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Mining Companies Prepare for Long “Winter”

Goldminers and the companies they work for are “hunkering down” for a long and difficult winter, but not the one we normally think of. North American mining companies are preparing to ride out the winter of a global economic slowdown; looking to rein in spending and perhaps delay some projects and exploration.

They have come along way since the picture to the right (circa 1874) was taken.  But gold prices fell last week and are expected to fall even further in the face of a strengthening dollar and Euro. The world’s largest gold producers, Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Mining Corp., are wrestling with volatile commodities prices, fluctuating oil prices, inflation and the frozen American credit markets. Analysts are predicting they will lower production in the year ahead, but the impact will be even greater overseas, where most of the world’s gold mines are to be found.

“With the way commodity prices have come off in the face of a slowing global economy, what the miners are doing is starting to evaluate all their ongoing projects,” Argus Research analyst Bill Selesky said Friday. “It’s all because of the credit crunch.”

2008 started off as good year for the miners. Denver-based Newmont reported a fivefold jump in its first-quarter net income and Barrick swung to a profit.

But as the global economy began to falter, gold fell. The price is down to around $720 an ounce this month. At the same time product costs, like fuel and machinery, spiked. Gold is competing with the dollar as a safe haven for capital, but it may be losing ground.

“Gold supporters, in our opinion, are losing some faith,” JPMorgan analyst John Bridges wrote in a research note.

UBS on Friday revised its 2009 forecast for gold to $700 an ounce from $825 an ounce. Still the miners believe gold will hold its value compared to other commodities.

Barrick’s founder, Peter Munk says “The decrease in value over the past four or five months in gold is a fraction of what all the base metals, oil, sulfur, wheat, soybean, lead, nickel has gone through, which again, indicates the tremendous monetary value of gold as a means of creating high-level liquidity in terms of panic.”

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