Randgold still investing in Malian gold

As noted earlier this week,Randgold Resources CEO, Mark Bristow, has been on a tour of the company’s operations – all in West and Central Africa – ahead of the release of the company’s Q1 2018 results announcement in just under a week’s time.  The latest visit was to its Loulo-Gounkoto complex in Mali, which in combination is currently the largest gold producer in Africa, although this position may soon be usurped by the Randgold-operated, and 45%-owned, Kibali gold mine in the DRC.

In an announcement Randgold confirmed that it continued to see Mali as having potential for further growth and is continuing to invest there – Loulo-Gounkoto is already the single biggest foreign investment in the country.  The compzny says Q1 output will fall back from Q4 2017 levels due to scheduling production from lower grade areas – although we will have to wait for the quarterly announcement to find out by how much.

Randgold (LSE: RRS and NASDAQ: GOLD) has arguably been the No.1 global gold growth stock over the past several years, despite all its operations being in what the investment community sees as difficult investment environments.  It has been particularly adept in continuing to grow its gold output while maintaining mostly good relationships with its host governments, which is presumably why the much larger Anglogold Ashanti, which also owns 45% of Kibali, ceded construction and operational management of the DRC’s largest gold mine to Randgold.

A lightly edited version of Randgold’s statement on its Malian operations is set out below:

Randgold’s Loulo-Gounkoto gold mining complex in Mali, already one of the largest of its kind in the world, is still expanding, with the Gounkoto super pit and the new Baboto satellite pit joining its Yalea and Gara underground mines.

Speaking at a site visit for local media, chief executive Mark Bristow said the complex’s all-Malian management team, which steered it to a record performance in 2017, had made a good start to this year, although production was expected to be lower than the previous quarter on the back of forecast lower grades, reflecting the sequencing of mining lower grade blocks at both Loulo and Gounkoto.  Although slightly delayed, mining of the Baboto satellite pit was now well on track to support the complex with softer oxide ore feed.

“We expect grades to pick up and production to increase through the rest of the year to deliver our production guidance of 690,000 ounces for 2018,” said Tahirou Ballo, the GM of the complex.  Mr Ballo noted that production from the underground mines continued to show a steady improvement since Loulo took over the mining from contractors in 2016.

Chiaka Berthe, the West African GM of operations, said the Loulo-Gounkoto complex represented the largest foreign investment to date in the Malian economy.  After all these years it was still investing in new mining projects like the Gounkoto pushback and the new Baboto satellite pit he said.  The country is rich in other gold opportunities, and Randgold continues to search for extensions to the known orebodies as well as new discoveries in its extensive Malian landholdings.

On its sustainable development policy in the areas around its mining operations, Randgold also continues to invest substantially in its host communities.  Some 5,000 students are enrolled at 17 schools built by the company, and last year 52 of them were awarded bursaries for further study.  Randgold is also advancing the development of commercially viable agribusiness enterprises, to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the complex’s eventual closure.  The project already includes five incubation farms and an agricultural college with 70 students.

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Randgold’s gold mining success story. Dividend increases while its peers are cutting

“Randgold Resources’ (LSE: RRS, NASDAQ: GOLD) operations are strongly placed to generate robust cash flows even at gold prices below current levels and to continue delivering value to all stakeholders”, so says chief executive Mark Bristow in a release on the company’s 2015 annual report published today.

Randgold has arguably been the biggest gold mining success story of the past two decades (It was only established back in 1995 and was first listed in 1997).  It has increased gold production from tiny beginnings to become the world’s 15th largest gold producer (according to consultancy Metals Focus) with an attributable output now of comfortably over 1 million ounces a year.  It now numbers Africa’s two biggest gold mines – Kibali in the DRC and the Loulo-Gounkoto complex in Mali, both of which it built from scratch – among its operations,  All this has been accomplished in a part of the world which some of its major gold mining peers feel is too risky in which to manage significant operations.

