RNC Minerals (TSX:RNX) – The Dumont Nickel-Cobalt Project: An Exciting Option?

The RNC Minerals Company Logo.
RNC Minerals
  • TSX: RNX
  • Shares Outstanding: 608M
  • Share price C$0.31 (31.03.2020)
  • Market Cap: C$185M

Last week, Crux Investor explored the numbers behind gold-producer RNC Minerals’ encouraging Q4/19 results.

Now, fresh from an uplifting interview a few weeks ago with RNC Minerals’ CEO (TSX: RNX), Paul Huet, Crux Investor interviewed Johnna Muinonen, the President of Dumont Nickel (a subsidiary of RNC Minerals).

Nickel ore
Nickel ore

We were curious about how RNC Minerals’ former flagship project will be developed to add value for shareholders. RNC Minerals investors have been focussing on the company’s strong, stable gold-production, but have they been overlooking one of the most exciting elements of the story?

If RNC Minerals is a company that takes your interest, you may well want to check out our previous update from Huet. We’ve covered RNC Minerals with detailed investigative articles for much of the last year. Make sure you check them out.

Nickel, Nickel, Nickel

Muinonen is a nickel lifer. Her experience, expertise and enthusiasm was tangible during our interview. She has a similar level of passion and drive as her CEO, Paul Huet. That can only be a good thing.

RNC Minerals was originally known for its large nickel project, Dumont; it has the potential to be the 4th largest nickel sulfide project in the world (once ramped-up in a year 7 Phase II expansion). However, after RNC made its major gold discovery at Beta Hunt, the company moved its focus away from nickel towards consistent, cash generative gold. 51,090oz for 2H/19 at an AISC of US$1,144/oz is evidence this plan was prudent. While these results are strong, investors seem to have forgotten that RNC Minerals’ option on nickel at Dumont could potentially be a sizeable future value-generating event.

What are the key stats?

Potentially the 4th largest nickel sulfide project in the world, with a 30+ year Life-of-Mine

Scale is undeniably important, especially when it comes to Nickel investment

Nickel is the most important metal by mass in lithium-ion battery cathodes, which are commonly used by EV manufacturers. At present, nickel comprises a third of Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) cathodes and 80% of Nickel Cobalt Aluminum (NCA) cathodes.

If the EV revolution is, indeed, to be a ‘revolution,’ the entire global automotive infrastructure will have to transform. This will require great change and great nickel demand, and this will only be satisfied by big projects. With the large scale of Dumont, RNC is priming itself to take advantage of nickel demand in the near future. In RNC Minerals’ Feasibility Study, released last year, initial nickel production in concentrate is projected to be 33ktpa ramping up to 50ktpa after the Phase II expansion. The estimated annual EBITDA ramps up from US$303M in Phase I to US$425M in Phase II: an average of US$340M.

Muinonen is very confident that RNC Minerals is well-positioned for when large strategic partners and operators come knocking on the door, as the +30-year LOM means that this project will produce through multiple nickel cycles.

Multiple EV Commodities In An Established Jurisdiction

The Feasibility Study states Dumont is the 2nd largest nickel reserve in the world, with 2.8Mt (6.1Blbs) contained nickel, and is the 9th largest cobalt reserve with 110,000t (243Mlbs) contained cobalt.

These are 2 EV-related commodities that have similar macro stories and fit into a coherent narrative. This makes the project easier to package and market. This diversification appears to de-risk the project, helping to avoid a reliance on a single commodity’s market conditions.

The project is located in the Abitibi region of Quebec, one of the world’s most reputable jurisdictions. This, again, de-risks the project.

Low-Cost Nickel Sulphide

Looking at the metallurgy of Dumont’s ore body, it is comprised of nickel sulphide, rather than nickel laterite.

Laterite ores require complex and extensive treatment: an extremely expensive HPAL process, whereas nickel can be extracted from sulfide ore by simple, cheap techniques, namely: pyrometallurgy.

Conversely, it should be noted that sulphide deposits are more expensive to find in comparison to nickel laterite deposits, because nickel sulphides are found deep in the earth’s crust. However, in the case of Dumont, this shouldn’t be a problem. Construction and operation of the mine and processing facilities could be made easier by the existence of excellent infrastructure, including roads, rail and access to low-cost power. It looks like a great setup economically.

