UPDATE 1-African Barrick review given fresh impetus by gold rout

Thu Apr 18, 2013 5:59am EDT

LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Miner African Barrick Gold , the subject of a failed takeover attempt in January, said that this week's plunge in the price of gold has raised the stakes for its internal operational review.

The Tanzania-focused company, which has underperformed its rivals on the stock market and repeatedly cut output forecasts, initiated the six-month review earlier this year after parent Barrick Gold's failed attempt to sell the business to a Chinese buyer.

"The past week, if you like, has given us a little bit more impetus," Chief Executive Greg Hawkins said when asked about the review on Thursday.

The price of gold hit a two-year low on Monday with its biggest one-day drop since 1983, damaging bullion's status as a safe-haven investment and emphasising the plight of mining companies battling operational troubles on the ground and soaring costs.

"We kicked that (operational review) off because we knew we had to restructure the cost of the business to give us some comfort if the gold price came off, or to create a bigger margin if they (gold prices) sustained at that level," Hawkins said.

The CEO added that he believed the company had "a head start" for managing any new gold-price environment because the review was already under way, helping it to be flexible with its mining plans should the price continue to fall.

The review is due to be completed in July at the time of the company's interim results.

African Barrick, which had warned that production would shrink for a fifth straight year, on Thursday posted first-quarter production ahead of analyst expectations.

Output in the first three months of the year was 146,105 ounces of gold at a cash cost per ounce of $931, which the company said was on track for its target of producing 540,000 to 600,000 ounces in 2013 at a cost of $925 to $975 per ounce.

The company's shares, which have lost more than half their value over the past three months, were down 2.4 percent in morning trading.

"While African Barrick appears to offer excellent upside potential, it is also the most leveraged gold company in our coverage," Investec analyst Hunter Hillcoat said.

Parent company Barrick's talks with China National Gold Group Corp on the sale of its 74 percent stake in African Barrick broke down in January after the companies failed to agree on price.

Hawkins declined to comment on whether the plunge in the gold price and African Barrick stock meant an acceleration of the parent's divestment plans.

"They (Barrick) see long-term value in the assets," he said. "That was their view when they didn't get the deal in the first place. Their view hasn't changed."

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