* Falling gold price to hit small miners hardest - Randgold CEO
* Randgold seeking joint ventures to expand exploration
* Company to maintain planned spending in 2013
Africa-focused miner Randgold Resources sees any further fall in the price of gold as an opportunity to expand its exploration activities cheaply, the company's chief executive said.
The miner is looking to buy stakes in exploration projects run by smaller firms likely to be hit hard if the precious metal enters a downtrend after 12 years of gains, Mark Bristow told Reuters in an interview.
Spot gold tumbled more than $125, or nearly 9 percent, to below $1,340 an ounce last Monday, a record one-day loss in dollar terms that sent shockwaves through the industry.
And though the market bounced back to around $1,400 on Friday, analysts say prices may fall further in the near term as money continues to flow out of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) of the precious metal.
Bristow told Reuters the grim outlook for gold would likely affect small miners the most as financing dries up, forcing them to mothball exploration operations.
But that could be an opportunity for established companies who could buy into projects at knock-down prices.
"The industry hasn't been efficient in investing in exploration," he told Reuters in an interview late on Saturday. "That's what Randgold's real focus is now. This is the time you can pick up the good positions."
Bristow said the London-listed company, which operates mines in Mali and Ivory Coast, would maintain planned spending for 2013 despite the weak outlook. It plans to pour the first gold from its Kibali project in Democratic Republic of Congo by the year's end.
"We have a very intense capital programme at the moment...2013 is the highest spend we've ever had. We're going to spend about $670 million," he said.
Gold is regarded by many investors as a safe haven and a hedge against inflation at a time of money printing by central banks. However, its price has fallen by about 18 percent so far this year, taking it to its lowest level since February 2011.
Bristow said Randgold is already establishing joint ventures with cash-strapped junior miners to expand its exploration activities.
"We have a real opportunity to get really good projects, really good ground," he said.
Under those two deals, which will serve as templates for future agreements, Randgold will take over the projects and fund exploration. A prefeasibility study will be completed within five years at which point the minority stakeholder will be asked to either fund its share or see Randgold's stake will grow to 65 percent.
If funding is still not available on completion of a bankable feasibility study, the minority partner's stake will be diluted.
Bristow said miners with the resources and willingness to invest would likely to emerge from the gold downturn stronger than their competitors.
"From 1990 to 1999, when the gold price was so low, everyone did exactly the same as they're doing now, cutting exploration. And we spent money then," he said.
"We can survive this one. I think the challenge is whether we can survive it and prosper."