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B2Gold's Johnson barracks for better sector performance

The big Barrick-Randgold deal has robbed us this year of Mark Bristow’s customary analysis of his peers’ performance defects at the Denver Gold Forum, but his old sparring partner, B2Gold chief Clive Johnson, didn’t disappoint, even suggesting John Thornton and his management team might have picked the wrong horse.
B2Gold's Johnson barracks for better sector performance B2Gold's Johnson barracks for better sector performance B2Gold's Johnson barracks for better sector performance B2Gold's Johnson barracks for better sector performance B2Gold's Johnson barracks for better sector performance

B2Gold chief Clive Johnson: "Argument that things are down because of the gold price is absolutely false"

Richard Roberts at Colorado Springs

Speaking at the forum at Colorado Springs about B2Gold's "transformative" 2018 - based on a circa-300,000oz rise in annual gold output, coupled with a doubling of revenue and projected 158% increase in cash flow from operations - Johnson said the "world's new senior gold producer" continued to prefer organic growth to M&A and he lambasted global gold equity returns.

He said B2Gold had outperformed the gold price, various sector indices and its peers since 2008 - citing a sector comparison chart that "became pretty famous" last year - while most others had underperformed.

While the chart putting B2Gold's total shareholder returns at 320% since 2008, well ahead of any rival, doesn't make it into its own public presentation archive, the company's latest published chart has it delivering 83% TSR since 2010 while all its peers, including Randgold, have produced negative returns for the period.

The gold price has risen 6% during the period.

Since 2016, says Johnson, B2Gold's 71% TSR has been more than double nearest rival Endeavour Mining Corp's 32% TSR, and well ahead of peers such as IAMGOLD, New Gold and Centerra Resources.

"John Thornton was doing a good job of pumping up [Mark] Bristow's tyres this [past] weekend," Johnson told the forum.

"I'm glad he's not pumping our tyres because he'd probably be taking us over.

"At the end of the day we've had a 320% return on investment, if you bought B2Gold shares 10 years ago. That's unparalleled on the gold space, and that is without our shares [currently] reflecting the value [that's been created].

"Life is tough. Gold mining is a tough business. But we can't hide from the fact that Paulson [hedge fund that controversially attacked gold sector leaders at the Denver Gold Forum in 2017] was right to point out a year ago that the performance of the gold sector by and large has been pathetic for the last 10-15 years.

"Since 2008 gold has been up actually, 34%, but the gold sector is down 46%. The argument that things are down because of the gold price is absolutely false.

"Believe me, I wish these companies [peers] had all done better. If half of these companies had performed as well as Randgold or ourselves, our stock would be $5 today."

B2Gold's share price hasn't been alone in having a roller-coaster trajectory over the past five years. Its current level around C$2.90 gives the company a market value of C$2.9 billion.

It did get to a 10-year peak of C$4.50 two years ago.

B2Gold acquired its now cornerstone Fekola mine in Mali in a 2014 merger with ASX-listed junior Papillon Resources.

Now the group has mines in Africa, South America and the Philippines producing 920,000-960,000ozpa at AISC of US$780-830/oz, with line-of-sight to 1Mozpa-plus production.

"I've said for three years now that we're not looking at serious M&A to acquire [production] ounces," Johnson said.

"Why would we look at anything using our shares to grow when we have the potential in our pipeline?

"We would never buy anything that needs a higher gold prices, and/or exploration success, to justify the purchase price. Too many gold companies over the past 15 years have acquired just for the sake of growth.

"When we're ready, on our terms, we will eventually look at M&A again, but not any time soon."