Interview with Michael Hodgson, CEO of Serabi Gold (LSE:SRB, TSX:SBI).
2019 was a good year for most gold companies, including Serabi Gold, who saw its share price treble. Now Serabi is looking to push on to achieve the Gold returns shareholders will demand.
Serabi’s debt to Sprott Lending Partnership, c. US$6.5M, and Equinox Gold Corp., US$12M, has been looking. Rather than raising equity to resolve the problem, Serabi Gold has opted for US$12M of convertible notes with existing shareholder Greenstone Resources, which will enable them to pay back Equinox. The remaining debt owed to Sprott will be settled from cash reserves. This wards off dilution for now, but if Greenstone decides to convert notes into shares rather than cash that would suggest the company has delivered on its production targets and the share price has bounded on further.
Serabi Gold will now look to push forward with the development of Coringa, which is geophysically and metallurgically similar to Palito, but with a higher gold grade of 8.34g/t. They will likely use their freed-up cash flow to bring Coringa through to production by Q1/21, with the target of a combined, cross-mine AISC of c.$950. Investors will want to see eventual production doubled.
Serabi will use the majority of the c. US$14M in the bank to develop Coringa, introduce an ore sorter at Palito and continue exploration at Sao Chico. Serabi Gold appears to be well set up to build on last year’s 40,000oz+ gold production figures. Let’s keep watch and see if they can deliver.
- Press Release: $12M Convertible Loan
- What is a Convertible Loan and What Terms Bind it?
- Had They Looked into Equity Options Beforehand?
- Greenstone Group’s Support
- Year of Delivering: What Will They Do With the Money?
Matthew Gordon: You have a press release out this morning: USD$12m convertible note. Why have you done that?
Mike Hodgson: I think everyone will know, Serabi investors and people who have been following us, that we have the Coringa project which we have been advancing, making good permitting progress. It’s a very similar deposit to our Palito operation, so we see it as quick organic growth. We are working through the permitting process and have a license to start the underground operation and that is something that we are eager to do. One outstanding condition on that has been that we have one final payment to make to the company we purchased the asset from, called Equinox. They were called Anfield in the past, but they have since become Equinox, and we owe them USD$12m. Whilst we are eager to start our underground operation at Coringa, it is something that we wouldn’t be comfortable doing until we have fully owned the asset. So the payment will be used to settle the final payment to Equinox which is going to be happening, all being well, at the end of February 2020.
Matthew Gordon: And you also have debt with Sprott outstanding. Will you be tackling that or is that something you can roll over?
Mike Hodgson: The good thing about this USD$12m convertible loan is that it frees us up to use our own cash. We have been running up our cash position quite nicely during 2019. We opened the year with USD$8m and we ended the year with over USD$14m. We have been building up cash. The whole idea, the original intention was to build up that cash as much as possible and to actually make the Equinox payment, but instead, we will use that cash to pay off Sprott, and to actually end that debt as well, which is sitting at a little over USD$6.5m. We will pay that out of cash flow; this is what this convertible loan allows us to do. It liberates our cash to do that, and continue with our various work programs at Palito and Sao Chico. We are actually drilling a lot to try and increase the Resources and to fund that underground development which we are going to do at Coringa from Q2 onwards in this coming year.
Matthew Gordon: What is a convertible?
Mike Hodgson: Okay, well, a convertible loan is essentially money where a lender puts money to the company on a condition over a term, in this case, 16-months, they then have the right to take shares, at a pre-agreed price, the exercised price, which will be set at the beginning of the loan. In other words, in the next few days, they have the right to actually acquire those shares at a fixed price, at the end of the term. They may want it to be converted, so in this case, it would be fairly close to the market price, but they could choose to actually get paid back in cash instead. The company also needs to demonstrate that they can pay the money back in cash as well. At 16-months, cashflow is actually strong enough to do that, but we would obviously expect the conversion with Greenstone to take it in shares.
Matthew Gordon: It is at their election; if your shares are moving up, or if they feel your shares will probably move up, they will elect to take shares. Or they could just treat it as debt and you repay them at the end of the term if you have the cash, or perhaps you refinance it if you didn’t have the cash.
Mike Hodgson: That’s correct.
