The first-quarter production costs of gold miners should be surprisingly low due to cheap oil prices and the strength of the U.S. dollar, RBC Capital Markets said on Thursday.

In a preview of quarterly gold-miner results, analysts Stephen Walker and Michael Curran said average oil prices of $43 a barrel during the quarter were well below the $70 to $75 that most companies have used to forecast their costs.

The analysts estimate the price difference could have a favorable impact of between $5 to $15 per ounce of gold for the companies.

As well, the U.S. dollar's strength versus currencies in Canada, Australia and other mining regions should lower costs for miners with unhedged costs, they said.

We expect nearly every company in our universe of coverage to report operating costs near the lower end of their 2009 guidance with improved operating margins, the analysts said in a note.

The lower oil prices should primarily benefit companies that are unhedged and operate open pit mines, which use more energy than underground mines. The analysts pointed to Iamgold (IMG.TO: Quote), Kinross Gold (K.TO: Quote), Newmont Mining (NEM.N: Quote) and Yamana Gold (YRI.TO: Quote).

Top gold miner Barrick Gold (ABX.TO: Quote), which kicks off the sector's reporting season next Wednesday, will likely not see as much benefit from the lower oil prices because 62 percent of its fuel costs are locked in at $91 a barrel for 2009, they said.

Agnico-Eagle Mines (AEM.TO: Quote), Newmont, and Goldcorp (G.TO: Quote) should benefit in particular from the U.S. dollar's strength, they said.

The analysts also noted that gold and silver companies raised about $5.5 billion in new equity during the quarter, which could factor into spending for capital projects and corporate acquisitions. (Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Peter Galloway

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