Interview with Mark Chalmers, President & CEO of Uranium producer, Energy Fuels (NYSE: UUUU).
Energy Fuels made an announcement last week about a $16.6M Bought Deal, which closed on Thursday, some shareholders do not seem pleased. We ask Chalmers why he did it and why on those terms.
What does Chalmers know that we don’t about the DOE announcement? What are his use of proceeds? And what is his strategy? Is there M&A planned, yes or no? And how does he plan to monetise the White Mesa Mill? Insider buying in the market for UUUU has been heavy in the last couple of days.
- 1:31 – News Release: Why Did They Do it?
- 4:05 – DOE Announcement: Does Energy Fuels Know Something the Rest of Us Don’t?
- 6:33 – Financial Position at Present and Valuations of Stock
- 7:31 – Possibilities to Sell Vanadium
- 9:04 – Use of Proceeds: M&A and Project Focus
- 13:17 – White Mesa Mill: Are There Talks of Other Companies Using the Mill?
- 15:02 – $150M for the Creation of Uranium Reserves: Conversations with Miners on Price
Matthew Gordon: Hi Mark. How has your week been?
Mark Chalmers: Oh, it’s been busy, with closing the financing. It’s been a very busy week for us.
Matthew Gordon: Ok so I guess I’m going to ask you the same question you’ve been asked a lot since you put out the news release about a week ago, which is Why did you do it, and why those terms?
Mark Chalmers: Well Matt, you know, it was expensive money, but as I’ve said to you and multiple times, as I’ve said to shareholders, we want to be on the front foot rather than the back foot. We’re very encouraged that the government has announced planning to buy Uranium again, it’s the first time they’ve been planning to buy it since 1983. So we want to be as ready as we can for that because we think we’re best position to capitalise on that. But the other thing that probably a number of people didn’t understand or realise is that we had a convertible debenture that matures at the end of 2020, and it became a current liability at the beginning of this year. So we wanted to be in the position that we can show that we had enough funds to cover that on our own terms and abilities; without having the convertible drive us, we wanted to be in a position to drive the convertible.
Matthew Gordon: Ok but did that convertible contribute towards Cantor Fitzgerald being able to negotiate quite tough terms now? I get the point that if you didn’t, your negotiation stance towards the end of the year was going to be pretty difficult, you know, I’ve been there myself. But were they pushing you hard now because they could?
Mark Chalmers: Well you know, it was our decision, we weren’t being pushed, we discussed it certainly at board level quite extensively, and we just decided that it was going to be better to go now and get the funds and be ready for the future. But you know, no one wants to go and get into financing that… and I want to say that it was a bought deal, it was straight common shares, no warrants, but no one wants to be in a financing that pushes the share price down like it did for us. But again, we believe that we’re in the strongest position of anyone else, and we think there’s other people who are going to go to market probably quite soon and we wanted to be there sooner than they were. And as I said, this announcement by the government to buy Uranium, no one is in a better position to capitalise on that than Energy Fuels.
Matthew Gordon: Lots of questions. And I’m going to throw these at you in no particular order. You keep saying the word ‘front foot’, what do you mean by that? Are you talking about being able to capitalise on the DOE announcement? In which case, what do you know that we don’t?
Mark Chalmers: I think the demand…You know, we haven’t heard the whole story yet out of the working group on terms of the whole three steps of Nuclear fuel cycle, so we’re still hopeful that there’s more to come here. But we want to be in a position that right now the government’s announced that this USD$150M for this strategic reserve, we want to be in a position to get the majority or at least a large share of that ahead of… there is going to be lots of competition for it. But no one has the history, the proven history in the facilities like we do. Ur-Energy are in a pretty good spot too because they are a proven producer, but we are in the best position to deliver into that initiative.
Matthew Gordon: Ok so you’re making a bet, you don’t know anything that the market doesn’t know? Just so I am clear.
Mark Chalmers: Correct. We have released everything we know about where we are in this process and where the government is in this process. But there have been statements through Secretary Brouillette, and others, that there should be additional information forthcoming on the Working Group’s findings in the next few weeks or so. But we’ve also been waiting a couple of years for information flow, and it’s been delay, delay, delay.
Matthew Gordon: Ok, so are you expecting more money to be mentioned in these future announcements? Or more confirmation on the USD$150M?
