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NEW YORK (
The Deal) -- Gold prices may have fallen about 26% since January, but for the companies that mine the precious metal it has rarely been more costly.
Australia's largest gold producer,
Newcrest Mining, on Monday, Aug. 12, booked A$6.23 billion ($5.71 billion) in impairments and asset write-downs. The news follows a week after larger rival
Barrick Gold(ABX - Get Report) of Toronto slashed $8.7 billion off the value of its assets.
The huge losses underline the wider woes that are hurting everyone from the largest gold producers, many of which own mines that are now loss making, to gold prospecting companies, which are bleeding cash waiting for absent buyers.
The extent and speed of the fall in the value of gold mining assets was highlighted by Newcrest's Monday announcement, which included a A$3.4 billion charge linked to its Lihir Gold operation in Papua New Guinea. The operation was bought in 2010 for A$9.2 billion.
The losses are grim news for the gold mining sector and for those hoping for a return to dealmaking that is central to the progression of gold projects from exploration to production. Those deals tend to trickle down from the top. Newcrest and Barrick, which along with
Goldcorp(GG - Get Report) and
Newmont Mining Corp.(NEM - Get Report) make up the big four of gold mining, are in no mood to buy.
Barrick said last week it will close or reduce production at 12 of its 27 mines to focus on profitable operations. Newcrest said it will cut costs by "removing higher cost ounces from the production profile and accelerating reductions in operating costs, corporate costs and capital expenditure."
The pressure heaped on balance sheets by the write-downs was illustrated by Newcrest's gearing, which stood at 29% following its write-downs and a resultant record loss of A$5.8 billion announced on Monday. The company said it was comfortable with its debt but reiterated that its long-term target remains a gearing level of 15%. High gearing is when a company has a high level of borrowing compared to its share price.
Moody's Investors Service last month downgraded the mining company to Baa3, one step above junk status, and warned that it could be cut further.