African Barrick Gold expansion plans helped by political unrest

LONDON (Reuters)  - 

African Barrick Gold (ABG.L) said plans to expand outside Tanzania have been helped by political unrest in Africa lowering valuations for some assets.

"Our view is that getting that risk priced back into valuations is a good thing," chief executive Greg Hawkins said on Monday at the Reuters Global Mining Steel Summit.

The gold producer has been looking at acquisitions in west Africa and northeast Africa.

"It has been pretty tough in west Africa with a lot of valuations being fairly strong, reflecting the good gold price and a real appetite for West Africa particularly up to September/October."

"Probably what happened in north east Africa, with the Ivory Coast and a few other issues, put back in investors minds the risk equation," he said.

Around 400 Ivorians have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since a dispute over a November 28 vote that has since escalated into open conflict.

Hawkins said rival London-listed gold producer Randgold Resources (RRS.L), whose newest mine is in Ivory Coast, has helped to mitigate political risk by operating in a number of countries.

"Tanzania has been a very good home base for us but, in the longer term, we see a strategic imperative to diversification," Hawkins said at the Reuters Summit in London.

African Barrick has focused its search on Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

"Over the last nine months, we have been on the ground at least a dozen projects and we have probably taken about half of those a bit further," he said.

"We will look at where we think we can add more value, and that would more likely be at the early stage.

However, he said the company would consider paying at the top of the market for an operating asset if it thought the asset had big exploration potential and the potential for bolt-on acquisitions.

African Barrick, which floated in London last March, expects to produce 700,000-760,000 ounces of gold in 2011.

Safe-haven demand for gold driven by violence across the Arab world and concern over Japan's nuclear crisis could drive the price to new highs above $1,500 an ounce, he said.

(Editing by Dan Lalor)