Barrick Gold says focus on growth after deep debt cuts

(Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp ABX.TO said on Monday it was done selling assets to cut debt and would instead use funds from future sales for growth or to pay dividends, as it looks set to lose its rank as the world's biggest gold producer due to declining production.

Toronto-based Barrick, which reported better-than-expected adjusted earnings, said its focus would increasingly be on growth from its own projects and operations in Nevada and the Dominican Republic.

The miner also said it had suspended work on a prefeasibility study on its massive Pascua-Lama gold and silver project in the Andes Mountains, which does not meet its investment criteria.

“Barrick will continue to evaluate opportunities to de-risk the project while maintaining Pascua-Lama as an option for development in the future if economics improve, and related risks can be mitigated,” Barrick said in a statement.

The miner, under the leadership of Executive Chairman John Thornton, has focused for the past three years on reducing debt by more than 50 percent from the more than $13 billion it hit at the end of 2014 due to overpriced acquisitions and mine development, including Pascua-Lama.

Barrick is in a stronger position now to focus on growth opportunities following two credit upgrades from rating agencies in the first quarter of the year. It is targeting year-end debt of around $5 billion.

Barrick’s production has dropped in each year of the past seven, partly due to sales of mines to reduce debt. Its output is down by nearly 40 percent since its peak of 8.6 million ounces in 2006.

The miner kept unchanged its 2018 gold production forecast of between 4.5 million and 5 million ounces, which will put it behind rival Newmont Mining Corp NEM.N. Newmont expects to produce between 4.9 and 5.4 million ounces of gold this year.

Barrick said its discussions with the government of Tanzania about a proposed framework agreement for subsidiary Acacia Mining's ACAA.L operations there have been "constructive and continue to progress". It continues to target a detailed proposal for Acacia to review before the second half of the year.

Barrick earlier reported adjusted net earnings of $170 million, or 15 cents a share, ahead of analyst expectations for 13 cents and up from $162 million or 14 cents a share in the same quarter a year ago. The gain came on the back of higher gold prices and lower depreciation.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Tom Brown