The Feasibility Study places the initial CAPEX at US$1.0 billion. This no small figure, but for a project of this scale, it looks reasonable. In fact, the Dumont Nickel Sulfide project is in the low 2nd quartile of the cash cost curve.

Fully Funded Out Of Existing Cash Flow And JVs

RNC Minerals is currently churning out the cash, courtesy of its successful gold mining operations.

Adjusted earnings of US$13.7M for Q4/19 show just how far the company has come in record time. RNC Minerals has the cash to make things happen. We’ve already seen what having cash has allowed them to do. Expect more aggressive news soon.

In addition to the growing robustness of the company’s own cash situation, RNC Minerals is fully-funded at Dumont through to a DFS, FID, and construction, thanks to a JV with Waterton.

Fully Permitted

The Dumont Nickel Sulphide Project is ‘fully permitted’ and ‘construction ready’ courtesy of existing investment into the project. The Impacts and Benefits Agreement has been successfully negotiated with the local First Nation, and RNC Minerals appears to have avoided any of the typical hurdles mining companies have to face. This helps with costs and timing.

Bonuses

There are several additional optimisations that further transform the economics of Dumont for the better:

  1. Implementation of an autonomous truck fleet – This could increase efficiency and cut costs to a sizeable degree.
  2. Larger-scale initial project phase of 75ktpd – If RNC Minerals scales up this project from day 1, this will undoubtedly generate even more intrigue from nickel investors.
  3. Sale of magnetite by-product – Just like cobalt provides commodity diversification, magnetite does too. Magnetite has robust demand and monetising this by-product could make every metre of drilling much more profitable.
An open charging port on a dark grey electric car.

The last fact to remember, and this is perhaps the most important, is that the Dumont Nickel Sulphide Project is not even the primary focus of RNC Minerals anymore. The enormous potential upside is an undervalued and unappreciated nickel option that has yet to see any reflection in RNC Minerals’ share price. Should they consider spinning out the JV to get the market to recognise the value?

If retail investors are looking for exposure to the upside of the EV & battery revolution, RNC Minerals is definitely worthy of some attention.

Company Website: http://www.rncminerals.com/

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.

The RNC Minerals Company Logo.

Blackstone Minerals (ASX: BSX) – If we both pull together, tomorrow’s sure to come (Transcript)

The Blackstone Minerals company logo
Blackstone Minerals Ltd
  • ASX: BSX
  • Shares Outstanding: 192M
  • Share price A$0.14 (17.04.2020)
  • Market Cap: A$27M

Interview with Scott Williamson, Managing Director of Blackstone Minerals (ASX:BSX).

Blackstone Minerals: a nickel-cobalt-gold (battery/precious metals) company looking to get into production within the next 3 years. Ambitious.

Blackstone Minerals is an ASX-listed junior, exploring the Ta Khoa Nickel Project in Vietnam, the BC Cobalt Project and gold and nickel projects in Western Australia. The primary focus is on Ta Khoa, which previously operated between 2013 and 2016. Williamson claims the previous owners sunk over A$130M into the project; this creates an obvious disparity with Blackstone Minerals’ market cap, A$27M, which had been steadily falling away but has made a comeback in the last few weeks. The share price stands at A$0.14 today. Blackstone Minerals is looking to bring the project back into production and take advantage of the inbound EV revolution, by feeding the nickel concentrate into nickel sulfate for the Li-ion battery industry.

What’s the big news recently? A deal between EcoPro, the largest cathode manufacturer in Korea and second-largest globally, and Blackstone Mineral was announced. The binding share purchase agreement outlines a commitment for A$6.8 million at a 62% premium to Blackstone Minerals’ 30 day VWAP. EcoPro will end up with 17% of Blackstone Minerals shares. Looks like a smart piece of negotiation.

Williamson thinks the market will take a while to process the significance of this transaction and is perhaps a little unaware of how large a player EcoPro is. Williamson sees EcoPro as the “perfect partner,” and hopes it will reveal its value over time.

Blackstone Minerals is on track for its maiden resource in June/July. This will be followed by a PEA in August/September. Williamson sees this as a catalyst moment where the market will realise just how much nickel has been left behind, and how economic the first ore body will be. The money will also be used to explore other ore bodies, but the main focus is to move all the studies through to a bankable Feasibility Study. Blackstone Minerals is fully funded to this point. The cost structure at the Ta Khoa Nickel Project is impressive; to put this into context, drilling costs A$60 per metre, as opposed to A$300 in Australia and A$500 in Canada. The nickel orebody itself is twice the grade that Blackstone Minerals was expecting at 1% nickel. Williamson describes this nickel as a “significant tonnage…” that will “deliver a 20-year mine.”

