Gold Fields cuts gold target as winter chill cripples Salares Norte

Ice crystals, Isluga National Park, Chile.

G old Fields has cut its production forecast for 2024, and increased cost estimates, after prolonged bad weather at Salares Norte mine in the second quarter further hampered the Chile mine’s ramp up.

Group production has been adjusted lower to a range of 2.2 to 2.3 million ounces for the year compared to a previous estimate of 2.33 to 2.43 million oz. The group’s all-in sustaining costs (AISC) guidance has been increased to between $1,470 to $1,530/oz (previously $1,410 – $1,460/oz).

Shares in Gold Fields fell nearly 8% in Johannesburg by 1pm.

Salares Norte has been a source of concern for Gold Fields CEO Mike Fraser since his appointment last year. The gold miner roughly halved its 2024 production target for the mine in December to a maximum of 250,000 oz and in May warned of continued difficulties in its ramp up related to the early onset of winter in Chile.

These concerns materialised with today’s announcement which could see Salares Norte produce as little as 90,000 oz of gold, less than a quarter of the amount predicted prior to its commissioning last year.

One saving grace is capital costs were not expected to exceed the revised band of $1.18bn to $1.2bn. (The mine was initially expected to cost about $870m to develop).

Gold Fields said the process plant at Salares Norte was temporarily shut down in the quarter as its piping had frozen. “These impacts have been greater than planned owing to the early onset and extended duration of winter conditions during the commissioning and ramp-up phase,” the group said in an announcement to the JSE.

While the plant had been restarted “commissioning and ramp-up during the winter period are expected to continue to be challenging,” it said.

The outcome is that there is huge uncertainty as to how Salares Norte mine will perform this year as reflected in new guidance.

Instead of production of 220,000 to 240,000 oz from the mine as previously guided, updated production forecasts are for as little as 90,000 or to 180,000 oz with the latter possible if the mine restarted operating in winter (by June 15) amid improved weather conditions, and if the commissioning of the mine’s Circuit C is completed by August.

In its worst case scenario, Gold Fields assumed no production until the end of winter whereafter weather conditions don’t interfere with ramp up from September, also allowing for the commissioning of Circuit C in that time.

The mine’s AISC has been guided to between $1,470/oz and $1,530/oz which compares to $1,410/oz to $1,460/oz in previous AISC estimates.

Gold Fields also had bad news on the chinchilla front.

On May 17, Gold Fields announced it had been ordered to stop work at a section of its Salares Norte until it had confirmed the area was not inhabited by the rodent which has been known to inhabit the mine’s environs.

Chile’s Superintendence of Environment (SMA) issued an “urgent and transitionary measure” (MUT) halting the dismantling of Rocky Area No. 3 (R3) located at the ‘North’ waste dump of the mine.

Gold Fields said today the SMA had extended the suspension of dismantling of R3 for a further 120 days. Said the group: “Mining operations and project activities are continuing, and focus remains on ramp-up of the project, respecting the buffer zones established to avoid any potential disturbance to the Chinchilla and complying with all other regulatory requirements established by the authority”.