Price tumble puts projects under cloud

Australia's biggest listed gold producer, Newcrest Mining, could be among the companies facing difficult decisions about individual mines, if the recent slump in the gold price continues.

Australia's biggest listed gold producer, Newcrest Mining, could be among the companies facing difficult decisions about individual mines, if the recent slump in the gold price continues.

While smaller companies such as Ramelius Resources, Reed Resources and Norton Gold Fields are often named as running the most marginal gold operations in Australasia, larger, more fancied companies such as Newcrest, Evolution Mining, Oceanagold and Alacer Gold also have mines that are unlikely to be profitable at current gold prices.

Newcrest has been emphatic in recent months that its Hidden Valley mine in Papua New Guinea has been producing gold at "unacceptable" prices..

Production costs at the mine were $A1584 in the December quarter and $A1355 in the September quarter. It made a small loss in the six months to December 31.

Newcrest has said it would "carefully review the performance" of Hidden Valley after a new crusher was installed this month.

Newcrest spokeswoman Kerrina Watson said on Tuesday that "significant effort" was being made to cut costs at Hidden Valley. "The new crusher to be installed shortly will improve its cost performance,"she said.

Newcrest was well positioned to withstand fluctuations in the gold price, she said. "Hidden Valley is the smallest contributor to Newcrest's production and the highest cost by some way." Its Cadia and Lihir operations were "large, low-cost and long-life".

Despite briefly trading at its lowest share price since June 2006, Newcrest rallied late on Tuesday to close 92¢ lower at $17.

The goldminers' pain was quickly passed on to mining services contractors such as Boart Longyear, whose ASX-listed shares fell more than 12 per cent to 96.5¢ on Tuesday.

JPMorgan analyst Joseph Kim named Evolution's Edna May mine in Western Australia, Alacer's assets near Kalgoorlie and Oceanagold's Reefton mine in New Zealand as among higher-cost mines of large and mid-tier miners.

Some analysts have warned that 30 per cent of the world's big goldminers would fail to make money with a gold price at $US1300 an ounce.

Citi downgraded its gold price forecasts by 10 per cent for the coming two years and now predicts an average gold price of $US1555 an ounce in 2013, falling to $US1435 per ounce in 2014.

Citi downgraded Newcrest to a sell rating, but named Oceanagold, Perseus Mining and Beadell Resources as its preferred gold stocks.

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