The World Gold Council wants miners to report expenses more thoroughly
by Greg Klein
According to convention, gold can be mined for a few hundred bucks an ounce. Or, when byproduct metals are factored in, for less than nothing. But that method of reporting cash costs might be coming to an end, thanks to the World Gold Council. On June 27 the agency prodded companies to report “all-in sustaining costs” and “all-in costs metrics” to include “additional costs which reflect the varying costs of producing gold over the life cycle of a mine.” That includes exploration.
The guidelines aren’t compulsory, even for WGC members. Nevertheless council spokesperson Terry Heymann said, “We expect that many will use these new metrics, providing further consistency for investors and other stakeholders.”
The WGC, which describes itself as “the market development organization for the gold industry,” devised the formula in consultation with its mining company members. Some of them began reporting all-in sustaining costs earlier this year. Barrick TSX:ABX explained its new approach in February. “Our current definition of all-in sustaining cash costs starts with total cash costs and adds sustaining capital expenditures, general and administrative costs, mine site exploration and evaluation costs, and environmental rehabilitation costs.”
As a result the company reported traditionally calculated cash costs for 2012 at $584 per ounce of gold, but all-in sustaining costs of $972. The company predicted 2013 cash costs holding firm at $584 but a drop in all-in sustaining costs to $945.
The previous month Goldcorp TSX:G explained that it considered “byproduct cash costs, sustaining capital, corporate general and administrative expenses and exploration.” But “as the measure seeks to reflect the full cost of gold production from current operations, new project capital is not included in the calculation.”
The company’s 2012 cash costs came to $645 or, after factoring in credits for other metals, a measly $315 an ounce. (Byproduct credits have given other companies negative cash costs.) But under the all-in sustaining cost formula, Goldcorp reckoned $865 an ounce for 2012. The company’s January statement forecast 2013 all-in sustaining costs at $1,000 to $1,100 an ounce, attributing the increase to inflation and “the impacts of lower grades and byproduct production at Peñasquito,” the company’s second-largest producer.
But those announced June 27 go further than all-in sustaining costs. Now considered are costs not related to current operations: community, permitting, and reclamation and remediation. Also included are non-sustaining costs: exploration and study, capital exploration, capitalized mine development and other capital expenditures. Added together, they form the “all-in cost.”
Not factored in, however, are income tax, working capital, financing charges, “costs related to business combinations, asset acquisitions and asset disposals [and] items needed to normalize earnings, for example impairments on non-current assets and one-time material severance charges.”
The WGC considers the new approach “helpful to investors, governments, local communities and other stakeholders in understanding the economics of gold mining.” Presumably that might help clarify discussions about investment return, royalties and community benefits.
Of course the guidelines come at a time when bullion prices are falling towards or even below inflationary costs. Among last week’s most widely publicized mining news was Barrick’s announcement that it was slashing 100 desk jobs. Looked at less dramatically, that amounts to about 0.004% of the company’s 25,000 employees.
More troubling news, however, came from smaller companies. Golden Minerals TSX:AUM, Huldra Silver TSXV:HDA and Atna Resources TSX:ATN have all suspended mining over the last week, while Troy Resources TSX:TRY cut pay, staff and exploration, among other expenses. In a statement accompanying Troy’s June 27 announcement, CEO Paul Benson said, “Although we are bullish on the gold price over the medium and longer term, we will position the company to operate in the current price environment and any rise in the price of gold will be a bonus.”