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Barrick CEO says there's rising demand for gold as a 'self-funded insurance policy' in a global crisis

Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow on gold demand amid coronavirus pandemic
Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow on gold demand amid coronavirus pandemic
Key Points
  • Barrick CEO Mark Bristow says the company is well-positioned in the coronavirus crisis.
  • "We're giving investors the opportunity to have a self-funded insurance policy," Bristow said.
  • The company reported a 55% year-over-year increase in profits

In this article

As gold prices climb back towards their all-time highs, Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow sees his industry providing certainty during an uncertain crisis.

"We're giving investors the opportunity to have a self-funded insurance policy against a global financial crisis," Bristow told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday. 

"In response to Covid, we've taken quantitative easing to another level, and of course that puts pressure on paper money, and you measure that with the price of gold," Bristow noted. "We've seen prices go up across the world."

Gold, seen as a bellwether for economic uncertainty, has crossed the $1,700 mark for the first time in seven years, though it was trading around $1,689 on Wednesday. The commodity hit a high of $1,900 in 2011, but dropped back in 2013 to start a trough.

"You've seen a shift in the base of the gold price," Bristow said. "Added demand from China drove that initial gold price post-2005, as we came out of the hedging crisis. And then the mining industry itself added a whole lot of supply on the back of that rising gold price, and in fact in the process destroyed a lot of that value."

"During that trough, we've learned a little bit of discipline in the gold industry," Bristow said. 

Now, as the Federal Reserve has cut rates and global uncertainty reigns, the industry is seeing spiking demand for gold. 

"We don't have reserves in our industry," Bristow noted. "We're constantly exploiting lower-quality resources as the price goes up. So we're not prepared as an industry for extra demand."

"There's a technical aberration as well, because new gold supply is predicted to decline. So gold supply, and technical support for gold prices, is also adding to the underpinning of the gold price going forward." 

As a company, however, Barrick sees itself as well-positioned to weather this crisis.

"We merged Randgold and Barrick last year, and set out to flatten management and make it all accountable at the site, and that put us in good stead to be able to manage this crisis on the ground," Bristow said. 

Barrick has also ordered 8,000 coronavirus test kits from around the world to distribute to employees at their sites, in response to the pandemic.

"Coming from Africa, we're quite used to pandemics, and particularly viral pandemics," Bristow said. "We grew up with two bouts of Ebola, and the key thing about any viral crisis is to screen, identify, isolate, and test. That's what we put in place across Barrick's organizations, 14 different mines around the world, in February." 

As the coronavirus crisis goes on, and gold continues to climb higher, Barrick is prepared if prices come back down. 

"We have a ten-year plan, at $1,200 gold," Bristow said.

Barrick reported earnings Wednesday. The company saw a 55% year-over-year increase in profits, and noted that gold production and costs were in line with their full-year guidance.