Barrick Gold (TSX: ABX) (NYSE: GOLD) has refuted a report from a Canadian newspaper saying that one of the gold miner’s executives had met with First Quantum (TSX: FM) representatives in Panama last week, to discuss a potential takeover of the troubled copper miner.
The Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that Juana Barceló, president of Barrick’s Pueblo Viejo operations in the Dominican Republic, was recently in Panama, where she met First Quantum’s officials to discuss a possible merger or buyout. The publication cited Ebrahim Asvat, a former Panama government’s adviser, as the source.
Barrick said that Barceló was last in Panama in early 2023 for a mining conference. The spokesperson added Barceló has not been in contact with anyone from the fellow Canadian miner.
The Globe and Mail and Bloomberg have both reported recently that Barrick is gauging support for a potential deal with First Quantum from the target’s top shareholders.
The Vancouver-based miner was forced in November to shut down its giant Cobre Panama copper mine in the Central American country. The operation was its flagship mine and accounted for about 5% of Panama’s GDP and 75% of its exports.
First Quantum has admitted to be considering the sale of some smaller mines, and potentially selling stakes in larger operations, in an attempt to mitigate the financial damage caused by Cobre Panama’s closure.
The company announced this week a major restructuring to conserve cash, which included suspension of dividends. It also offered this week voluntary retirement to more than 1,500 Panamanian employees and is halting its Ravensthorpe nickel operation in Western Australia for the next two years.
Barrick has been expanding into copper as of late with the goal doubling its production of the metal to 1 billion pounds by 2031. It has already committed $2 billion to the development of the Lumwana super pit expansion in Zambia, and has a stake in the Reko Diq mine in Pakistan, expected to be one of world’s 10 largest copper mines when it reaches production in 2028.
The world’s second largest gold miner had previously said it hadn’t made “any formal approach” to buy First Quantum, but chief executive Mark Bristow considers Panama and Zambia, where the copper miner has its main assets, as difficult jurisdictions to operate in.
“I’m a cautious individual,” Bristow said in August. “I might be able to take on these challenging jurisdictions, but it’s because we’re very diligent on this. I’m not going to be reckless.”
He has criticized big takeovers in the gold space, preferring to focus on acquiring assets.