Gold Fields cuts output targets in Chile on project delay

Salares del Norte is strategic for Gold Fields, as it will serve as a base to consolidate the company’s presence in South America. (Image courtesy of Gold Fields Chile.)

Shares in Gold Fields (JSE, NYSE: GFI) took a hit on Friday after the South African miner said it will pour first gold at its Salares Norte project in Chile later than anticipated and at a higher cost.

The company, which had said in August the project was on schedule to kick off production at the beginning of this year’s fourth quarter, now expects it to happen by the end of the quarter.

Total project capital estimate was increased by $20 million to slightly over $1 billion, while production targets were revised down as a result.

The company’s stock fell as much as 6% in Johannesburg and was trading 3% down close to end of the day at ZAC 22,964 (close to $3 each). In pre-market in New York, shares were down almost 4% to $11.91.

The miner attributed the flagged delay to the fact that certain plant components require commissioning from the equipment manufacturer and there has been challenges in securing the vendor’s representatives. 

Gold Fields noted that if first gold is produced on December 1, the mine’s output for 2023 is expected to be 1,000 gold-equivalent ounces, down from the 15,000-20,000 ounces previously forecast.

The top-end of the production guidance range for 2024 will also fall as a result, to 400,000-430,000 ounces from the 500,000 ounces initially expected.

Should the delay cause first gold at the end of December, production in 2024 is expected to be 350,000 ounces, Gold Fields said.

Planned production volumes for 2025 and 2026 at Salares del Norte were left unchanged at 600,000 gold-equivalent ounces, as Gold Fields expects steady state production by early 2025.

Key mine

The start of the Salares Norte, which is now 97% complete, is key to Gold Fields’ goal of increasing production to about 2.8 million ounces by 2025 from about 2.3 million ounces currently.

Construction began in 2021 and, in the process, the company has had to overcome some unique challenges, such as safely removing a handful of critically endangered chinchillas that lived on site.

The new Chilean mine is also a key part of the company’s strategy to expand in the Americas, as it already owns a mine in Peru and is jointly developing the Windfall gold mining project in Quebec, Canada, with Osisko Mining.

Gold Fields is also carrying out a plan to improve the efficiency of its mines and lower costs amid persistent inflationary pressures.