Well known business commentator Stephen Bartholomuesz provided analysts and market speculators with food for thought in suggesting the country's only major domestically-owned gold producer Newcrest Mining Ltd (ASX: NCM, NYADR: NWCNY) may again be a target for takeover.
Writing in Business Speculator, Bartholomuesz suggested that Newcrest's chief Ian Smith went close to suggesting the company's story was too positive to tell at this week's Merrill Lynch conference in Barcelona, Spain.
A copy of Smith's presentation, made promptly available on Intierra's Minmet data base, certainly showed that in both cash cost performance and production growth Newcrest was providing a leading performance for majors to observe.
With several global majors failing to maintain reserve growth to match production and also having difficulty maintaining good cash costs, it is easy to understand why Newcrest may now be a target for backroom number crunchers.
In the late 1980s and 1990s the overseas raiders - Newmont Mining, Barrick Gold, Goldfields, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold and DRD Gold took over all the major producers except Newcrest, though the two latter South African companies perhaps wished they hadn't based on their relative short-term success.
One major reason why Newcrest was off the radar was that it had a toxic hedge book at the time, and there was probably a wrong impression on how well it could perform in Indonesia.
Smith's Barcelona presentation showed that Newcrest had a return on capital employed in 2008 of 20%, far better than other global majors with Goldfields achieving 17%, Newmont 14% and, down the line, Goldcorp 3%. The return on invested capital was 25%, 4% better than nearest rivals Goldfields and Newmont.
Newcrest's operations and projects are the 100% owned Cadia Valley mines in New South Wales, fully owned Telfer in Western Australia's hinterland, 82.5% of Gosowong in Indonesia, 70% of Cracow in Queensland, 50% of the Hidden Valley and Wafi-Golpu mine developments in Papua New Guinea in partnership with Harmony and 65% of the Namosi project in Fiji.
It has three surface and four underground mines and four major advanced exploration-development projects.
Smith told the conference Newcrest has a gearing level of about 1%, a cash balance at the end of April of $US300 million, and $US969 M of undrawn debt facilities.
Gold production over the next five years was projected to increase 40% -- to reach 2.3 M equity ounces in fiscal 2014. Driving the growth initially would be Hidden Valley and Gosowong and progressive growth contributors would be Cadia East and the Ridgeway Deeps at Cadia and a lift in output at Telfer.
Gosowong opened in the 1990s as a small high-grade operation but Newcrest has been able to make new discoveries on the Halmahera island group and is targeting an output lift to 450,000 oz per annum.
The Cadia Valley mines have total resources of 83 M gold equivalent ounces, and the Ridgeway Deeps, an extension to an impressive underground operation, is on track to contribute in the coming months. The Cadia East mine which involves a capital expenditure of $A2 billion ($US1.5 B) should be producing over 700,000 oz in fiscal 2013 and more than 100,000 tonnes of contained copper the following year.
The Hidden Valley gold project is 95% complete and there should be a mill commissioning within the next month.