12 February 2021
Sameer Jaffary By Sameer Jaffary

5 Gold Miners Rising to the Challenge.

2020 was a fascinating year for gold mining.

The industry reacted to COVID-19 in exemplary fashion, recording close to record profits despite being hindered by the global pandemic.

COVID-19 has been challenging for the industry. It’s created high production costs, travel restrictions, safety issues and site closures. For example, there were multiple lockdowns in gold-mining countries such as Canada, Mexico, Peru and South Africa. This forced operations to be scaled back or cease completely.

In spite of these difficulties, many companies have achieved healthy margins. This has been supported by rising gold prices, which peaked on 7th August at $2,067.15 per oz.

While the gold price has been favourable, it’s not the only reason for the industry’s success. Mining companies have adapted and innovated to keep production running throughout the pandemic. They deserve a lot of credit for their success.

For insight on how the industry has adapted, check out CM Industrial’s article: “4 Ways Mining is Changing in 2021.”

Anyway, back to how five stand-out gold miners have risen to the challenges of COVID-19 with high production rates, impressive expansion projects and innovative technologies.

The Canadian gold producer, Torex Gold, ended the year with a production of 430,480 oz (oz) of gold.

The annual output at the companies El Limón Guajes (ELG) operations beat the upper end of its revised production guidance (390,000 to 420,000 oz) and exceeded the lower end of its original guidance (420,000 to 480,000 oz).

This is largely because of a near-record Q3 at the Mexican site, in which 131,790 oz of gold was produced – with 133,030 oz sold at an average realised price of $1,880 per oz. This is the second highest quarter in the history of the ELG site.

When you consider that all this was achieved amid a global pandemic, you realise that it’s pretty special.

To continue operations during COVID-19, employees and operators enhanced protocols and used a multi-layered approach to screening which helped mitigate the impact of the virus on-site, on the workforce and its surrounding communities.

With a continuation of predictable and reliable production from ELG, plus strong gold prices, I expect Torex to continue to grow and impress throughout the pandemic.

Equinox Gold was another company which exceeded its revised growth in 2020, producing 477,200 oz to beat its guidance of 425,000 to 465,000 oz.

The company has enjoyed rapid growth, starting 2020 with two producing gold mines and ending it with seven. With construction already underway on an eighth, Equinox’s future is exciting.

Of the five sites picked up by the miner in 2020, four came from the acquisition of Premier Gold which was completed in December. This includes the world-class Hardrock Project in Ontario, the Hasaga and Rahill-Bonanza properties in Red Lake, Ontario, plus the Mercedes Mine in Mexico.

Equinox’s aggressive merger and acquisitions (M&A) strategy, which also involved a merger with Leagold Mining, has propelled the company to new heights. In 2021, the company aims to build up to one-million oz of gold as it continues to expand throughout the Americas.

While we’re talking about M&As, it’s impossible not to mention the merger between Northern Star Resources and Saracen Mineral Holdings which will create a A$16 billion ($11.5bn) gold giant.

The deal was completed in mid-January 2021, with Northern Star owning 64% of the combined entity and Saracen with the remaining 36% stake.

There’s a lot of excitement around Northern Star-Saracen, which is looking to become the seventh largest gold miner by worldwide output. The combined company is expected to produce two million oz of gold a year from fiscal 2027 and deliver as much as A$2 billion in operational savings.

Northern Star and Saracen already jointly run Australia’s iconic Super Pit, which has an estimated reserve of 7.3 million oz and has produced on average 660,000 oz a year over the last five years.

Thanks to the deal, this is the first time the KCGM Super Pit has been consolidated under one owner in 125 years. It’s also first time it’s been 100% owned by a resident Australian company in 30 years.

Northern Star-Saracen has exciting growth plans in Alaska too. Its Pogo mine there is expected to produce 180,000 to 220,000 oz of gold between June 2020 to June 2021. By 2023, the goal is for the mine to produce 300,000 oz per annum.

With their combined powers, Northern Star-Saracen will be a major force in the gold mining industry and should continue to have a strong performance throughout the pandemic.

While the Canadian company, Agnico Eagle Mines, is not at the same heights of Northern Star-Saracen; it has been equally optimistic with its growth strategy during COVID-19. This includes major investment in its Kittila mine in northern Finland, which is already the largest primary gold producer in Europe.

The expansion project is expected to cost up to €170 million and will include the construction of a 1,044-metre-deep shaft, plus a processing plant expansion that is expected to increase throughput by 25% to two million tonnes per year. Additional infrastructure and service upgrades are also planned.

This project will be supported Agnico Eagle’s industry leading know-how in sustainable mining.  The company was the first to develop an externally verified performance system, The Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative of the Mining Association of Canada, which has set the global standard for sustainable mining practices for fifteen years.

To acknowledge its continued efforts in sustainable mining, the company was recognised in the Corporate Knights list of 2021 Global 100 Sustainable Corporations.

Agnico Eagle is not the only company continuing to champion sustainable and responsible mining throughout the pandemic. Newlox Gold has found a green niche within the extractive market which has exciting growth potential.

Artisanal processing is common throughout the industry, representing 20% of global gold production. However, it’s only about 40% effective at gold recovery. To ensure profitability with this process, only the highest-grade materials can be mined which leaves most of the value in the tailings and leads to environmental contamination.

To combat this, the innovative Canadian company has designed a custom-made system to recover the precious metals from these artisanal tailings while conducting environmental remediation at the same time.

Newlox Gold has successfully deployed these processing technologies at its first processing plant in Costa Rica. It is currently in the development stage at another, as it looks to improve gold production and have a positive environmental impact globally.

The company is also continuing its research and development (R&D) work and has formalised this endeavour through its subsidiary, Newlox Research & Development Corporation. The R&D company is running a 12-month program to advance non-toxic precious metals leaching technology.

Thanks to these innovations, Newlox Gold and its subsidiary look well-placed for growth within the industry they continue to promote sustainable mining.

Over the last 12 months, the gold mining industry has continued to provide a reliable production of gold. This is credit to the reliance and innovation of companies and professionals throughout the industry. While I’ve singled out the successes of Newlox Gold, Agnico Eagle, Northern Star-Saracen, Equinox Gold and Torex Gold in this article; it’s clear that so many others have risen to the challenge of COVID-19. Let’s hope that throughout the rest of 2021 the industry continues to adapt, innovate and grow.

If you anything that you’d like to share with me about you, your company or the mining industry; please email me at Sameer.Jaffary@industrial-cm.com.

For information about myself, please see my consultant page.

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Sameer Jaffary

Sameer is an executive search consultant specialising in the Warehouse Automation and Intralogistics market. His vast network and specialist knowledge of this market combine to ensure he delivers a bespoke, tailored and detailed search process. His passion for the industry and his care to the value and aspirations of both clients and candidates allows him to develop long lasting relationships.

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