Golden quarter for miners Newmont, Barrick as high prices help profit beat

(Reuters) - Newmont Corp and Barrick Gold Corp unveiled higher dividends as the world’s top two gold producers share with investors the benefits of higher prices for the metal after trouncing Wall Street earnings estimates.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors speak with a representative at the Newmont Corp booth at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) annual conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

A 25% surge in gold prices last year, supported by unprecedented stimulus measures, has offered miners a lifeline following production disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cost-conscious executives are also prioritizing investor returns over production growth, hesitating to spend on pricey projects that often take years to break even.

Newmont raised its quarterly dividend by 38% and pledged to return up to 60% of incremental free cash flow to shareholders, provided gold prices stay above $1,200 per ounce.

Barrick left its quarterly payout unchanged at 9 cents per share, while proposing a $750 million special dividend for 2021 after it sold assets worth $1.5 billion last year.

The special payout provided an opportunity for Barrick to assess the economic environment before deciding on any formal dividend policy, the Toronto-based miner’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Bristow told Reuters.

Barrick’s capital return plan comes days after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc exited its stake in the miner.

While Bristow did not comment on the Berkshire move, he said there remains significant interest from generalist funds in the stock.

The miner’s Canada-listed shares rose about 21% through 2020, while Newmont gained about 39%. The stocks have given up some gains since the start of this year as COVID-19 vaccine roll-outs buoyed investor confidence in other assets.

Graphic: Newmont, Barrick shares largely outperformed gold prices since COVID-19 pandemic -

On an adjusted basis, Barrick earned 35 cents per share for the reported quarter, beating estimates of 32 cents, according to Refinitiv IBES data. Newmont reported a profit of $1.06 per share, excluding items, compared with estimates of 95 cents.

Reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto and Arundhati Sarkar and Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Shounak Dasgupta