Matthew Gordon: It is an interesting device which some Juniors use. Did you look at the option of equity, because I imagine that last year, or towards the end of last year, it was a tricky period for equities? I think most companies were asking for a 10% to 15% discount. Did you have those conversations?
Mike Hodgson: We did. Last year started, production-wise, we had a terrific year and as I just said, we generated cash; we generated USD$6m to USD$7m during the year, which was a great effort. We had a poor share performance in Q2/19 when we had two shareholders: one an institution in London, and one a private lender, invested some time ago, both selling their positions and that really took our share price through an all-time low for the last few years of £0.23p. So, at that point, equity was absolutely out of the question.
Despite that, we did see a price recovery during the year. Serabi, like many Juniors has suffered over the year, with liquidity – we did actually find over the second half, on this Gold run on H2/19 – we saw a lot of investors come into the stock and that really drove the price up. For once, in quite a while, we had some real liquidity, share price went back up to about to £0.70p/80p range, which certainly brought the prospect of equity into question. But having investigated it, speaking to the brokers, the board, major shareholders generally, it was still expensive money. Most of the equity deals kicking around wanted 20% discount to the market, so it was still going to be quite an expensive way of doing this.
So, Greenstone; they are fairly new investors with us. They have been very supportive. They offered us a convertible loan, so it seemed favourable, the cheapest money and the best option to take.
Matthew Gordon: Quite an endorsement by Greenstone. For people who don’t know who Greenstone is, they are a geologically technical fund in London. This takes their position to 37.8% potentially, or something like it.
Mike Hodgson: Yes.
Matthew Gordon: So quite an endorsement from them. You must be pleased to have them onboard and supporting you?
MIKE HODGSON: Absolutely. They took a big role in our company in that we have regular technical discussions. We have had a lot of support. They have got a good engine room; people who we can call on. They have obviously got a huge reach in terms of things that the company can be doing as well. They are super helpful and it is good to have a shareholder of that type of calibre in our stock.
Matthew Gordon: Smart money with deep pockets. Very nice. Can we talk about what you are actually going to do with the money? You have talked in the past about obviously getting into production. I also want to look at what you’ve been doing at Palito and Sao Chico because you have talked about exploration in the past, so what is happening this year with this new restructured Serabi Gold company?
Mike Hodgson: Yes. Well we are really, really busy at the moment. We had a great year. We broke 40,000oz for the first time ever, which was a huge achievement. We ended a quarter, Q4/19 with another 10,000oz which was really pleasing. So that means that 5 out of our last 6 quarters have broken 10,000oz, so we really are in regime, established at 40,000oz. Very steady – which is not something you usually see with a small producer. It is very consistent. The grades are very solid. Production and throughputs are going well at the mines. We still remain a plant-constrained operation; which I will come onto in a moment. We are doing something about that, but it was still very, very pleasing. We expect this year to be more of the same with the good news that we have our ore-sorter, which is being commissioned as I speak. I am actually going out very quickly next week, to site to see this machine working. We are commissioning it right now. We have got the manufacturer at site. We are calibrating it.
Now, the effect of this ore-sorter is that, the most diluted ore that we have got, which is generally the Palito development ore, and some of the lower-grade Stope ore, we can pass this material through this ore sorter, which essentially removes waste. Either by optical; by colour, or by density. Now, we are a plant-constrained operation. Our restriction is the milling section which is around 550tpd. If the grade is sitting normally at about 7g/t or 8g/t, that means that at the end of the day, the maximum output is around 40,000oz.
The ore sorter is going to sort of screen out some of that waste rock which is currently entering the process plant and will actually liberate some space so we can actually add more higher-grade ore and get that plant processing the same volume but of a slightly higher-grade. So if the grade can go up, from say 8g/t to 10g/t, we can squeeze that plant to get something like 45,000oz to 46,000oz out of it this year.
That, obviously, might not sound a lot but it is 12.5% to 15% more. It goes straight to the bottom-line – literally. The additional mining cost is there, but the additional processing cost is not. So it makes a huge amount of sense. So that is going to be a great plus in the actual operation.