Mark Chalmers: Well you know, we think that Nuclear Fuel Working Group, and I’m speculating a bit here…agrees that they need to do something to re-establish the Nuclear fuel cycle, the front 3 steps through enrichment. So we believe that they’ve come up with findings, but I don’t know exactly what those findings are Matt. But we, as I’ve said, what we do know is what they have released and we want to be in the best position to capitalise on that than anyone else.
Matthew Gordon: Okay, and I want to talk about use of proceeds in a second but if you don’t mind, what is your position now? Because when we’ve talked in the past you’ve had about USD$40M between cash and inventory, you’ve topped it up with another USD$16.6M..what position are you in with regards to your cash today…I know you’ve got the convert coming through, but what does it look like today?
Mark Chalmers: You know, we’re going to announce our financials in March. But yeah, in the order of magnitudes that you’re talking about…in the USD$40’s, plus this capital raise, you’ve got the convert at the end of the year. We’ve got around USD$20M of that is inventory, about half in value is Uranium that we value at around USD$25lbs, and about half is Vanadium which we’re valuing at around USD$5lbs which incidentally is coming up a little bit…last I saw it was in the USD$7s, so we’re hoping to get another kick there.
Matthew Gordon: So you are not tempted to sell the Vanadium today? Because it has been as low as USD$3 and as high as USD$30…so what do you do?
Mark Chalmers: Well exactly. I’ve said to you that we’re trying to do the Carbide plan which is to have inventories that we can deploy when we want to deploy quickly. And a big part of our plan, our strategy is to have inventories available packaged, ready to go. And that’s another reason for financing, because if you had in the order of USD$40M of cash working capital, the convert becomes a current liability, then you’re down in the mid USD$20s or so, of which USD$20M was inventory. So we believe we’re going to get a bigger bounce out of that inventory at the right time. I understand that the average person who is a shareholder may not fully understand our motives, but we wanted to keep that inventory, because whatever the government purchases, assuming they purchase inventories, you could get a 2X or maybe even more than that in flexing up on the value.
Matthew Gordon: Ok so thanks for sharing your motives with us. I appreciate that and it makes sense. Can I talk about use of proceeds? There are two strands here; one I need to deal with. Are you going to use any of your current cash available to you, you closed yesterday, to do any M&A work? Are you going to buy any of your peers?
Mark Chalmers: You know, it’s always a possibility and I’m never going to say ‘no’ because that’s an absolute. It puts us in a stronger position to do the M&A, so I’m never going to say no but I’m not going to say yes either. How’s that?
Matthew Gordon: That is very politic of you. Let me ask you another way. Today are there any plans to do any acquisitions?
Mark Chalmers: Not at this point in time
Matthew Gordon: Got it. Second strand; you talk in your press release about use of proceeds, obviously focus on the ISR project, I assume because that could go into production soonest? Is that right? What’s the order of play because you talk about all four assets but ISR was number one.
Mark Chalmers: We’ve got quite a diversified set of assets, but there’s some work at Nichols Ranch, we’ve got some work in increasing the flow capacity at Nichols Ranch, we’ve got some drilling that needs to be done at Alta Mesa, you know, we’ve got other work that we’re still doing, design work on the Canyon mine, we’ve got the shafts sunk there but we’ve still got to put in some facilities around the shafts, so. I can tell you this much, we’re not going to spend all that money until we get a little more clarity on the outcome from the purchase program, but there are things with a longer lead time that we will put some money in so we are better ready than we are now, even though we’re as ready as anybody out there.
Matthew Gordon: Yes you said you were best placed within US companies to take advantage of that announcement, but you’re not ready to go today without spending some money to get everything up to speed? So what does that mean, how much money are we talking about?
Mark Chalmers: No look, we’re ready to go today on some of our assets, they are ready to go today. But there are a lot of different variables here that we don’t know in this government purchasing programme. For example, are they going to buy inventory? And I think they absolutely should, because otherwise we’re going from a colder start, not a cold start but a colder start to build up production. And the clarity on who’s going to be able to best capitalise on that, that all will drive how much investment is required at which site or sites. So there is some uncertainty about how that will be distributed, the government did say that they thought his purchasing program would basically go to 2 mines, or maybe a little more, but its not designed to go to 5 or 6 mines. It’s not. Now, there could be few more mines potentially around our White Mesa Mill. But it’s really our focus in my opinion on…and when they talk mine’s I believe they are talking production centres where you can actually make the yellowcake, so like White Mesa would be a mine in their terms and perhaps 1 or 2 other ISR facilities. So there is absolutely no need to build new facilities with this current demand as we know it today, it should be focused on existing proven facilities that have a history of delivery that are already constructed ready to go.