Williamson is currently conducting metallurgical test work in order to assess the potential monetisation of the byproducts (platinum, palladium, gold, rhodium, copper, cobalt) at Ta Khoa, but he is confident all the metals will be economic and add an extra 20% revenue on top of the nickel.

What is the CAPEX looking like at Ta Khoa? c. US$100M for a downstream processing facility, plus additional capital to upgrade the concentrator. Williamson is confident Blackstone Minerals will “land below” A$200M total. Williamson claims this is very competitive. He also insists that EcoPro will not accept anything less than achieving production within 3 years. Will this additional pressure help or hinder Blackstone Minerals?

We Discussed:

  1. Company Overview
  2. News Announcement: Negotiations and Terms. What did EcoPro Buy into?
  3. Market’s Reaction: What has the Share Price Done and What’s Stopping Investors
  4. Vietnamese Assets: Why Did They Shut Down and What are the Plans Going Forward? Monetising the Bi-Products
  5. Low CapEx Compared to Peers: Getting into Production
  6. 2020 & What Investors are to Look Forward to
  7. Financed ’til Production (?)
  8. BFS Timings: Who’s Financing the Studies?

CLICK HERE to watch the full interview.

Matthew Gordon: Hello Scott. How are you, sir?

Scott: Williamson: Good thanks, Matt.

Matthew Gordon: Where are you in the world at the moment?

Scott: Williamson: Yes. So in the self-isolation mode in Perth with my family and yes, trying to stay away from the streets and stay safe.

Matthew Gordon: Yes, we spoke to couple of guys in Perth yesterday and they said they have glorious weather so it’s not too bad a place to be holed up, right?

Scott: Williamson: Yes, it’s great.

Matthew Gordon: Why don’t we kick off with the one-minute overview and then we will get into some of the more recent news.

Scott: Williamson: Yes. So yes, we’re Blackstone minerals. We have a portfolio of battery and precious metals assets across the globe. A flagship asset is the Ta Khoa Nickel project in Northern Vietnam. That’s a previously operating mine, so it had operated between 2013 and 2016. And the previous owners sunk over USD$130M into the capital infrastructure. So our focus is to bring this mine back into production. A little bit of a different strategy to the previous owners of that asset. And we’re looking to, I suppose feed this Nickel into the Lithium ion battery industry. And we’re looking at to, I suppose, work with strategic partners to develop the industry processing which will move this Nickel concentrate into a premium product, which is Nickel sulphide for the Lithium ion battery industry. So yes, looking forward to the next stage of that process.

Matthew Gordon: Fantastic. Fantastic. Let’s see. We talked back in November when you were in London for a conference there, and we sort of went through the history and so forth and people can refer back to that interview, because you had a few other assets around the world; obviously the cobalt which obviously, market conditions meant that it makes sense to park that up and focus on your Nickel assets. So let’s do that today. You have just announced some rather good news, haven’t you?

Scott: Williamson: Yes. So we’re placing a strategic shareholder in EcoPro. EcoPro is the largest cathode manufacturer in Korea and the second largest in the world. EcoPro’s main customers are Samsung SDI and another group called SK Innovations. So these are two of the biggest battery manufacturing companies in the world. And so they really are very well-positioned now, with a USD$6.8M investment at a 62% premium to market. And I think that premium just shows that these, I suppose, larger battery players, are focussed on a longer term future, and this EV revolution isn’t slowing. And if anything it could actually be heating up a more so as the economy moves back into sort of stimulus mode.

Matthew Gordon: Okay. So, obviously, USD$6.8M is a nice my sum of money to get and I want to talk about what you’re going to do with that in a second, but a premium like that; what was that conversation like? What are they buying into? What have you said? Because I think a lot of people want to know how you go about negotiating. So tell us about it.

Scott: Williamson: Yes, so I suppose the premium is there because we believe that’s a suitable premium to bring in a strategic partnership. So the partnership is, I suppose, around them potentially over time getting access to the Nickel. So at this stage it’s a fairly early investment for them. It’s a small investment. They do end up with a 17% shareholding in Blackstone, but we believe that the premium is fair and reasonable because it’s a strategic position that allows them over time, they will have access to the metal that they need for the Lithium ion battery industry.

