* Record gold production for 2013
* Forecasts cash costs of $650-$700 per ounce
* Maintains exploration spend, looks for partnerships
By Stephen Eisenhammer
LONDON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Africa-focused miner Randgold Resources said it was looking to partner with smaller rivals weakened by the lower gold price and would continue to spend on exploration this year, as it posted record production for 2013.
The gold miner has proven more resilient than most of its peers to a falling gold price, having calculated its reserves using a $1,000 benchmark even as the yellow metal soared to $1,900 an ounce in recent years. Now Randgold is looking to capitalise on its lack of debt by moving to acquire or partner up with miners feeling the pain, Chief Executive Mark Bristow told Reuters.
Smaller mining companies have been hit particularly hard by softer commodity prices and a shrinking pool of funding from banks and the capital markets, with investors predicting an increase in M&A activity.
"With the juniors running out of money we've been able to pick up some very nice portfolios," Bristow said. "We don't pay anything up front and if we're successful we earn into it ... So that's really our big focus."
Randgold, with gold mines in Ivory Coast, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo, said it would spend $60 million on exploration in 2014, which Bristow described as an important difference from rivals - many of whom are cutting back to reduce costs as they try to turn a profit despite gold being 25 percent lower than this time last year.
"We haven't cut exploration because we're clear that's the way to create value in this industry," Bristow said.
Randgold produced a record amount of gold in 2013, and forecast a further production increase of between 25 and 30 percent this year.
Analysts responded favourably to the results with the company's share price up 1.5 percent in morning trade, against a wider FTSE 100 which was down 0.3 percent.
"Strong fourth-quarter results driven by better production at Kibali and good cash cost control," analysts at Nomura said in a note to clients.
A lower price meant pre-tax profit fell to $325.7 million, 36 percent lower than in 2012, and slightly below a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S poll of analysts which estimated profit of $365 million.
The miner said a 17 percent fall in the average gold price had dented its profit, but that a 3 percent reduction in cash costs for the year had helped to offset the lower price.
Randgold produced 910,373 ounces of gold last year, up 15 percent on the previous year. Cash costs this year are forecast to be between $650 and $700 per ounce.
Production in 2014 is expected to exceed the company's long-term target of 1 million ounces on the back of increasing grades at the Loulo-Gounkoto complex in Mali and output from its new Kibali mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kibali started production in September and is expected to make an important contribution to the company's production and earnings in its first full year in operation.