By Zandi Shabalala and Jeff Lewis
A lull in corporate takeover activity among gold miners is expected to end as new coronavirus-linked travel restrictions are lifted in coming months, clearing the way for prospective buyers, industry executives and fund managers said.
Deals this year have been hobbled by lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus, preventing acquirers from travelling to inspect acquisition targets.
Miners year-to-date have struck 275 transactions worth about $6.9 billion (£5.61 billion), including net debt, according to data from Refinitiv, down from 329 deals valued around $26.8 billion in the six months to June 2019.
Last year's tally included the closing of multibillion-dollar deals by Barrick and Newmont.
"Our industry is considering coronavirus a thing of the past as most countries are easing lockdowns and this should propel M&A activity again," said Ingo Hofmaier, SolGold's executive general manager of project and corporate finance.
"Uncertainty and inability to visit mine sites was clearly not helpful."
(GRAPHIC: Gold mining mergers hit coronavirus snag -
Solgold, whose largest shareholder is BHP, earlier this month struck a financing deal worth up to $150 million with streaming company Franco-Nevada Corp.
Gold is trading at its highest since 2013, around $1,700 an ounce, because of its safe-haven appeal.
"We are being shown a lot more deals but with coronavirus, due diligence is tricky if you are not based on the ground and near the site," said Bert Monro, chief executive of West Africa-focused Cora Gold.
Deals this year largely took shape before the outbreak, executives and bankers said.
In March, Endeavour Mining offered C$1 billion ($726.9 million) for Toronto-listed Semafo. Silvercorp Metals this month hiked its bid for Guyana Goldfields, while China's Shandong Gold Mining offered C$230 million ($167.9 million) for struggling TMAC Resources. SSR Mining also snapped up Alacer Gold.
"Overall we expect more deals in the mid-cap space as companies compete to become relevant," said David Baker of Baker Steel Capital Managers.
(Reporting by Zandi Shabalala in London and Jeff Lewis in Toronto; editing by Ernest Scheyder)