Output from the world's gold mines is set to hit record highs this year, disappointing bulls who are impatiently waiting for production cuts following this year's 24 percent plunge in prices. Some gold miners have felt the squeeze of lower prices this year, and a number, including Canada's Kinross and Russia's Polymetal, suspended marginal mines and projects after a dramatic first-half price drop.
But as prices fall, others are actually increasing output to maintain revenue and profit levels. In some cases, they are targeting higher grade ore to keep marginal mines operating and generating cash, at the expense of future production. Furthermore, several large projects put into motion during gold's 12-year rally, which took it as high as $1,920 an ounce in 2011, are coming to fruition.
"Our expectation is that we're going to see a fresh record high in gold mining output this year," GFMS analyst William Tankard said. "What we're seeing is an ongoing response not to the slide in prices, but the decade-long stretch of fairly heavy capital investment into the mining industry that preceded it." The world's top three gold miners - Barrick Gold, Newmont Mining and AngloGold Ashanti - all reported higher production in the most recent quarter.
For some marginal mines, firms are planning to tap better grades up front, a practice known as high-grading, which often comes at the expense of shortening the life of a project and giving up lower grade ore that could have been economic later. African Barrick Gold, for example, re-engineered its lowest grade and highest cost mine, Buzwagi, to tap higher grades and move less material, hoping to ensure the operation generates cash.
"In the short term, when they have got flexibility, you can see companies changing the ore mix to keep themselves operating," Nomura analyst Tyler Broda said. During the boom years, the cost of gold mining soared. But this year the average cost of producing an ounce of gold is already showing signs of retreating, according to metals consultancy Thomson Reuters GFMS.