Barrick Gold Chairman Bows Out, but Company’s Troubles Remain

24/7 Wall St.

The 86-year old founder and chairman of Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX), Peter Munk, will step down from his position as chairman of the company's board of directors at the company's 2014 annual meeting expected in early May. Current co-chairman John Thornton will take over as sole chairman at that time. Munk will also give up his seat on the board.

Munk founded Barrick in 1983, growing the company from a small junior producer with one mine into the global gold industry leader with operations on five continents. But declining gold prices and environmental issues in Peru have sent the company's shares tumbling nearly 72% in the past three years, from a high of around $55 to a current price of around $15.

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Barrick fired its chief executive in July of 2012 and replaced him with the company's chief financial officer, Jamie Sokalsky, whose job it is to bring the company's costs under control and provide a better return for investors. At the time Sokalsky took over, Barrick shares traded at about $42, so his tenure so far has not had the desired effect.

Sokalsky's headache is the result of Barrick's strategy of constantly adding to reserves. That strategy is the one Munk followed and the one that has put Barrick in the position where it now finds itself. To be fair, all the large mining companies suffered from the same disease, and all have paid the price since the commodity markets have cooled off.

Big, expensive projects are being delayed or canceled, including Barrick's own Pascua-Lama project in Peru that cost the company a $5.1 billion write-down in the second quarter of this year.

Two other Barrick directors will not stand for reelection and, along with Munk's departure, Barrick will add a total of four new directors to the board, giving independent directors 10 of 14 board seats. More independence on the board will help, but the problems Barrick faces eventually may have to be solved by selling off some of the properties the company has spent the past 30 years accumulating.

Barrick's stock was trading down about 0.5% in the late morning Thursday, at $15.61 in a 52-week range of $13.43 to $36.08.

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