(Bloomberg) -- The world's biggest miners have spent years calling for consolidation in a fragmented industry. Newmont Corp.'s $17 billion offer for Australia's Newcrest Mining Ltd. suggests it's finally starting to happen on a significant scale.
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While there have been other significant deals in the past year - Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.'s $10.4 billion takeover of Kirkland Lake Gold Ltd. and a $4.8 billion acquisition of Yamana Gold Inc. that is set to close in weeks - the latest move by the top gold producer signals a taste for deals on an even bigger scale.
Newmont's all-stock offer would be the largest gold mining takeover ever, and comes as titans BHP Group Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group have pursued multibillion-dollar deals to expand in copper. The flurry of activity is happening as producers struggle with higher operating costs, declining output and harder-to-mine resources while new deposits are more difficult to find. Adding to the mix is soaring demand for battery metals that are the backbone to the global shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.
The Newmont deal "shows that, while consolidation has taken awhile, we're finally getting there," Yamana's founder Peter Marrone said Monday in a phone interview, referring to the gold sector. "With this transaction, there will be fewer other senior companies, and so it seems to me that the logical next place for consolidation is with the mid-tiers."
A slowdown in the number of gold mining takeovers since the start of the pandemic has given smaller producers a chance to get bigger, while the two top bullion producers - Newmont and Barrick Gold Corp. - focused on their own resources. Others have been cracking the top tier of gold mining, with Agnico purchasing Kirkland Lake a year ago to solidify its ranking as the third-biggest bullion producer. Pan American Silver Corp. joined forces with Agnico to acquire and split up Yamana, elevating the Vancouver-based miner into a Top 5 global ranking for silver output.
Meanwhile, BHP seeks to consolidate its position as one of the world's largest copper producers with its proposed $6.4 billion takeover of Australia's Oz Minerals Ltd. Rival Rio Tinto spent $3.1 billion in December to gain full control of a massive copper mine in Mongolia through its takeover of Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. Brazilian mining giant Vale SA is seeking to sell a stake in its base metals business within the coming months. And Saudi Arabia's state mining company announced a new venture in January to invest in overseas mining assets.
Read more: Mega miners are hunting for deals after decade on the sidelines
Newmont has been showing "some hints of a more aggressive approach coming" as it weighs the importance of size "to increase relevance to generalist investors," BMO Capital Markets mining and metals analyst Jackie Przybylowski said in a Monday note to clients.
Newmont's takeover of Newcrest would give the Denver-based company a market value of $57 billion and combined production of as much as 8.5 million ounces, Scotiabank analyst Tanya Jakusconek said in a note. That would leapfrog Barrick's $32 billion market capitalization and end years of jockeying for the title of world's most-valued gold miner.
Barrick's Mark Bristow said in a Monday interview that he doesn't plan to make an offer for Newcrest to outdo its North American rival. The chief executive said five weeks ago that he'll be focused on the "junior part of the market" this year while avoiding "stupid M&As." The Toronto-based company hasn't done a significant mining deal since its takeover of Randgold Resources Ltd. four years ago.
"There is a difference between value merger acquisitions and getting bigger for the sake of getting bigger," Bristow said.
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