By Zandi Shabalala
LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) - Gold miners must focus on maximising returns and more mergers to attract investors seeking to diversify after years of under-investing in mines, Barrick Gold's chief executive said on Wednesday.
"The industry is in decline and we have put ourselves in a very a tight spot because we haven't invested in exploration and our future," said Mark Bristow, who took the helm in January at Barrick after its takeover of Africa's Randgold.
"The supply side of our industry is very tight."
Gold miners have for years been accused of eroding profits through expensive deals but the takeovers of Randgold by Barrick and Goldcorp by Newmont Mining has spurred speculation about a pick up in long-dormant gold M&A.
Bristow said of the recent consolidation "while (it) is important, we have got to become relevant."
Barrick in March pulled its $18 billion offer for Newmont and agreed instead to form a joint venture in Nevada with its rival, ending a hostile takeover bid that sought to unite the world's two largest gold producers.
On Tuesday, Barrick offered to buyout the remaining 36.1% of shares it does not already own in London-listed Acacia Mining at a discount to its current share price.
Bristow declined to comment on the issue further.
The Nevada operation, which will be 61.5% owned by Barrick, will be reviewing mine plans and based on geological and geotechnical modelling will be reviewing mining methods and along with other assets in the miner's portfolio will be focusing the combined team on driving efficiency improvements, Bristow said.
"We have to be better we have to be more focused on returns if we going to attract investment around our industry," Bristow told delegates at a conference.
"The world has never been more chaotic economically than it is today ... people are searching for alternative reserve currencies and gold will play a natural role as it has done."
Analysts say gold has recently failed to fully capitalise on its traditional role as a hedge against financial and political uncertainties with investors betting more on a run in riskier assets such as stocks.
But analysts at Swiss bank Julius Baer said investors seeking safe havens would be lured into gold by expectations of a U.S. recession and a related cooling of global growth towards the end of next year.
(Reporting by Zandi Shabalala; editing by David Evans)