Exclusive: Barrick Gold weighs sale of $1.9 billion Acacia stake - sources

TORONTO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp, the world’s largest gold producer, is weighing a sale of its majority stake in African unit Acacia Mining Plc and has approached several South African miners, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Barrick Gold Corp Chairman of the board John Thornton looks on during their annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

The potential sale would be part of Barrick’s broader strategy of selling non-core assets to reduce its debt load. The Toronto-based company offloaded stakes in several mines last year.

The talks are at an early stage and there is no assurance a deal will be done, the sources said.

Barrick owns 64 percent of Acacia, a London-listed miner with three producing gold mines in Tanzania: Bulyanhulu, Buzwagi and North Mara. Much of the remainder of Acacia is widely held.

Acacia also has exploration projects in the East African country and other parts of Africa.

Acacia has a market capitalization of about 2.23 billion pounds ($2.93 billion), making Barrick’s stake worth around $1.9 billion.

Barrick has reached out to South African miners Harmony Gold Mining Co Ltd, Sibanye Gold Ltd, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd, Randgold & Exploration Co and Gold Fields Ltd, as well as some Australian and North American miners, said the sources, who declined to be identified as the matter is not public.

Barrick spokesman Andy Lloyd declined to comment.

The sources noted a recent sharp rise in Acacia’s stock, partly due to a rebound in the bullion price, may discourage some potential buyers.

Acacia’s stock is up more than 200 percent since the start of the year, with strong results also providing a lift. Acacia reported better-than-expected earnings last week, breezing past market forecasts for earnings, production and costs.

The stock rose after news of the potential sale, trading as high as 572.5 pence before paring gains. It was up 1.9 percent at 555 pence late on Tuesday.

Barrick shares were up 2.6 percent at C$26.89 on Tuesday.

While Barrick would prefer a sale, it is also evaluating a possible equity offering to reduce its stake, the sources said, adding this “plan B” would depend on investor appetite.

A mid-sized, low-cost gold producer, Acacia is targeting 2016 production at or above 750,000 to 780,000 ounces.

Barrick is aiming to reduce its debt by $2 billion this year, and as of end-April had extinguished $842 million. In the medium term, it plans to lower its debt to below $5 billion or by more than half of current levels.

Barrick’s fortunes have improved this year along with other gold miners, buoyed by a 24 percent jump in the bullion price and deep cost cuts. Its stock is up 164 percent since January.

Editing by Amran Abocar and Jeffrey Hodgson