Barrick net income falls to US$620 million, less than half year-earlier profit

Barrick Gold Corp. is moving to rein in costs in the face of a soaring bill for its massive Pascua-Lama mine on the border between Chile and Argentina and weaker than expected third-quarter results.

The company, which keeps its books in U.S. dollars, said Thursday it has cut US$1 billion in capital spending plans for next year and is reviewing all of its other costs.

“We’ve cut or deferred significant capital expenditures that were previously budgeted and we’re continuing to work toward optimizing our asset portfolio,” chief executive Jamie Sokalsky said.

Shares in Barrick fell C$3.83 or more than nine per cent to close at C$36.56 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The reduction in capital spending, about evenly split between cuts and deferred spending, comes in addition to about US$3 billion in capital spending that was planned over the next four years but cut in the second quarter.

Barrick estimated that its capital spending for 2013 will come in around the same as this year, roughly $6 billion to $6.3 billion.

The spending review comes as estimates for the company’s Pascua-Lama project now project the cost to build the mine at between $8 billion and $8.5 billion.

Barrick estimated earlier this year that the mine’s cost would be 50 to 60 per cent more than an even earlier estimate of $4.7 billion to $5 billion.

The results of an ongoing cost review is expected to be completed by the time the company reports its full-year results for 2012.

Sokalsky noted that Fluor, the company that helped build its Pueblo Viejo mine, which poured its first gold on time and on budget and is expected to start commercial production in December, is now working on Pascua-Lama.

“We have significantly increased our confidence that we are getting on top of this project,” Sokalsky said.

“Pascua-Lama, while it has its challenges, is a world class asset … this will be a mine with a 25-year mine life providing significant low-cost production to Barrick for many years to come.”

The gold miner said Thursday it earned a profit of $620 million or 62 cents per share — less than half what Barrick earned at the same time last year.

In the third quarter of 2011, Barrick (TSX:ABX) had $1.37 billion or $1.37 per share of net earnings.

Revenue dropped to US$3.43 billion from $3.97 billion.

Barrick reported an adjusted profit of 85 cents per share, down from $1.38 per share a year ago.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of $1 per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

The third-quarter profit included $148 million of impairment charges, primarily related to an exploration property in Papua New Guinea, acquired as a result of the Kainantu acquisition in 2007.

Barrick says its realized average gold price was US$1,655 per ounce, five per cent lower than the same period last year.

The company estimated that its 2012 gold production will come in between 7.3 million and 7.5 million ounces, within the original guidance range of 7.3 million to 7.8 million ounces.

However, the company estimated that its total cash costs would come in higher than expected due to higher costs at its Australia-Pacific operations and African Barrick Gold.

The company said total cash costs are expected to be between $575 and $585 per ounce, compared with an earlier estimate of $550 to $575 per ounce.

Copper production is also expected to fall short of the company’s guidance at 450 million pounds, compared with a forecast of 460 million to 500 million.

RBC analyst Stephen Walker said the results would hurt the company’s shares.

“The miss was due to lower than expected gold production, mainly on less than expected production at Cortez and at the African gold mines, and higher operating costs for both gold and copper,” Walker wrote in a note to clients.

“The company noted that it has made progress at Pascua Lama, despite the increase in capex and delay in expected mine startup.”

In August, Toronto-based Barrick confirmed it was in talks with China National Gold Group Corp. over the future of its African assets, which include African Barrick Gold.

ABG was formed when Barrick decided to spin off its African operations into a separate company and its shares began trading on the London exchange in March 2010. Barrick holds a 73.9 per cent interest in the company, which is Tanzania’s largest gold producer and one of the five largest gold producers in Africa.

Barrick owns and operates gold mines in Canada, the United States, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Australia and Papua New Guinea.