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UPDATE 1-Barrick profit beats expectations, miner lifts dividend

(Adds consensus estimate, exploration spending plans, revenue, details on debt reduction)

TORONTO, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp reported better-than-expected profits and ambitious plans to further pare its debt on Wednesday, saying its balance sheet is now healthy enough to boost dividends and spending on exploration.

The Toronto-based miner, which is hiking its dividend to 3 cents from 2 cents a share, said it will expand exploration beyond core districts and projects to so-called 'greenfield' areas.

Such uncharted territory presents a higher risk of failure, but bigger potential rewards for sizeable, new finds. About 80 percent of its $185-$225 million exploration budget is earmarked for the Americas, with much of the remainder for its African unit, Acacia.

Barrick, the world's biggest gold miner, reported an adjusted profit of $255 million, or 22 cents a share, well ahead of the consensus estimate of 19 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

In the same period last year, Barrick reported an adjusted profit of from $91 million, or 8 cents a share.

Revenue for the three-month period increased to $2.32 billion from $2.24 billion.

Barrick, which has been selling off non-core assets to help reduce debt, plans to reduce total debt by $2.9 billion by the end of 2018, with half that reduction made in 2017. That will cut its debt load to $5 billion from $7.9 billion currently.

Barrick said it will finance the debt reduction using cash flow from operations, the sale of non-core assets and new joint ventures and partnerships.

(Reporting by Susan Taylor; Editing by Peter Cooney and David Gregorio)

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