* Says $1750/oz gold realistic, $2000/oz “reachable” this year
* Expects Peru government to approve $4.8 bln Conga project
* Gold price slips; Newmont stock falls (For other news from Reuters Global Mining and Metals Summit, clickhere)
NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) - The price of gold could reach a record $2,000 per ounce this year, the head of the world’s second-largest gold mining company said on Tuesday.
Newmont Mining Corp’s President and Chief Executive Richard O’Brien also said he is confident the government of Peru will approve Newmont’s proposed $4.8 billion Conga mining project that has been held up because of protests over water supplies for local farmers.
Asked during the Reuters Global Mining and Metals Summit in New York where he saw the gold price this year, O’Brien said the precious metal was headed up, even though it has dropped off $300 from last September’s record high of $1920.20 per ounce.
On Tuesday, spot gold eased slightly to $1,684.60 and Newmont’s stock fell 1.79 percent to $52.49 on the New York Stock Exchange.
“In the last few years we’ve had, on average, a $150 increase per year in the gold price,” he said. “Last year we finished in the $1600 range so I think $1750 is realistic based on what we’ve see in this bull market.”
“$2000 is still reachable and, importantly, we have not seen inflation come in in a very low interest rate environment.
“So as the economies of the world speed back up again whenever that’s going to occur, and there may be a bit of a bump with China, I do believe that inflation is in the system,” O’Brien said.
“I’m not completely convinced that we’re not going to have to do something to continue to spark the economy... so I see currency as being cheap and gold being cheap relative to that.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters reporters, O’Brien said Newmont’s recent divestiture in Indonesia and difficulties getting a Peruvian project approved, illustrated how poorer economies were trying to get a bigger slice of profits from their natural resources.
“Resource nationalism has many faces,” he said, noting that in Ghana, where Newmont has two gold mine projects, the company now faced the potential of renegotiation of royalty and tax rates after the West African nation changed its law.
“Ghana has passed a law increasing everyone’s royalty rates and talking about tax rates,” he said. “Parliament approved our investment agreement which stabilized taxes and royalties.
“At this point we have not paid the new rates.”
But he admitted it was “frustrating initially, but when you think about the long-term tenor of our business and the fact we’re going to be there longer than most presidents, it’s something we have to learn to deal with.”
In Peru, O’Brien said Newmont had told the new president, Ollanta Humala, after he was elected last year, that it intended to go ahead with the $4.8 billion Conga investment, a copper and gold project near the company’s Yanacocha gold mine.
“Civil and social unrest occurred and now we’ve had to step back from the project,” he said, of the protests over the impact Conga might have on water supplies.
“We thought we had everything lined up to go, we had done the initial environmental impact study.”
But, he said, protests were led by a regional president unhappy with Humala’s political convictions.
“The president is very supportive of mining and the Conga project. It’s an important investment for the company and the country (and) the president knows that social inclusion...is dependent on new revenues.
“He wants the project to go forward,” said O’Brien, noting the company’s environmental impact report was being reviewed by an outside body and that the government was likely to make its decision in the next few weeks.
Asked if he was optimistic it would get the thumbs-up, O’Brien said: “I am still confident, yes.”
He said Newmont and its Peruvian partner Buenaventura “can afford to do this project in the right way and I believe the government wants it done.” (Reporting By Steve James; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Dave Zimmerman)
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