Barrick Gold Corp. built on the solid foundation it laid last year with a robust first quarter performance from all operations in the face of the challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

First-quarter gold production and costs were consistent with full-year guidance; debt net of cash was reduced by a further 17 per cent from the end of the fourth quarter of 2019 to $1.85 billion with no significant maturities until 2033; operating cash flow increased to $889 million and free cash flow to $438 million from the fourth quarter; net earnings per share was 22 cents; adjusted net earnings per share was 16 cents; and the quarterly dividend of 7 cents per share was maintained.

President and CEO Mark Bristow said operational and financial delivery were on plan despite the fact that the group’s prime focus during the latter part of the quarter had been on ensuring the safety of Barrick’s people, communities and business in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, while also coping with the restrictive conditions imposed by governments.

“Our sustainability and regional teams have done a great job in taking timely action to introduce comprehensive and carefully considered measures at all our sites and offices to manage and mitigate any impacts of COVID-19 on our employees and contractors. A key focus of this plan is on prevention, and all sites are working actively to head off an outbreak,” he said.

“In Barrick’s spirit of partnership, we have extended COVID-19 support to our local communities and our host countries and are working closely with their health authorities. To date we have donated more than $20 million to our host countries, many of whom have limited healthcare facilities, to fund the purchase of medical equipment and PPE.”

Highlights of the quarter included the closing of the sale of the Massawa project, which has created immediate value for all stakeholders, including Barrick. In Tanzania, the signing of the framework agreement with the government paved the way for the resumption of concentrate exports.

Brownfields exploration continues to replenish reserves depleted by mining while Barrick’s generative exploration programs are identifying new projects and targets and expanding its global reach. Among other things, Barrick has formed an alliance with Japan Gold, holder of the largest exploration property portfolio in Japan.

Since the end of the quarter, the government of Papua New Guinea has announced that it will not renew Barrick Niugini Ltd’s 20-year Special Mining Lease for the Porgera gold mine. Barrick has said it will contest the move, which it regards as tantamount to nationalization without due process. In the meantime, BNL has placed Porgera on temporary care and maintenance. In addition, due to the uncertainty related to the timing and scope of future developments on the mine’s operating outlook, the company is withdrawing its full-year 2020 guidance for Porgera at this time. “As this is a rapidly evolving situation, we will reassess on an ongoing basis and provide further updates in due course, while maintaining operational readiness,” the company said.

Bristow said regardless of new discoveries, organic growth from its existing asset base – which includes six Tier One gold mines – would sustain Barrick’s recently published 10-year plan that projects annual production of around five million ounces of gold (subject to adjustment based on the outcome of the process with the Government of Papua New Guinea with respect to the Porgera Special Mining Lease extension). A Tier One gold mine is one which has a life of at least 10 years and produces more than 500,000 ounces of gold per annum in the lower half of the industry cost range.

Barrick has also published an industry-first ESG scorecard to transparently report on its performance in terms of health and safety; social and economic development; human rights; the environment; and governance.

“Overall, we scored a B grade, which we believe accurately reflects our improvement in sustainability performance over the year but also acknowledges that there is still some work to be done,” Mr Bristow said.