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Newscrest Mining announce first loss in over a decade: gold's in trouble

Net loss of US$5.77 bn

The largest gold miner in Australia has reported a net loss of US$5.77 bn. Photograph: Getty Images

The largest gold miner in Australia has reported a net loss of US$5.77 bn for the 2013 financial year, thanks to a massive $6.22 billion writedown in the value of its assets. Gold prices have fallen by nearly 30 per cent since January to a low in June of $1,180 per troy ounce, forcing Newscrest to curtail gold production at its most expensive mines and reassess the value of its assets.

Without the writedowns, underlying earnings stood at $451m, down from $1.11 bn last year, showing just what trouble gold miners are in globally. Adding to the company’s woes, Moody’s ratings agency downgraded Newscrest to Baa3, the lowest investment grade, and said the company could yet be in line for a further cut.

Production stood at 2.1m ounces for the year to June, 8 per cent lower than last year, thanks in part to the tumbling gold price, and to a series of disruptions at its mines in Australia, Indonesia, Ivory Coast and Papua New Guinea. The company is forecasting only a marginal increase to 2.3m ounces for 2014 and refused to forecast production beyond next year, citing market volatility.

Although the wheels have now clearly come off the wagon for Newscrest, the company’s financial health may not have been as good as it has appeared in the past either, with critics accusing the company of selectively briefing analysts as a number of investigations into its financial reporting have been launched.

Indonesian and Australian tax authorities have both placed the company under review, with the Australian investigation looking at six years of financial reports between 2005 and 2011. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission have also begun an investigation after investors appeared to anticipate a major corporate restructure on 7th June.

Newscrest’s trials and tribulations reflect the troubles the global mining industry currently finds itself in, with Barrick Gold last week announcing a second-quarter net loss of $8.56 bn, thanks to $8.7 bn in after-tax impairment charges driven by the declining gold price. The largest slice of the charge came from the Pascua-Lama project on the border of Chile and Argentina, which accounted for $5.1 bn. President and CEO Jamie Sokalsky said: “We are disappointed with the impairment charges for Pascua-Lama and other assets, but we are confident that these assets, some with mine lives in excess of 25 years, will generate substantially more economic benefits over time.”

It appears the market shares his optimism with the gold price rallying by $17 to $1,330 an ounce yesterday. This helped gold miners’ share prices to post a modest recovery, with Newscrest ending the day 7.2 per cent up. Whether this gain is a temporary blip or a long term recovery in the lustre of the gold market remains to be seen.