Ancient Egyptians coveted it. The Spanish Conquistadores killed for it. Still today, thousands of tonnes of this shiny metal are stockpiled under maximum security in Fort Knox to guard against the consequences of a possible economic collapse. One of the world’s oldest “currencies,” gold is easily history’s most highly sought after precious metal.
For centuries it was used exclusively for decorative purposes, adorning the crowns of kings and enhancing the allure of religious buildings and objects. Perhaps the first practical use of gold was for teeth replacement, as 17th century dentists discovered that gold teeth proved effective due to the metal’s non-corrosive properties. Although it is still widely used for jewellery and other instances where its use signifies great wealth, gold now has a plethora of applications ranging from electronic components to life support devices.
Even astronauts’ helmets are lined with gold to protect their eyes and skin from solar radiation. Despite this wide array of gold products, most of the world’s gold is hoarded; stored in underground vaults, personal safes, and bank depositories simply for its potential value. The perceived permanence of gold as a store of absolute value is mainly what continues to drive the demand for extraction of this precious resource.
The multi-billion dollar global gold mining industry is big business for mining investors despite the intensive pollution and widespread landscape disruption that major mines often entail. Ranging from massive fully automated open-pit operations operated by global mining corporations to dangerous, labor intensive gold sifting by hand in the developing world, humans go to great lengths to separate tiny flecks of gold encased in millions of tonnes of rock.
The global price of gold fluctuates greatly, causing major gold producing companies to constantly recalculate their yearly earnings and production targets. Since costs can often outweigh sales when the global price of bullion falls unexpectedly, mines sometimes have to shut down temporarily and future operations can suffer significant delays. The current gold price is hovering around $1200-$1300 per ounce after reaching all-time highs of over $1800/ounce in mid-2011.
The biggest players in the global gold mining business hail from just a few countries. However, many of these companies derive their profits from mines located outside of their borders. Here is a closer look at the biggest gold mining companies ranked according to 2013 production:
10 #10 Yamana Gold Inc. – Canada
Market Cap: $8.5 Billion– 1.2 Million Ounces/Year
With operations in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, this company, although headquartered in Canada, produces exclusively in Latin America. Its biggest project, El Peñon in Chile, yields over 450,000 ounces annually.
9 #9 China National Gold Group – China
1.4 Million Ounces/Year
The only government-owned company on this list, China National Gold produces gold mainly in Tibet, Mongolia, and the Shandong province. Because of its status as a non-traded company, its finances are not open to public viewing.
8 #8 Polyus Gold International – Russia
Market Cap: $ 4 Billion - 1.65 Million Ounces/Year
This company operates almost exclusively in Siberia, with most of its mines in the remote Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk regions. With its only other project located in Kazakhstan, this company is Russian through and through. Its biggest mine is Olimpiada, which produces over 600,000 ounces annually.
7 #7 Goldfields Ltd. – South Africa
Market Cap: $3 Billion - 2 Million Ounces/Year
South Deep, the company’s flagship growth project near South Africa’s biggest city of Johannesburg, holds an incredible 84 million ounces of recoverable gold. This is also currently the world's second-largest active single gold deposit. The company also conducts major operations in Peru, Ghana, and Australia.
6 #6 Newcrest Mining – Australia
Market Cap: $8.5 Billion - 2.1 Million Ounces/Year
Newcrest extracted 600,000 ounces of gold in 2013 from its Lihir mine located on a remote island in Papua New Guinea. Cadia Valley near Sydney, Australia, also produces close to half a million ounces annually. Other major operations are in Western Australia, Indonesia and a smaller project in West Africa (Ivory Coast).
5 #5 Kinross Gold Corp. – Canada
Market Cap: $6.5 Billion - 2.63 Million Ounces/Year
With major operations in Ghana, Brazil, Russia, and Alaska, the company also mines gold in Nevada and Chile. Its Brazilian property, Paracuta, is the country’s biggest gold mine at more than 450,000 ounces of gold produced annually.
4 #4 Goldcorp Inc. – Canada
Market Cap: $23 Billion– 2.67 Million Ounces/Year
Driven by 490,000 ounces of gold coming out of their Red Lake mine in northern Ontario, the company also operates in Nevada, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina. Its Peñasquito mine in central Mexico produces about 400,000 ounces annually.
3 #3 AngloGold Ashanti –South Africa
Market Cap: $7 Billion - 4.1 Million Ounces/Year
Africa’s biggest gold producer, this company operates mines across the continent, including locations in Ghana, Namibia, Guinea, Mali, and Tanzania. Not limited to one continent, however, AngloGold also produces gold in Australia, Colorado, and Colombia.
Its biggest revenue comes from six deep underground mines on home turf, which together churn out almost two million ounces annually. The company has seen its reputation suffer considerably after repeated major strikes from miners complaining of unfair treatment and low wages caused disruption of many of its South African operations.
2 #2 Newmont Mining Corp - USA
Market Cap: $11.5 Billion– 5.1 Million Ounces/Year
Spanning four continents, this Colorado-based company gets a significant part of its annual production from 16 mines in Nevada, totaling close to two million ounces of gold extracted annually. It also has major operations in Peru, Ghana, Indonesia and Australia.
1 #1 Barrick Gold Corp. - Canada
Market Cap: $20 billion – 7.16 Million Ounces/Year
This Toronto-based company is by far the biggest gold miner in the world. It operates on four continents, with major operations in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Nevada, and Australia. Curiously, it only operates one mine in Canada.
Its flagship property, the highly productive Cortez mine in Nevada, churns out over one million ounces annually. Although hit hard with a $10 billion operating loss in 2013 due to falling gold prices, the company is betting on future growth as soon as prices rebound.