02/10/2014 03:14 EST | Updated 04/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Gold miners look to a difficult 2013 behind them with earnings expected

OTTAWA - Canada's big gold miners are set this week to report their quarterly and full-year earnings for a year that many will likely be happy to put behind them.

The price of gold and the shares of the companies that produce it were hammered last year.

"We expect the year-end reporting season to continue to separate the wheat from the chaff," RBC Capital Markets analysts wrote in setting up their expectations for the quarter.

"Companies that can demonstrate the potential for improved free cash flow and capital discipline are likely to benefit, while those with deteriorating balance sheets are likely to struggle to attract investor attention."

RBC expects gold miners to cut their reserves as they lower the price for gold used in their estimates. The bank said companies, a majority of which use prices of $1,300 an ounce, will likely cut that to the $1,100 to $1,300 an ounce range.

"In some circumstances, reserves could be meaningfully cut as mine lives are reduced and mine plans altered to focus on higher margin ounces," the bank said.

Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K) and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. (TSX:AEM) are expected to report results after the close of markets on Wednesday.

Kinross is expected to report a fourth-quarter profit of three cents per share, while Agnico Eagle is expected to earn 18 cents according to the average analyst estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters

They will be followed by Canadian heavyweights, Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) and Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G), on Thursday.

Analysts on average expect earnings of 40 cents per share and 23 cents per share per share from Barrick and Goldcorp respectively.

Barrick has pared down its portfolio in recent months with several deals to sell non-core assets.

Last month, Barrick announced a deal to sell its stake in the Kanowna Belle and Kundana mine operations in Western Australia to Northern Star Resources Ltd. for A$75 million in cash.

And last week, Barrick and Goldcorp sold the Marigold mine in Nevada that the pair jointly owned to Silver Standard Resources Inc.

Gold hit a record closing high of US$1,891 in August 2011 just before the U.S. Federal Reserve embarked on another round of quantitative easing.

It started 2013 close to the US$1,700 level as gold bulls were convinced that inflation posed a threat, but the price started to fall rapidly in early May to end the year at about US$1,200.

Prices have lately found safe haven from emerging market worries and gold stocks started out 2014 on a strong note.

Shares in Barrick which fell 40 per cent in 2013 are up about 14 per cent so far this year. Goldcorp, which fell about 35 per cent last year is up 26 per cent since the start of January.

However, CIBC suggested the wild ride for gold may not be over.

"So the gold market is on a roll again," CIBC said in a recent report.

"It may just be temporary if most commentators are to be believed and, if so, the current little trot may just be the last opportunity to sell into some strength for some time."