Out of the world’s gold producing areas, SA retained the unenviable spot as the most expensive place to mine the metal after the biggest increase in costs.
The rising cost of mining gold in SA underpinned the decision by AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields to sell their South African asset base down to the bare minimum and turn their attention to offshore investments.
Gold Fields has whittled its South African base down to South Deep, and AngloGold has retained only its Mponeng mine — the world’s deepest mine at 4km below the surface — and a tailings retreatment operation.
The latest data from London-based metals consultancy GFMS showed the all-in sustaining cost of gold production in SA increased by $58 an ounce in the three months to end-September 2017 from the same period in 2016.
At an all-in sustaining cost of $1,184 an ounce, SA is far above the rest of the world’s gold producers, which average $884 an ounce. The average includes SA’s costs.
The average gold price in the third quarter of 2017 was $1,278 an ounce.
The second-most expensive place to mine gold was South America at $866 an ounce.
GFMS estimated that the $20 per ounce increase in the global average price to produce gold meant 8% of the world’s gold output was unprofitable.
GFMS said in a report: "Going forward we expect costs to continue to rise as higher-grade resources are depleted and the US dollar continues to weaken.
"A partial offset, however, is expected by higher base metal by-product credits in the Americas," it said.
The weakening of the dollar against a basket of currencies and concerns about whether the US might withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement meant gold had had a good start to 2018, it said.
"We expect gold prices to average $1,360/oz and hit a 2018 peak of over $1,500/oz later in the year," GFMS said.
"Our forecast discounts three Fed rate hikes, although a potential overheating from the effect of the new tax reform could lead to more aggressive tightening, limiting gold’s upside," it said.