Bristow ready to extend stay at Barrick indefinitely as ponders future of blockbusting M&A

Mark Bristow, CEO, Barrick Gold

BARRICK Gold CEO, Mark Bristow, who in 2018 indicated he was looking at a final five years at the top before stepping down, just might be around for longer than that as he charts the group’s future, in particular its pursuit of additional “tier one assets”.

He told Miningmx in an interview that: “My position is still the five years, but I reserve the right to change that in the light of changing circumstances”.

Bristow avoided giving direct answers to questions on what precisely those “… changing circumstances” might be. But he told Miningmx to “… pull the bits together yourself and you will know where I am going”.

Attempting to do just that suggests Bristow is looking at more major deals along the lines of the merger between Barrick and Randgold Resources and key “bits” include Barrick’s future relationships with Newmont and copper/gold giant Freeport McMoran.

Freeport owns the huge Grasberg gold and copper mine in Indonesia over which Bristow recently had “theoretical conversations”, according to the Financial Times newspaper.

Barrick launched a hostile bid last year for Newmont, but the outcome was a joint venture agreement over a merger of the group’s respective gold mines in Nevada.

The merged operation – called Nevada Gold Mines – is owned 61.5% by Barrick and 38.5% by Newmont Goldcorp, and is operated by Barrick. As part of the deal, the two groups agreed a moratorium on any further corporate action for two years until the middle of 2021.

Bristow commented: “The engagement with Nevada was a classic opportunity where – heads – we won and – tails – we also won. Right now the JV is going gangbusters and we are the best of friends”.

Asked what happens when the two-year lock-up agreement ends, Bristow replied: “That’s a long time. We have lots of stuff to do. Right now, my focus is on the next phase of delivery for Barrick.

“So, as an industry, we have been saved by the gold price again and Barrick is making out like a bandit. We have everything in our favour – we have tier one assets with more than 10 years life but the question still is – how do we position Barrick for the future because that’s what drives our value?”

Queried on Freeport McMoran, Bristow replied: “I run the world’s most valuable gold company and we are focused on tier one assets. The best tier one asset we do not own is Grasberg. So, sure, I should be talking to Freeport.

“Secondly, Grasberg is the world’s biggest copper mine. If you look at the gold industry ten years ahead, the migration is away from pure gold provinces towards the younger geology such as the Pacific Rim where you get copper and gold together.

“I am just saying there is an intellectual conversation to be had just like there was about Barrick and Newmont and Goldcorp. We have ambitions to be right at the centre of the mining industry. We will be a world leader in gold production and through that – geologically – we are going to have deal with owning and delivering copper which we do already.

“If you want to be world class business with gold as its foundation you have got to be a copper miner as well”.

Bristow stressed the driving need for Barrick to grow to attract the attention of generalist investors because the specialist gold funds had pretty much disappeared. “You have to get bigger and you have to do it with quality. So I am going into gold and there will be copper with it,” he commented.