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CORRECTED-DEALTALK-Surge in Australian gold stocks buffs M&A prospects

CommoditiesFeb 20, 2016 04:32
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© Reuters. CORRECTED-DEALTALK-Surge in Australian gold stocks buffs M&A prospects

(Corrects paragraph 6 to clarify that Newmont has not largely exitied Australian gold fields)

By Swati Pandey and James Regan

SYDNEY, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Australia's gold miners have grown over the past two years by picking up mines shed by North American sector giants racing to cut debt. This year, they may be eyeing each other.

With most of the country's prized gold mines back in local hands, mergers and acquisition interest is turning from assets to the corporate level, with strong share prices providing buying clout.

Investment bankers in mining say they now spend more time on gold deals than any other resources, singling out Regis Resources RRL.AX , Northern Star Resources NST.AX and OceanaGold Corp OGC.AX as the most likely predators.

Evolution Mining Ltd EVN.AX makes up a quartet of companies with a market capitalisation between A$1.3 billion ($930 million) and A$2.6 billion, where a combination of some sort could provide a stronger investment rival to top-tier producer Newcrest Mining NCM.AX .

"There are fewer opportunities to buy assets now following divestments over recent years," said an Australian resources banker, who declined to be identified as he was not allowed to talk to the media. "We see scrip-based M&A in the gold sector involving players like Northern Star and Regis."

All four miners have grown substantially in the past two years through mine acquisitions, with Evolution and Northern Star buying assets from the world's top two gold producers, Barrick Gold ABX.TO and Newmont Mining (N:NEM) NEM.N as they reduced exposure in Australian gold fields.

A jump in the gold price has pushed shares in the four miners to multi-year or all-time highs, while the stocks of smaller rivals like St Barbara Ltd SBM.AX , Ramelius Resources RMS.AX and Saracen Mineral Holdings SAR.AX have also surged.


The stronger gold price, a lower Australian dollar and cheaper energy have helped boost margins across the sector.

Gold deals slowed to a trickle when the value of the Australian dollar AUD= overtook the greenback in 2011 and 2012, but have bounced back as the Aussie receded to current levels around 71 U.S. cents.

Gold deals were a standout among total mining transactions over the 12 months to Aug. 31, 2015, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, making up 64 percent of the total deal value in the sector.

"This is a space that we continue to be active in. There have been a lot of deals," said Sam Brodovcky, head of M&A for Standard Chartered (L:STAN) Bank, Australia.

"They all will be looking at M&A," he said. "The theme is more about an opportunity for these guys to really build an Australian mid-tier."

So far this year, gold shares are the top performers in Australia, with the gold miners index .AXGD up nearly 27 percent versus a near 7 percent decline in the wider market. U.S dollar gold XAU= is up about 16 percent and Australian dollar gold XAUAUD=R by 19 percent.

"We have emerged from quite a dark period as a sector to be low cost and cash generative," said Jake Klein, executive chairman of Evolution. "I see increased interest in the Australian gold sector continuing for the foreseeable future."

But as rivals jockey to catch up to Newcrest, the sector leader signalled it is no rush to make acquisitions of its own.

"There's a long graveyard of M&A transactions that haven't turned out as expected," Newcrest Chief Executive Sandeep Biswas said during a post-earnings conference call this week.

"We're not afraid to do M&A if the operation and the price is right, but our preferred focus is on organic growth of our existing operations." ($1 = 1.3990 Australian dollars)

<^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Australian gold miners vs gold prices

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^> (Editing by Richard Pullin)

CORRECTED-DEALTALK-Surge in Australian gold stocks buffs M&A prospects

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