Barrick Gold eyes more copper assets in Africa

Lumwana is located in Zambia’s Northwestern Province. (Image courtesy of Barrick Gold.)

Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX)(NYSE:GOLD) wants to add more copper assets to its African portfolio due to a looming deficit and high prices for the industrial metal, which is also a key component in the making of electric vehicles (EVs) and vital to the renewables sector.

The Canadian gold giant already owns the Lumwana copper mine in Zambia, which it inherited through its acquisition of Randgold Resources in 2019. The operation was one of 13 assets Barrick sought to sell after the $6 billion merger.

The company had a change of heart after President Hakainde Hichilema won a landslide victory in elections last year, pledging to boost growth and repair relations with mining companies. 

“He is a breath of fresh air,” Barrick’s chief executive Mark Bristow said after meeting Hichilema on Monday, as part of the Indaba mining conference happening this week in South Africa. “Zambia is a good story.”

The miner is also searching for copper projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it has its giant Kibali gold mine, despite Bristow openly and frequently criticizing the country’s government and its revision of the mining code in 2018.

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But Barrick knows the value of exploring the central African copperbelt, an area straddling the border of Zambia and the DRC that is home to some of the world’s richest deposits.

“We’ve tried to invest both in the gold industry and more recently in the copper industry,” Bristow said. “We’ll find opportunities because DRC is so well endowed.”

Last year, Barrick contributed $1.4 billion to its African host countries through taxes, royalties and dividends, which resulted in broader economic contributions of $3.3 billion.

These numbers do not capture the full benefits, like the value created by upskilling generations of workers and enhancing the national labour pool, Bristow said at Indaba.

Waiting for the next mega-deal

While Barrick hasn’t made a major acquisition since acquiring Randgold, it has come close. In the past year, the Toronto-based miner has bid for Pretium Resources, Kirkland Lake Gold and Great Bear, but refused to engage in a bidding war, letting each company go to a competitor.

Barrick announced in April it was going ahead with the giant Reko Diq copper-gold project in Pakistan, in partnership with the country’s government. The company is also mulling whether to proceed with the Donlin gold mine in Alaska, which it co-owns alongside Novagold Resources.

With the $7 billion construction of Reko Diq and potentially the $9 billion Donlin project in the works, Barrick says it is open to a mega-transaction if the right deal comes along.

(With files from Bloomberg)