midday trading, falling more than other gold stocks as investors remained unsure whether what was likely to be a big capital project would have a high enough rate of return to be built, Gabelli Gold Fund research analyst Chris Mancini said.

Barrick, the largest gold miner, was down 1.7 percent.

Development partnerships could make sense on other big gold projects, such as Seabridge Gold Inc’s KSM project in Canada and Northern Dynasty’s Pebble deposit in Alaska, Mancini said.

As part of a complex series of transactions costing Goldcorp about $445 million up front, the Vancouver-based company is buying fellow Canadian miner Kinross Gold’s 25 percent stake in Cerro Casale and all of its Quebrada Seca exploration project for an initial $260 million in cash.

Simultaneously, Goldcorp will also buy mine exploration and development company Exeter Resource Corp and its flagship Caspiche project 10 km (6 miles) from Cerro Casale for about $185 million in stock. Exeter shares surged 56 percent.

Goldcorp will also acquire a 25 percent stake in Cerro Casale from Barrick, whose holding in the project will decrease to 50 percent. The company will pay for the stake by funding all initial expenditures on Cerro Casale and by contributing the Caspiche project into the joint venture.

Barrick President Kelvin Dushnisky said the company looked forward to the “fresh perspective” Goldcorp could bring to the Cerro Casale project. The agreement also meant Barrick could direct its capital to other ventures while retaining exposure to the big deposit.

Cerro Casale contains proven and probable reserves of 23.2 million ounces of gold and 58.7 million ounces of silver. It also contains 5.8 billion pounds of copper.

A decision on whether to go ahead with mine construction is five to seven years away, Garofalo said, noting that Goldcorp and Barrick must still do several years of studies.

Kinross will enter into a water supply agreement with the joint venture as part of the sale, it said in a statement.

The company suspended operations at its Maricunga gold mine in Chile last August after a regulator’s decision to shut down the water system to the mine on environmental grounds.

Kinross said it expected to use the sale proceeds for in-house projects and to strengthen its balance sheet. Its shares were down 1.9 percent.

In 2015, Goldcorp partnered with diversified miner Teck Resources to develop neighboring mines in Chile to cut costs on building roads and other infrastructure, and to reduce their environmental footprint.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Von Ahn

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