Investors concerned about the health of the global economy are helping fuel the recent rally in bitcoin, according to the head of Barrick Gold Corp. 

"One thing that is clear is that the world has not managed this pandemic well," Mark Bristow, president and chief executive officer at Barrick Gold, said in an interview on Thursday. 

"Investors are confused and anxious and there's this response trying to offset what is clearly a risk in devaluation – massive devaluation - in the traditional ways of investing and retaining your wealth. One of them is currencies have not only been depreciating, but you can’t really get much out of it when you put that money into the bank."

The price of bitcoin has soared to record highs in recent days, surpassing $52,000 on Thursday, according to CoinDesk. The cryptocurrency has climbed by about nine per cent over the past week amid growing institutional demand for bitcoin, which was designed to have its supply limited to just 21 million coins. The rise in prices also persists despite a lack of long-term visibility in the cryptocurrency.

Bristow eschewed long-held qualms over the value of gold, noting that the yellow metal has held its own over the past several years. He said cryptocurrencies like bitcoin will suffer given challenges he sees it facing in becoming widely adopted for commercial use. 

"Many times in my career people have suggested that gold doesn't have real value. It's never worked out that way. It’s one of the most consistent performers out of all the asset classes," he said.

"I've always said, 'Have you ever seen someone put their hand in their pocket and pull out a bunch of bitcoins, and hand it over the counter?' It doesn’t happen."

Bristow's comments come the same day his company reported fourth-quarter results that beat analysts' earnings expectations, and raised its production output. The gold miner also plans to distribute US$750 million in a one-time payment to shareholders this year, in addition to its quarterly dividend. 

"One of our objectives is trying to bring back that business focus, that profitability; focus on tier one assets, clean up the non-core assets … and really focus on cash-flow and building a strong balance sheet," he said. 

"Today, Barrick has no net debt. If you go back to 2013, it had like $12 billion in debt. And, when I took over [in 2018], quite a few billion dollars in net debt."

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