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Why elevated gold prices are leading to consolidation

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After acquiring TMAC Resources, Agnico Eagle (TSE:AEM) still intends to keep its exploration budget elevated.

On Friday CEO Sean Boyd recorded Kitco Roundtable podcast with correspondent Paul Harris and mining audiences manager Michael McCrae.

Agnico Eagle operates Canadian Malartic, the nation's largest gold mine. The company is a top ten gold producer, having produced 1.7 million ounces in 2019.

Agnico gave the sector a huge boost of confidence with the big M&A deal announced at the start of the year, the $286 million acquisition of TMAC Resources. Boyd said the deal was closed on its ability to generate net free cash flow.

"That's still the primary motivation for the investor base in the producers. And so when you introduce a new asset, they want to know where it fits in the pipeline," said Boyd.

Overall, he said miners and juniors need to drill more.

"Early-stage exploration—that's where the true value gets created. And I think from our perspective, that's another sort of strategic emphasis. We're bumping our exploration budget by 50% or $50 million in 2021. And that was prior to acquiring TMAC," said Boyd.

He forecasts more industry M&A.

"When you see a commodity do what gold has done in the last couple of years in the resource space, you tend to get consolidation. Gold is quite fractured in terms of ownership.

Despite the recent fall in gold prices, the metal is trading at a much higher level than forecast at the start of the year and many gold miners are profitable and flush with cash. At the start of the year, an average of LBMA analyst forecasts were predicting an average gold price of $1,558. The actual average price in 2020 was $1,769.

"There's just so many players relative to the number of quality opportunities, and this is still an industry that's capital constrained," said Boyd.

Regarding energy transition and switch to renewables, Boyd said he would like to see more powerlines to the north.

"The ultimate goal and the wish of a large part of the population in Nunavut is to have the hydro line run from Churchill, Manitoba, up into the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, collect communities along the way... and potentially benefit Meliadine mine," said Boyd.

Boyd admits such a project is a long way out. Wind is another option for mines in the north for mines making an energy transition.

"We've been discussing wind farms with the federal government. We know that the federal government had been talking to TMAC about wind technology and wind farm for Hope Bay, so we're going to pick up on the discussions," said Boyd.

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