Barrick CEO Bristow sees long-term potential for Freeport tie-up

Mark Bristow, President and CEO of Barrick Gold. Photo by Barrick Gold.

Barrick Gold Corp.’s chief said there’s a logic to combining with Freeport-McMoran Inc. as a way to expand into copper, but isn’t committing to any deals yet.

A tie-up with Freeport could bolster Barrick’s U.S. presence, where it already operates gold mines in Nevada, said Chief Executive Officer Mark Bristow, who cautioned that it’s not something currently being considered.

Freeport has long been seen as a takeover target for mining majors such as Rio Tinto Group and BHP Group

“Everyone has been fingered as a potential suitor of Freeport,” said Bristow, when asked if he was interested in a combination. “There’s a bit of work for us to do before we can get our head around broadening our scope.”

Freeport has long been seen as a takeover target for mining majors such as Rio Tinto Group and BHP Group. The biggest miners are all bullish on copper because it’s crucial for the electrification of transport and cities, but supplies look constrained in the long term.

Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson said last year that any strategic move is possible, including acquisitions, partnerships, or even a full sale. The company operates several open-pit copper mines in North America, as well as the giant Grasberg project in Indonesia.

Tier-one copper

Bristow has previously expressed an interest in buying copper assets because the two metals are often mined together. While Barrick, the world’s second-largest gold producer, already has some copper assets, they’re lower in quality compared with other major mining companies.

“I’ve raised the flag up the pole on copper,” Bristow said in an interview in London. “If there is a strategic metal, it’s copper. If you believe in electrification, copper is the metal and copper comes with gold.”

“For me, it’s all about tier-one assets,” he added.

Bristow, who took the top job this year, already has a track record of bold M&A moves in his short tenure at Barrick. After making a failed hostile bid for Newmont Mining Corp. in February, he stitched together a joint venture to combine their giant Nevada gold projects.

Barrick shares rose 2% on Wednesday after the company reported better-than-expected profit and raised its dividend. Third-quarter adjusted earnings were 15 cents a share, compared with the average analyst estimate of 11 cents. The miner also said it’s on schedule with plans to sell $1.5 billion of non-core assets by the end of next year.

(By Thomas Biesheuvel)

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