Mark Bristow. Picture: BLOOMBERG/SIMON DAWSON
Mark Bristow. Picture: BLOOMBERG/SIMON DAWSON

London — Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow said on Wednesday there was  a logic to combining with Freeport-McMoran as a way to expand into copper, but he was  not committing to any deals yet.

A tie-up with Freeport could bolster Barrick’s US presence, where it already operates gold mines in Nevada, said Bristow, who cautioned that it is not currently under consideration.

“Everyone has been fingered as a potential suitor of Freeport,” said Bristow, when asked if he was interested in a combination. “There’s a bit of work for us to do before we can get our head around broadening our scope.”

Freeport has long been seen as a takeover target for mining majors such as Rio Tinto and BHP. The biggest miners are all bullish on copper because it is  crucial for the electrification of transport and cities, but supplies look constrained in the long term.

Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson said in 2018 that any strategic move was  possible, including acquisitions, partnerships, or even a full sale. The company operates several open-pit copper mines in North America, as well as the giant Grasberg project in Indonesia.

Tier-one copper

Bristow has previously expressed an interest in buying copper assets because the two metals are often mined together. While Barrick, the world’s second-largest gold producer, already has some copper assets, they are  lower in quality compared with other major mining companies.

“I’ve raised the flag up the pole on copper,” Bristow said in an interview in London. “If there is a strategic metal, it’s copper. If you believe in electrification, copper is the metal and copper comes with gold.

“For me, it’s all about tier-one assets,” he said.

Bristow, who took the top job in 2019, already has a track record of bold M&A moves in his short tenure at Barrick. After making a failed hostile bid for Newmont Mining in February, he stitched together a joint venture to combine their giant Nevada gold projects.

Barrick  merged with Africa-focused Randgold earlier in 2019. 

The shares rose 2% on Wednesday after the company reported better-than-expected profit and raised its quarterly dividend by 25% to $0.05 a share.

Third-quarter adjusted earnings were 15c  a share, compared with the average analyst estimate of 11c. The miner also said it is  on schedule with plans to sell $1.5bn of non-core assets by the end of 2020.

Bloomberg