At Kibali in particular it succeeded in building a huge gold mine in one of the most remote parts of Africa, close to the DRC’s border with South Sudan, hundreds of miles from both Africa’s east and west coasts and with virtually no local infrastructure – a major logistical exercise in its own right.  And yet it succeeded in bringing the mine on stream ahead of schedule.  It is notable here that although it is in equal partnership with the world’s third largest gold miner, AngloGold Ashanti (both have 45% stakes), the latter ceded construction and operational control to its much smaller partner, presumably because of Randgold’s unparalleled record of building and operating mines in West Africa and its skills in navigating the often troubled political waters of the region.

What the gold mining industry needs, says Bristow, is to make new discoveries, as even a significant rise in the gold price and an injection of fresh capital will at best enable it to clear its debt, but will provide little scope for adding any value or reversing the production decline.  Through its consistent investment in exploration and development Randgold, in contrast, was projecting sustained growth from a solid foundation.

“Our mines have been modelled to generate cash flows at gold prices well below the $1,000/oz level.  Our positive production and cost profiles extend to a 10-year horizon, we have had no impairments or write-downs, and have substantial cash resources.  Our exploration teams are not only replacing the ounces we deplete but are making significant progress in the hunt for our next big discovery.  In fact, we are in a unique position to continue delivering value to all our stakeholders,” he says.

Randgold set a new annual production record of more than 1.2 million ounces in 2015, up 6% on the previous year, while reducing group total cash cost per ounce by 3% to $679.  Strong cash flows from the operations boosted cash on hand by 158% to $213.4 million.  However profit for the year was $212.8 million against the previous year’s $271.1 million, reflecting the decline in the gold price.  The board has nevertheless still recommended a 10% increase in the annual dividend.

Also in the annual report, chairman Christopher Coleman reports that even in the current challenging market, Randgold is not reducing its investment in corporate and social programmes, in line with its philosophy that sustainability is central to all its activities.

“Randgold’s social initiatives extend far beyond the life of its mines.  At all its operations, it is developing ambitious legacy projects designed to provide a permanent source of employment and economic opportunity to these communities.  Based on agriculture, the primary building block of any developing economy, these range from training and funding would-be commercial farmers to a wide spectrum of agribusiness initiatives, many of which are already supplying local markets.  The company is equally mindful of the health and safety of its employees, and it strives constantly to improve an already exemplary record in this regard,” he says.

Contrary to the position of many of its peers, Randgold, as noted above, also reaffirmed its intention to continue to pay a progressive ordinary dividend that will increase or at least be maintained annually.  The board thus proposed the 10% increase in the 2015 dividend to $0.66 per share for approval at its annual general meeting on 3 May 2016.  This is almost unique among major gold miners, most of which have been having to take big impairments in their balance sheets, have been having to cut debt and have been sharply reducing their dividend payments.  Randgold has taken no impairments, has no debt and is raising dividends year on year.

Commenting on this statement, financial director Graham Shuttleworth said that at a time when the gold mining industry was focused on survival, Randgold was able to maintain its dividend policy on the back of last year’s strong performance.  He confirmed that the company still intended to build its net cash position to approximately $500 million to provide financing flexibility for future new mine developments and other growth opportunities.

Randgold sees Tongon gold mine pass major milestone and ups Cote d’Ivoire exploration

Randgold Resources’ world class Tongon gold mine in Cote d’Ivoire has not been without its problems, but even so it has now paid off its shareholders’ loans of $448 million, used to partially fund its capital investment of $580 million, thereby moving it into a dividend-paying position.
Speaking at the mine’s quarterly briefing for local media, Randgold CEO, Mark Bristow described this as a significant achievement, particularly in the context of a global gold mining industry currently characterised by capital write-downs and impairments.
Although Tongon is only Randgold’s third largest mine – after Kibali in the DRC, and Loulo-Gounkoto in Mali – and is still operating below full capacity, it is a very significant gold mine by any standards, and is targeting gold output of  260,000 ounces, at a total cash cost of $820 per ounce,  in the current year.

“Tongon has already paid close to $90 million to the Ivorian state in the form of royalties and taxes and the country will now benefit even more from the dividends the government will receive through its 10% carried interest in the mine as well as the increased revenue when Tongon starts paying full corporate tax at the end of this year,” Bristow said.  He noted that since its commissioning five years ago, Tongon had also contributed more than $600 million to the Ivorian economy in the form of payments to local suppliers and had invested almost $6 million in community upliftment projects.