Matthew Gordon: Can we talk about the terms around that one? Because that’s what I was really getting in it to because what have you had to give away to get a premium like that? Because for them it’s not a lot of money, okay? It really, really isn’t a lot of money. For you, it’s meaningful and it’s a step change potentially in terms of what you can do to release the potential in Vietnam, right? So what have you had to give away?

Scott: Williamson: So, they will have a board position; so the EcoPro will have a position on the Blackstone board. So that’s one thing we’ve had to give away. The other condition prescient is that we have to exercise the option to own the Ta Khoa Nickel project, so we will exercise that option which is USD$1M worth of Blackstone shares we will need to give to the vendor. The other thing I suppose is that there’s a ‘best endeavours’ sort of a relationship here where we now move to this next stage, which is the joint venture on the downstream processing facility. So it’s not a formal sort of, I suppose, partnership at this time, but the next stage would be to now move towards this partnership where we partner on the downstream processing facility and we both then move to that next stage over the coming 6 to 12-months.

Matthew Gordon: But that’s all upside for you, right? I mean obviously you’re able to pay the previous, or the current owner of the asset. Giving a board seat away – so what? But then are you saying, well, we could potentially do something further downstream? That’s great for you; you’ve got a big partner with big pockets who are strategic as well rather than just being ‘dumb money’, as I think they usually call it, and that’s great for you. But why have they paid you so much? Do they feel that they’ve taken up some kind of option there? Was there some kind of race going on?

Scott: Williamson: Yes, well that’s a good point. So what they do realise is that they’re not the only ones that were talking to. So we’re talking to other Korean buyers; major battery manufacturers, so they have realised that they’re not the only one in the room here. And we’re also talking to other, I suppose, mining companies as well. So we made it fairly clear to them that we are open to talking to all parties, and so they’ve jumped first, which is great because they’re entrepreneurial and they saw the opportunity, but they also realised that they couldn’t put any real, I suppose, difficult terms around this deal because we would have potentially moved onto the next party that we’re talking to. So they understand that they’re not the only ones. And they need to tread carefully because we’ve got the metal and the Nickel that the suppliers need to produce these batteries. So they have played it very smartly, and so they now have the jump on the rest of the pack but they are by no means the only one that we’re going to deal with over time.

Matthew Gordon: Okay, that’s interesting. So you’re saying that there’s no kind of right of first refusal in there? There’s no options on this, whatever this downstream deal looks like. They are not secure in that sense. All they’ve done is paid you a premium so that you think that they’re a fair partner. But in a commercial world you’ve still got choices because there’s nothing in your, what you’re telling me is, there’s nothing in paper which ties you down to EcoPro moving forward other than they have got 17% of the company? That’s quite good. That’s quite good for your shareholders.

Scott: Williamson:  They are very happy. So that, and I think the reason we were able to get a deal like this is because of the fact that there’s not many assets like this left around the globe. And particularly because our capex potential is much lower than our peers, and we talked about this last time. So they see this as an opportunity whereby they have to, yes, they do have to tread carefully because we do have options here and we have an asset that will deliver before a lot of our peers. So it’s got that ability to produce that Nickel that’s required in the next two to three years. A lot of our peers will struggle to deliver in that time line because of the capex hurdles, and obviously even more so now with the difficulties in the capital market.

Matthew Gordon: Yes. Okay, well, we’ll talk about the asset in a second if you don’t mind. Okay. So what’s the reaction been like in the market to this announcement and what’s the share price done?

Scott: Williamson: Yes, so we went up, we’re not trading anywhere near the issue price of the shares to EcoPro, so we, I think we’ve got intra-day about USD$0.06c. The shares will be placed at USD$0.17 cents. So I think it’s a fair reaction. I think the market will take some time to digest this. And I’m not sure that the market understands who EcoPro is, and over time, it’s not a big name like Samsung or LG, but over time people will do the research and realise that this is one of the major prize in the cathode industry globally. So this is the perfect partner for Blackstone. So yes, I think we’re in a market where you’re going to get profit-taking and unfortunately we saw a bit of that today, but we’ll say what tomorrow brings.

