Newcrest closes a mine after a worker dies.

Toronto - Newmont Mining, the largest US gold producer, reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ estimates as gold prices rose.

Net income was $673 million compared with a loss of $1.03 billion a year earlier, Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Newmont said yesterday in a statement.

Earnings excluding an income-tax benefit and other one-time items were $1.11 a share, beating the 97-cent average of 18 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales fell 11 percent to $2.48 billion.

Newmont, which has mines in the Americas, the Asia-Pacific region and Africa, said last month it produced 5 million ounces of gold and 143 million pounds of copper in 2012.

Output this year is forecast at 4.8 million to 5.1 million ounces of gold and 150 million to 170 million pounds of copper.

Gold, which has risen for 12 straight years, averaged $1,719.36 on the Comex in New York in the fourth quarter, 1.9 percent more than a year earlier and 3.8 percent higher than in the previous three months.

Prices have fallen this year and reached a seven-month low yesterday as signs of economic improvement curbed demand for a protection of wealth.

Newmont, which announced December 3 that chief operating officer Gary Goldberg will replace chief executive Richard O’Brien March 1, is among gold producers seeking to curb rising costs.

Average costs applicable to sales in the fourth quarter were $720 an ounce of gold and $2.61 a pound of copper, compared with $602 an ounce and $1.58 a year ago.

The company said last month it expected costs of $700 to $715 an ounce of gold and $2.60 and $2.70 per pound of copper.

CFO Departure

Newmont also said yesterday that Chief Financial Officer Russell Ball will leave the company later this year. Ball will continue in his current role as the company seeks a replacement.

The results were released after the close of regular trading yesterday in New York, where Newmont rose 2.3 percent to $41.50 at 6:04 p.m.

The shares declined 13 percent this year through yesterday’s close.

Newmont swung to a net loss in the fourth quarter of 2011 after taking a $1.61 billion asset-impairment charge on the Hope Bay project in Canada.

Barrick Gold, based in Toronto, is the biggest gold producer by sales and market value. - Bloomberg News