Matthew Gordon: Ok. White Mesa, it’s a huge facility and you were saying its been a long time since it got near, or was processing at full capacity. Long time.
Mark Chalmers: Its actually never produced at full capacity. It has a licensed capacity of about 8Mlbs, and the best it’s done is around 4 to 4.5Mlbs.
Matthew Gordon: You’re never going to be able to fill that. Are you having conversations…there was one other CEO who mentioned at a presentation he was doing, I don’t know whether it was a slip of the tongue or has been misinterpreted, but they talked about using your mill to process on their behalf? Have you had conversations with other Uranium companies on this topic?
Mark Chalmers: Not recently no. No one but us has the right to use White Mesa Mill right now. Does that change in time? Perhaps. But no one has line of sight to use White Mesa Mill. We do have some clean-up of an idled Uranium mine that is currently going into White Mesa through an agreement there. Once that material shows up at the site we’re stockpiling it, we have the right to process that at our own schedule and desires. But we have full ownership of the Uranium from that material. So yeah, no one has line of sight. A lot’s going to depend on how the implementation process goes with this initial purchasing, we’ll see where we go from there.
Matthew Gordon: Ok. On this USD$150M, because again, there’s been a lot of numbers floating around. We don’t know the price at which the government is going to have conversations with miners, do you know?
Mark Chalmers: Well noI don’t, other than the quantum of the USD$150M. But there is a fair amount of banter around, ‘oh its USD$50 or USD$45’. Well USD$45 or USD$50 is not enough, that is not a high enough price. That is not a sustainable price. And when people say they can make comfortable margins with USD$50 in the United States, they’re full of something but I don’t want to say to you…
Matthew Gordon: Smoke?
Mark Chalmers: …Exactly what they are full of. But we need prices that are well north of USD$50. I mean sure, if we get USD$50, we are in a position at least Energy Fuels is, where we have 500,000lbs or more of Uranium that could be monetized, and that’s certainly going to be a help, and we can run projects like Canyon. This doesn’t mean we can’t run some of our projects. But USD$50 isn’t a fair price, it should be north of USD$60 is a sustainable price. It annoys me when people say ‘all we need is USD$40 or USD$50’, and they are full of it. Like I said, we have projects we can mine before that but that is at the site, it does not include the full loadings of a public company to deliver any kind of sustainability. And I think the key thing is that this USD$150M is over 10 years, so we need a sustainable solution and outcome here, not to have a flash in the pan and have people not being able to make it because the prices are too low.
Matthew Gordon: Ok so having had those discussions, and I can hear its been a source of frustration with people speculating around the price, but let’s even say it was USD$75 just for the sake of argument, that’s 2Mlbs we’re talking about, its not a lot, and they still have to go out and…
Mark Chalmers: No, and again there’s a lot of moving parts here Matt that we don’t know exactly what they are right now. And as I said, we don’t know what follows, or if anything follows with the Working Group when they get into more details. But I’m speculating here a bit, I believe that this first announcement is not big enough for somebody like say Cameco to come back in and restart their operations. And if that’s the case, and I don’t know for a fact that it is, that makes more room for ourselves and people like Ur-Energy. I think I’ve told you this, that since 2004, 2 companies have mined 85% and produced 85% of Uranium produced in the United States, and it was Cameco and Energy Fuels. So the 2 of us have the longest history of production over anyone else. Now, there are a couple of projects like the Uranium One and Ur-Energy that didn’t produce back in 2004, they started in mid-way say 2008 or 2009, or 2011 or 2012 that also contributed a material amount of Uranium. But if you include those 4 companies, 97% of the Uranium produced since 2004 were 4 companies. So there aren’t a lot of us with any kind of track record of producing a material amount of new Uranium, and we are very confident that we have that track record. And because at the moment we know the demand is small-ish, there’s no question, it should only go to those who can prove that they can do it, and have those facilities ready to go without major major capital investment.
Matthew Gordon: Ok, you sound confident. If you hear anything from up on the Hill, Whitehouse or DOE please give us a call. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how this thing’s going to progress.
Mark Chalmers: You’ve got my number Matt, you know where I’m at, and I’m always happy to have a chat with you.
If you see something in this article that you agree with, or even disagree with, please let us know in the comments below.
Any advice contained in this website is general advice only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situations or needs. You should not rely on any advice and / or information contained in this website or via any digital Crux Investor communications. Before making any investment decision we recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your situation and seek appropriate financial, taxation and legal advice.