By Ernest Scheyder
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (Reuters) – Long-time rivals Barrick Gold Corp and Newmont Mining Corp (NYSE:) renewed their animosity on Monday with their chief executives trading insults after Barrick launched an $18 billion hostile bid for the U.S. company, presaging an aggressive battle.
The tough talk underscored deep personality and cultural differences between the world’s two biggest gold producers. Their past attempts to merge ended in acrimony in 2014, and the frictions could scuttle a deal this time too.
Newmont’s financial returns in recent years show its CEO, Gary Goldberg, is a “loser,” Barrick CEO Mark Bristow told Reuters.
Goldberg, for his part, told Reuters that Bristow’s “credibility and experience” and performance at Randgold (LON:), which he led until last month when it was acquired by Barrick, was “anemic.”
Adding to the residue of resentment at the mining companies from past merger failures, the current hostile climate between the companies reflects animosity between the CEOs, opposing management styles and clashing visions for how to achieve maximum shareholder value.
The animus between Bristow and Goldberg extended to a dispute over who extended his hand first for a handshake at a BMO Metals & Mining Conference in Florida on Monday.
For investors, a Barrick-Newmont merger would bring under one roof some of the world’s most compatible gold mines and plants, which sit side by side in Nevada, and create a company likely to appeal to top shareholders seeking a haven for long-only money.
Barrick said there is more logic in a tie-up between the two than in Newmont’s planned $10 billion merger with Goldcorp.
“I think in an environment of lower gold prices, everyone needs more synergies and the synergies of Nevada – Barrick and Newmont – should have been done a long time ago,” said Greg Taylor of Purpose Investments, which holds Newmont shares.
Newmont rejected the Barrick bid, saying a joint venture was a better way to extract value from the two companies’ mines in Nevada.
The two CEOs said they have not met to compare financial records on the other’s Nevada assets. Each blamed the other for not being willing to share information.
“I drive trucks past … processing plants in Nevada, because Gary won’t share with me,” Bristow said.
Goldberg questioned when he was in the state “given that Bristow’s not really spent much time in Nevada to begin with.”
The Newmont CEO was adamant the Goldcorp deal was best for his company, contrasting it with what he described as Bristow’s short-sighted reliance on cost-cutting to pump profits.
“We see great value,” he said. “It feels to us that wherever Mark (Bristow) goes, he seems to be just firing people in order to boost returns.”
David Neuhauser of Livermore Partners, which holds Barrick shares, said the no-premium bid could “over time suggest a premium multiple, given the long life and cash-generating abilities” of the combined assets.
Van Eck and BlackRock (NYSE:), two large shareholders in both names, did not respond to requests for comment.
Major investors have taken on extra weight in the gold sector since many of the smaller metals funds disappeared after the 2015 to 2016 commodity slump. Those long-only funds, which do not invest in small companies, have largely driven the need for gold consolidation.
“Passive investors will seal the fate of this deal,” said Brian Madden of Goodreid in Toronto.
The bid now goes to shareholders, with Barrick asking Newmont’s investors to approve bylaw changes that would ultimately make its hostile bid easier.
The big loser would be Goldcorp, only just enjoying a share rally on the prospect of a tie-up with Newmont, which could be left without any potential buyers.
Goldcorp’s best hope is that it gets swept up in the next wave of activity, which many investors and analysts predict as a mighty Barrick sheds some of its assets.
“There is nothing Goldcorp can do to avoid the collapse of their deal,” a banker who worked on the Randgold-Barrick deal said on condition of anonymity.
“Newmont and Barrick is the deal that should have always happened, at least for the past 20 years.”