Goldcorp keeps its shine through tough gold markets

VANCOUVER — Though it was not all good news for Vancouver-based major Goldcorp, the company can rest easy on a strong fourth quarter that beat analyst's estimates and set production records.

VANCOUVER — Though it was not all good news for Vancouver-based major Goldcorp, the company can rest easy on a strong fourth quarter that beat analyst's estimates and set production records.

Goldcorp continues to be an attractive gold producer — in what is quickly becoming a bearish market for the precious metal — due to a strong project pipeline and fiscal discipline that have allowed it to avoid steep write-downs and cost overruns that are becoming increasingly common amongst large scale miners.

Goldcorp hit record fourth quarter gold production totalling 700,400 oz at co-product cash costs of US$621 per oz, which were up from US$529 per oz during the same period in 2011. As a result of higher production Goldcorp saw its year-on-year quarterly net earnings jump roughly 24% to US$504 million or US62¢ per share, though adjusted net earnings were actually down 12% at US$465 million or US57¢ per share. The company's adjusted earnings did, however, beat analyst's consensus estimates, which were pegged at US54¢ per share.

Goldcorp is recovering from operational problems at its two largest mines during the first half of 2012. The company suffered from de-stressing issues at its Red Lake mine in Ontario during the second quarter, which resulted in limited access to higher grade gold zones. Meanwhile at its Penasquito mine in Mexico’s Zacatecas state, Goldcorp wrestled with drought conditions and milling issues related to water supply.

Gold production at Red Lake continues to make an impressive recovery; jumping 39% quarter-on-quarter to 168,300 oz at total cash costs of US$403 per oz — down from US$535 per oz in the preceding quarter.

Following a de-stressing program Goldcorp achieved better access to Red Lake's High Grade zone, thereby increasing the availability of high grade mine headings. Annual production at Red Lake in 2012 hit 507,700 oz at total cash costs of US$494 per oz, which is in line with 2013 guidance numbers that fall between 475,000 and 510,000 oz.

Penasquito continues to be a work in progress as the company commenced mining in a lower grade portion of its pit during the third quarter. Gold production declined quarter-on-quarter from 126,000 oz to 112,900 oz as the mill continues to operate below throughput capacity at 98,800 t/d. Goldcorp has Penasquito pegged at 105,000 t/d for 2013 as it continues to bring additional water wells into production within the Cedros Basin. The company also expects a significant increase in grades at the operation throughout the year.

"Excellent quarterly performances at our two largest mines resulted in a strong finish to 2012 and position Goldcorp for a much improved 2013,” commented president and CEO Chuck Jeannes. "A full year of gold production at Pueblo Viejo in the Dominican Republic, coupled with production stability throughout our portfolio will enable a renewed focus on productivity and efficiency at our mines in the year ahead."

Goldcorp owns 40% of Pueblo Viejo alongside operator Barrick Gold. The mine hit commercial production in January, with Goldcorp's share of gold production totalling 44,700 oz in 2012. Pueblo Viejo is expected to ramp up to design capacity by the second half of 2013, and contribute between 415,000 and 450,000 oz to Goldcorp’s portfolio over its first five years of production at cash costs of less than US$350 per oz.

Goldcorp registered annual adjusted net earnings of US$1.6 billion or US$2.03 per share during 2012 on the back of gold sales totalling 2.3 million oz. That compares to earnings of US$1.8 billion or US$2.22 per share in 2011 when the company sold 2.5 million oz of gold. Goldcorp's bottom line was hit by lower production, as well as inflation that saw year-on-year co-product cash costs jump from US$534 per oz to US$638 per oz.

“Goldcorp's consistent strategy is centered on realizing strong shareholder value in a challenging industry through growing, low-cost production,” Jeannes explained. “We have always focused on strengthening our overall portfolio through the addition of high quality gold projects, divestiture of non-core assets and successful exploration investments.”

Goldcorp is focusing on the development of three key projects that it expects will boost annual gold production to between 4.0 million and 4.2 million oz by 2017. The company estimates 2013 capital expenditures at US$2.8 billion, with US$775 million going towards its Cerro Negro development in Argentina, US$650 million towards its Éléonore project in Quebec, and US$100 million to the Cochenour expansion at Red Lake. The company intends to spend US$225 million on exploration in 2013.

“[Cerro Negro] remains on track for initial gold production at the end of this year amid successful achievement of key milestones and growing ore stockpiles,” Jeannes said. “[Éléonore] continues to benefit from a development plan focused on capital efficiency and building a solid production platform. Development at [Cochenour] is expected to accelerate, bringing a stronger production profile to the Red Lake complex.”

Goldcorp enjoyed its ninth consecutive year of reserve and resource growth, with proven and probable reserves jumping 4% to 67.1 million oz. The company has experienced major success during aggressive exploration at its Cerro Negro project. During 2012 Goldcorp punched 421 holes at the site over a total of 146,000 metres, and has boosted gold reserves at the project by 177% since its acquisition in 2010.

Cerro Negro now hosts 18 million proven and probable tonnes grading 9.43 g/t Au for 5.74 million contained oz. An exploration program budgeted at US$36 million for 2013 is aimed at further extending the Mariana Central, Mariana Norte and San Marcos veins to the east and drill testing of other vein targets.

At the end of 2012 Goldcorp held US$900 million in cash, and maintains access to US$2 billion in undrawn debt facilities. The company maintains 811 million shares outstanding and closed down 2% or 68¢ on Feb. 15 following news of its fourth quarter results at $33.99 per share — equating to a $27.6 billion press time market capitalization.

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