Bristow has also frequently described Cote d’Ivoire as being a highly prospective country in which to explore for new gold mining operations and has praised the government for its approach to foreign investment in the mining sector which it considers very favourable for attracting new business.
“Ongoing exploration around Tongon has increased its reserves after depletion by 18% since 2009, extending its remaining life by another year.  We also continue to look for more multi-million ounce deposits elsewhere in this highly prospective country, and we are about to launch our biggest-ever exploration drive in Côte d’Ivoire.  This will include a fresh look at the Nielle permit, which hosts Tongon, and a geophysical survey, followed by a diamond drilling programme, across our holdings in the north of the country,” he said.

He also cited Tongon as a particularly good example of the success of Randgold’s policy of recruiting, training and empowering nationals of its host countries to run world-class mines in Africa.  The mine’s workforce is 97% Ivorian and only two members of its management team are not Ivorians.

Bristow also noted that Tongon has won the President’s Award as the best mine in Côte d’Ivoire for two successive years.

Kibali – already one of Africa’s largest gold mines – going strong

The ongoing search for additional reserve ounces at Kibali will secure its future as a long-life mine and one of Africa’s largest gold producers, Randgold Resources chief executive Mark Bristow said in a speech in Kinshasa, DRC.  Randgold develops and operates the mine and has a 45% stake, which it owns in partnership with AngloGold Ashanti (also 45% owners)  and the Congolese parastatal SOKIMO which holds the 10% balance.

In 2014, its first full year of operation, Kibali produced 526,627 ounces of gold at a total cash cost of $573/oz and Bristow told a media briefing here that production and cost for the first quarter of 2015 were likely to be within guidance.

“When you’re producing gold at the rate of around 600,000 ounces per year, the need to replace the reserves that are consumed is of critical importance,” he said.  “We believe Kibali’s KZ structure hosts significant additional resources, and our continuing exploration is confirming this potential.  A number of targets have been identified and the Kalimva-Ikamva and Kanga sud targets have been prioritised for in-depth investigation.”  One suspects that the promising geology around the mine should host sufficient gold resources to keep it in operation well beyond its initial 18 year mine life.

Kibali is still a work in progress, with its third open pit now operational and the development of its underground mine ahead of schedule.  Ore from its stopes is already being delivered to the plant but the underground mine is only expected to be in full production by 2018.  The first of the mine’s three hydropower plants was commissioned last year and work on the second is well underway.  The metallurgical plant is operating at its design capacity and construction of the paste plant is nearing completion.  Despite the high level of production and development activity  –  some 5,000 people are currently employed on site  –  Kibali is maintaining a good safety record, with the lost-time injury rate reduced by 16% last year.

Kibali represents an initial investment of more than US$2 billion and at a gold price of $1,200/oz and its current mine plan is only expected to repay its funding after 2024.  Thanks to its strong cash flow, however, it has already been able to repay the first tranche of its debt in March.  The whole project has been a remarkable success to date, particularly given its location – almost right in the geographical centre of the African continent, close to the South Sudan and Ugnadan borders which necessitated the bulk of the supplies and equipment having to be delivered from the African east coast rather than through the DRC itself.

Bristow said Kibali was continuing to invest in the development of the regional economy by using local contractors and suppliers wherever possible.  A prefeasibility study on a palm oil project, designed to provide a sustainable source of post-mining economic activity for the region, has been completed and work on a bankable feasibility study has started.

On the issue of the DRC’s proposed new mining code, Bristow said he welcomed Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo’s recent statement that the government was ready to re-engage with the mining industry with the intention to review the draft submitted to parliament and was open to further discussions with the sector.

“We were surprised and disappointed when the ministry of mines presented a draft code to parliament without taking the industry’s comments on board and which departed radically from the common ground we thought had been established.  As the DRC Chamber of Mines warned at the time, enactment of the code in this investment-hostile form will have a catastrophic effect not only on the mining sector but on the Congolese economy generally.  It was therefore very heartening to learn from the prime minister that the government has recommitted itself to negotiation,” he said.