(Adds details, CEO comment, share price)
By Karen Rebelo
May 8 (Reuters) - Randgold Resources Ltd, which mines gold in three African countries, reported a 14 percent rise in first-quarter profit as higher output more than compensated for a drop in gold prices.
Randgold, which has mines in Mali, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo, said profit from mining for the quarter ended March 31 rose to $171.0 million from $150.4 million a year earlier.
Randgold, which is also developing a deposit in Senegal, has proven more resilient than most of its peers to a falling gold price, having calculated its reserves using a $1,000 benchmark even as gold soared to $1,900 an ounce in recent years.
The company is forecasting a 25-30 percent increase in gold production for the full year, on top of a 15 percent increase in 2013.
“We are very comfortable about keeping our guidance both on production and on costs,” Chief Executive Mark Bristow told Reuters on Thursday.
Of the 18 analysts covering Randgold, seven have a “buy” rating on the stock and three have a “strong buy” rating, according to Thomson Reuters data. Eight analysts have a “hold” on the stock and none recommend selling it.
Randgold produced 283,763 ounces of gold in the first quarter, up from 199,013 ounces a year earlier, an increase attributable largely to the start of commercial production at the Kibali mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo in October.
“We expect to see an ongoing lift in production through the course of the year as average grades improve and Kibali is bedded down,” said Investec Securities analyst Hunter Hillcoat, who has a “hold” rating on the stock.
Randgold’s higher output more than offset a 21 percent decline in the average gold price received, which fell to $1,296 per ounce for the quarter.
Total cash costs per ounce fell 19 percent, helped by production at Kibali and significantly higher grades and recovery at the Loulo-Gounkoto complex in Mali, Randgold said.
The company’s shares fell marginally in early trading on Thursday. They were down 0.5 percent at 4679 pence at 0845 GMT on the London Stock Exchange. (Editing by Supriya Kurane and Robin Paxton)