Fresnillo cautious on 2021 outlook despite soaring profits

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Mexico-focused precious metals miner Fresnillo (LON:FRES) reported on Tuesday an increase in full-year pre-tax profit thanks to strong gold and silver prices, but said it remains cautious due to the pandemic situation in the country where it has seven operations.

The company, Mexico’s largest gold producer, cut its full-year gold production outlook twice in 2020 due to covid-19 restrictions, which hit its Herradura and Noche Buena mines significantly.

Pandemic-related measures resulted in total gold production for 2020 decreasing by 12.1% to 769,600 ounces, which was within the company’s revised forecast.

Fresnillo total silver production fell 2.7% to  53.1 million ounces, down from 54.6 million ounces in 2019. This includes a 3.6% drop in Silverstream production to 2.8 million ounces from 2.9 million and a 2.9% drop in other silver output to 50 million ounces from 51.8 million.

Despite the poor production figures, higher precious metal prices in the year carried Fresnillo to increased profit and earnings.

Average realized silver price increased in 2020 by 32% to $21.3 per ounce, from $16.1 in 2019. Gold prices jumped by 26% to $1,792.4 per ounce from $1,418.

The company is rewarding investors with a final dividend of 23.5 US cents per share, almost doubled from 11.9 cents it paid in 2019.

“This final dividend is higher than the previous year due to the higher profit in 2020, and remains in line with the group’s dividend policy,” Fresnillo said.

Fourth-highest death toll

The miner, the world’s largest primary silver producer, said it was optimistic about long-term market conditions, but it added it remained cautious given the pandemic situation globally and, particularly, in Mexico.

The nation has been one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic with 186,152 virus-related fatalities, which gives it the world’s fourth-highest death toll from covid-19.

A number of high-level officials in Mexico have contracted the virus, including President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has shunned face masks.

“Given the ongoing pandemic, there is a relatively high degree of unpredictability about the year ahead, so we are cautious,” chief executive officer Octavio Alvídrez said.

Fresnillo, which floated in London in 2008, is 75% owned by Mexican billionaire Alberto Bailleres. The company’s flagship mine is Saucito, the world’s largest silver operation.