Bullion giant Barrick Gold Corp. pleasantly surprised the market by raising its dividend 25%. Will the move portend a new era of largess from the normally tightfisted gold miners?
There are certainly reasons for investors to be hopeful. Producers have been striving to cut costs and consolidate operations, while the price of gold has climbed over 20% in the past year to hover around $1,500 an ounce. Barrick’s move Wednesday was echoed a few hours later when Canadian rival Kirkland Lake Gold Ltd. raised its quarterly payout 50%. B2Gold Corp. preceded both by announcing its first-ever dividend a day earlier.
“The companies are positioned to start to pay dividends and give more back to shareholders,” Joe Foster, a portfolio manager and strategist at VanEck, said by phone Wednesday. “It happens to coincide with the rising gold price, so you’re getting to see more aggressive moves on the dividends front than we would have seen if gold was $100 or $200 lower.”
Gold miners trimmed costs following the sharp decline of the metal’s price toward the start of the decade. Barrick and B2Gold are both expecting costs this year to come in at or below the lower end of company guidance.
Barrick rose Wednesday in New York trading, ending the day up 2.2%. The shares were down 0.4% at 9:24 a.m. pre-market on Thursday as gold prices fell. Kirkland Lake gained 2.8% in Toronto Wednesday, while B2Gold climbed 4%.
Not all producers have embraced increased payouts this earnings season. On Tuesday Newmont Goldcorp Corp., the world’s largest gold producer, held its dividend steady as it grapples with integrating problematic assets acquired in its mega-merger with Goldcorp Inc.
In an interview after assuming the role of chief executive officer Oct. 1, Newmont’s Tom Palmer used a common phrase in the gold industry: capital allocation discipline. For Palmer, that means the first focus will be paying down debt, then funding projects, and finally increasing dividends.
A disciplined approach should continue to translate to shareholder returns, says Stephen Walker, RBC Capital Markets’ head of global mining research.
“Shareholders have been asking companies to be more disciplined,” Walker said by phone Wednesday. “The ability to return a portion of excess capital to shareholders” is evidence of their improved cost performance, he said.
(By Justina Vasquez)