SYDNEY, March 24 (Reuters) - Newcrest Mining, one of the world's biggest gold producers, will hedge more than half-a-million ounces of gold over the next two years, abandoning a long-held opposition to cap its exposure to market bullion prices.
The decision breaks ranks with peers and its own non-hedge stance to avoid locking in fixed prices on future production and benefit from any increase in gold prices.
With the Australian dollar gold prices this year nearing record highs as the U.S. dollar strengthens, Newcrest said this was as an "appropriate moment to lock in" gold output from its Telfer mine in the west Australian outback.
Gold averaged around A$1,540 ($1,156) per ounce in 2015, but jumped as high as A$1,778 since January. It has since retreated to stand around A$1,620 an ounce.
Newcrest said it has locked in gold sales of 530,749 ounces in varying amounts year-on-year at an overall average price of A$1,737 an ounce until June 30, 2018, and wouldn't rule increasing forward sales further.
Many high-rated firms such as Randgold Resources, Newmont Mining and Goldcorp do not hedge.
Newcrest sold A$2 billion of stock in 2007 to close its mostly out-of-the-money hedge book, vowing at the time to steer clear of the practice.
Once happy to sell the lion's share of future production forward at fixed prices and guarantee revenue streams, hedging all but dried up by the second half of the last decade as mining companies scrambled to gain full exposure to rising bullion prices.
Hedging guarantees that miners get a minimum price for their products, and essentially involves the producer agreeing to sell some or all of its output at a set price over a period of years.
While hedging can protect a mining company against price falls, it also means hedgers can miss out when the market rises.
Production at Newcrest's other Australian mines, including the larger Cadia mine, is not hedged.
Newcrest in January said its Telfer mine would yield between 470,000 and 520,000 ounces of gold in 2016, against the total company production guidance of 2.4 million and 2.6 million ounces.
($1 = 1.3314 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)