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Barrick invites Newmont to restart merger talks

In this Jan. 29, 2014 photo, a drill finishes up the blast pattern at Barrick Gold Corp.'s Cortez Hills, Nev., open pit site.

Ross Andreson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Barrick Gold Corp. has formally asked Newmont Mining Corp. to resume merger talks after their negotiations hit an impasse late last week, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The North American-based gold miners had come close to agreeing on an all-stock deal, but their discussions broke down over which assets to spin out from the combined company, other sources have said.

The companies had aimed to make an announcement before their annual shareholder meetings this month. Colorado-based Newmont held its meeting in Delaware Wednesday morning, and Toronto-headquartered Barrick's meeting is scheduled for April 30.

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Barrick e-mailed the request to restart talks to Newmont, outlining the terms of their friendly proposal as well as issues that still must be resolved, according to the source familiar with what transpired.

Barrick's overture shows the company continues to pursue Newmont and now it is up to the American miner to respond. Although the companies see the value in merging, it is unclear whether they will revive formal discussions. Spokesmen for Barrick and Newmont declined comment.

Uniting the world's two largest gold producers would create a North American-based gold giant, with production topping 11 million ounces a year. It would also allow the miners to cut costs by combining their assets in the Americas and Australia – a critical selling point for shareholders.

The companies had found about $1-billion in savings, according to the terms of their most recent discussions, sources said. Analysts have disputed the amount as too high. But Barrick's founder and outgoing chairman Peter Munk said there were "significant synergies and cost savings" to be realized.

With a week left until he retires from Barrick, the 86-year-old Mr. Munk embarked on a media roadshow of sorts to discuss Barrick and the gold industry, and he also touted the cost-saving potential of a tie-up with Newmont.

If the gold companies resume talks and cut a deal, their fate will be left up to their shareholders. So far, they appear receptive.

"It would really create a pre-eminent North American asset in the gold sector that would have a premium valuation. That makes a lot of sense," said Greg Orrell, portfolio manager with U.S.-based OCM Gold Fund, which holds Newmont shares. Both companies have extensive operations in Nevada and have built duplicate power plants, mills and other infrastruture in the Southwestern U.S. state. Mr. Orrell said the miners should have joined forces years ago, but said "it still does make sense."

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Barrick shareholder Michael Sprung said the merger would be worth it if the companies realized the $1-billion in annual savings. "That's key," said Mr. Sprung, president of Sprung Investment Management, which holds Barrick shares.

Over the years, Barrick and Newmont have discussed merging. Their last attempt was in 2009 when gold prices were rising.

This time, the sharp downturn in commodities drove Barrick and Newmont to pursue each other. Both companies have divested assets, put projects on hold and recorded billions of dollars in writedowns to deal with the lower precious metal prices.

Before reports emerged that miners were in talks, Newmont's chief executive Gary Goldberg had told The Globe and Mail that the "potential" was still there to find cost savings in Nevada.

Under the terms of their recent discussions, Mr. Goldberg would have become chief executive of the new company and Barrick's incoming chairman John Thornton would have become executive chair.

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About the Author
Economics Reporter

Rachelle Younglai is The Globe and Mail's economics reporter. More

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