At Sao Chico, which is our satellite ore body, we feel that that is probably the place where the extra ore production, mine production, will come from, to take up the slack that I have just talked about; add these extra ounces of higher-grade ore. And we are drilling there at the moment and have been drilling for around 2-months now and that will continue for the next 3 or 4-months. We are doing step-out drilling there. It is going very well. We are just literally drilling extensions to the current mine limits. If you can imagine an ore body – it is open to the East, it is open to the West, and open at depth, we are doing underground drilling with a contractor. Doing deep underground diamond drilling, to test the ore body at depth. We will be doing the same on strike at the surface with the contractor as well. So that aggressive drill program is going to go on for the rest of…until Q2/20, with a view of hopefully drilling a new Resource update at Chico at the end of Q2/Q3. But most importantly, it is going to actually allow us to run our mine plan a bit longer. That’s the key there.
We also have at Sao Chico, outside the mine limits, but in our exploration licensed areas, some really exciting geophysics anomalies which we actually discovered back in 2018. We have finally got a drill rig in those as well so we are actually drilling those at the moment, we are only into our second hole. The results of which will be coming out in the next 2-months. So we are going to see a steady stream of drill results, coming particularly from Sao Chico, the mine itself, the step-out drilling, and drilling anomalies during the first half of this year.
So all of this is being funded out of our cash flow. We ended the year with USD$40m cash in the bank. We are going to pay USD$6.5m off to Sprott at the end of next month, and the rest of the money will be used, along with contributing cashflows we continue that exploration program. And finally, as obviously, and the real reason we are doing the convertible loan, is the work as well at Coringa.
We have the mining license. Coringa, our new asset which we are going to bring on stream in the next 18-months. We are making great progress on the permitting. We are very close to getting the first license, the most difficult license to get which is called the Preliminary License. That is conditional upon a public hearing which we are going to have. The date has now been set; it’s on 6th February. That’s when all of the stakeholders go to a public meeting which is in the region. It is important that it is in the region because it is in the town where Serabi is already one of the biggest employers and therefore, we are a big fish in a small pond. We have great local support. One really important note is that on December 6th, we actually got a sign-off from FUNAI – the Federal Agency for indigenous communities which these days, one can imagine in the Amazon, that is a very important group of people, which you do really need their support. They actually signed off with full support for the project. There will be no negative impact for them, in fact, positives, so that was a tremendous piece of news for us. Which means that we will go into that public hearing well placed, albeit the public hearing will go well and we will get the preliminary license on the back of that.
That is the hardest license and where you are going to get stopped. You are going to get stumbling blocks but we feel pretty confident. We have made the project pretty water-tight. We have got no tailings there anymore. All of the environmental impact studies etc in our plan will be to not use tailings and dry-stack tailings, again, it is as good as it can be so we feel very confident on the back of that meeting on February 6th, we will have positive news.
Just to finish on that point, we already do have the license to start the underground mine. We are going to get that underway as soon as possible. It is important to demonstrate that we are a company that is really committed to the project in the region. Getting it started, putting jobs in the local community at the earliest stage and getting that all-important geological information for lenders and equity down the line. However, we finally fund the project, at the back end of 2021, we want to advance the project and get more confidence on the asset itself.
We want to know our AISC. We have actually managed about USD$1,050 for the year in 2019 with our production, and Coringa is going to bring in an additional 35,000oz to 40,000oz. Similar cost, but whilst there won’t be direct operational synergy, as they is 200kms apart, there will obviously be maintenance synergies, management synergies, some shared facilities like assay facilities and we are trying to locate some of those facilities between Palito and Sau Chico and in a city called Nova Polesa, which basically sits equidistant between the two assets. It is a town of about 40,000 people. There are a lot of positives there and that, I think those extra ounces will come in low-$900s so overall, we will be an 80,000oz producer with around an AISC of USD$950 as opposed to USD$1,050 today. So, with today’s Gold prices and today’s exchange rates; that’s a pretty nice place to be for a company of our size.
Matthew Gordon: Last year your share price trebled. You finished with a lot of cash in the bank. You are re-structuring. Trying to give yourself a good start to the year. What we need to see from you is delivery of all of these things; getting into production, doubling your production with the addition of Coringa, so it is a case of delivering and doing what you say this year, isn’t it, for you?
Mike Hodgson: It is, but it is not something we haven’t done before; at the end of the day, it is repetition of Palito so we are not leaving our comfort zone, we are just doing the same again.
Matthew Gordon: Step and repeat: cookie cutter approach. Mike, thanks for that update. We will stay in touch and do let us know how you get on with that Preliminary Licence. It sounds like a big step for you.
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