(Bloomberg) -- Newmont Corp. has gained partial access to the corporate books of Australian rival Newcrest Mining Ltd., according to people familiar with the matter, a sign that the US company could make a revised offer to seal what would be the world’s largest gold takeover.
Newmont is undertaking limited due diligence on Newcrest weeks after management of the Melbourne-based miner dismissed a $17 billion proposal from the world’s top bullion producer, according to people who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public.
Newcrest rebuffed Newmont’s all-stock offer in mid-February, with management saying the company is “worth a lot more” than what the Denver-based suitors proposed. But investors see few options for Newcrest, with no obvious alternative buyers to challenge Newmont. Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s No. 2 bullion producer, has said it doesn’t plan to make a rival offer and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., the third-largest gold miner, is busy wrapping up its second big gold takeover in 13 months.
Shares of Newmont rose 0.2% to $46.71 as of 3:50 p.m. in New York.
Newmont’s push to buy Newcrest comes as gold miners face the prospect of stagnating production, harder-to-mine deposits and rising input costs. Such industry challenges are seen as a catalyst for more mergers and acquisitions, as companies seek to get larger to boost production and increase efficiencies through economies of scale.
At least one top investor has warned Newmont Chief Executive Officer Tom Palmer not to overpay, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Finding a price tag that satisfies both sides could stretch negotiations over weeks, if not months, Douglas Groh, a senior portfolio manager at Sprott Asset Management USA, said in an interview.
“I think a deal is inevitable, but I wouldn’t be surprised for Newcrest if they’re still dealing with this in August,” said Groh, whose firm holds Newmont shares.
Adding to Newcrest’s challenges is the abrupt departure of its CEO in December.
“It’s obvious to the market there’s no leadership” at Newcrest, Groh said. “The board would’ve had to come out with a plan to show how they’re going to create value. And I don’t know if that’s forthcoming.”
Newcrest has pushed back against comments on leadership weakness. “As far as the executive team goes, it’s very much business as usual,” a spokesman said, adding the team has the “strategic, financial, commercial, operational, project delivery and innovation capability to produce results and are doing just that”.
Newcrest investors certainly hope the Australian company can convince its suitor that it’s worth more than the initial proposal. Newcrest operates five gold mines across three continents and generates around a quarter of its revenue from copper. Newmont, in turn, is facing a decade-long gold rut and has said it wants more of the energy-transition metal in its portfolio.
“I think Newmont’s a very good company, but I think Newcrest is a very good company, too,” said Simon Mawhinney, chief investment officer at Allan Gray, Newcrest’s second-largest shareholder. “And I just think Newmont needs to pay more, or more of their shares, for each Newcrest share in order to get this over the line.”
Newmont didn’t respond to email and phone requests seeking comment.
“Ultimately, it is up to them as to whether they do in fact put forward a revised proposal, but Newcrest is in a very strong position with a portfolio of high-margin mines, unrivaled organic growth pipeline, material and growing exposure to copper,” Newcrest’s spokesman said in an emailed statement.
The US miner has long been interested in acquiring Newcrest, people familiar with the matter said. It is said to have counted Newcrest and Canada’s Kinross Gold Corp. among its top takeover targets, but saw more synergies with the Australian producer and better access to copper.
The opportunity to bid for Newcrest presented itself in earnest late last year, when Sandeep Biswas suddenly left the top job after eight years, with Chief Financial Officer Sherry Duhe assuming the role as interim CEO. Top shareholders have been adamant that Duhe shouldn’t be made permanent head of the company, according to people familiar with the matter. The company needs a top manager with a mining background, they say, whereas Duhe comes from finance and energy.
Newcrest has said a CEO search process is ongoing.
--With assistance from Clara Ferreira Marques, Manuel Baigorri and James Fernyhough.
(Adds shares in fourth paragraph.)
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