Matthew Gordon: Okay, well I guess it’s down to you to tell the story, right? Because I was the same: I was like, who is EcoPro? I just didn’t know, but I think once you know, you get some sort of comfort that they will probably, if you deliver, want to follow their money, as you say to secure some kind of offtake agreement or other agreements.

Okay, let’s talk about those assets then. You’ve talked, you told us that it has already got USD$130M sunk into from previous mining operations, can you just remind why it’s shut down and what you’re going to be doing going forward?

Scott: Williamson: So, it shut down at the bottom of the Nickel price. So USD$8,000 p/ton Nickel price when the mine was put into care & maintenance. The reason it was put into care & maintenance was also the fact that they actually mined the first ore body and depleted it and they didn’t do any exploration outside of that first ore body. So there was no exploration conducted by the previous owners. They left behind 25 exploration targets, which we’re now moving through and we’ve just drilled out the first of those 25 targets. The first target is called the Ban Phuc deseminated ore body. We believe that will be mined for the next 10 to 20 years. And so that’s the other reason why we’re able to, I suppose, entice or attract these end-users is we’ve got a mine that justifies a significant investment from the end-user because we can deliver the Nickel over the long-term. So, a lot of our peers who have smaller mine lives and won’t be able to justify building that downstream processing facility, which we’ll now look at.

Matthew Gordon: Okay. So what I want to talk about is, obviously, what you’re going to be able to do with, well, whatever amount of that USD$6.8M is going to go in the ground because you have got quite good grades. I mean, over 1% on average, across the board looking at some of the drill results. So that’s pretty good. What you don’t have currently is a sense of this scale of this; how big this could be. So what are you going to do with whatever money that you’re going to spend from the USD$6.8M?

Scott: Williamson: Yes, so we’re still on track for our main resource in June, July this year, and then we’ll follow that very quickly with a scoping study, or a PEA, as they call it in Canada. And that will be the moment where the market realises how much Nickel has been left behind, and how much, or how economic that first ore body could be. So they’re two key milestones. The USD$6.8M will also be used for exploring other ole bodies, but at the same time, we’ll also move these studies all the way through to a bankable Feasibility Study. So with USD$6.8M, we’re actually funded all the way through to complete a bankable study.

Our cost profile, or cost structure in Vietnam means we can get a lot more done. We’re drilling at USD$60 p/m versus in Australia that would be USD$300 p/m or yes, in Canada that was USD$500 p/m. So we can do a lot more with the USD$6.8M in Vietnam than people with the similar amount would need to invest in Australia.

And we we’re confident we can get all the way through to a bankable study, and  that’s the idea of this capital injection from EcoPro is them saying, how much do you need to finish a bankable study? Here it is. Bang.

Matthew Gordon: So, you probably won’t answer this, but the results will come out in May, June, July sometime, right? That the scoping study. What do you know today? Are you encouraged by what you see in terms of where this ore body sits in terms of what do you know about it? What can you tell us?

Scott: Williamson: Well, what we can say is that yes, I think we’ll go back to your first question, the 1%, Nickel: we’ve got a significant amount of this 1% Nickel, which is incorporated into our discovery zone. That is twice the grade that we were expecting, so we are happy with anything around 0.5% Nickel. As you know, there’s some of our peers that are looking to mine even less than that or lower grades. So we’ve got a significant tonnage. These higher grades will deliver a 10 or 20 year mine. So it’ll be an economic mine also because we’ve got the Platinum, Palladium, Gold, Rhodium, Copper and Cobalt. By-products will deliver up to 20% extra revenue on top of the Nickel. So there’s 80% of the revenue that comes from Nickel, we’ve also got all these other metals in it.

Matthew Gordon: How do you know you’re going to be able to economically create by-products with all of those different commodities?

Scott: Williamson: Yes. So we are doing that metallurgical test work now, the previous owners didn’t assay for PGE, so this is a new part of the mine that wasn’t previously understood. So we’re doing that initial work now and we are confident that those metals will all float into the concentrate, and so you will be able to monetise that.

Matthew Gordon: Where does that confidence come from, Scott? Because obviously many, many companies think that until the metallurgic work is done. So what do you know?

Scott: Williamson: Yes, we’re done early bench scale test work, yes. So we need to do the numbers around that. At the moment we don’t know who the customer might be for Palladium or Rhodium. There is a bit of work to do but we do know that we can recover them.

Matthew Gordon: Right. Okay. So back to the scale question: what do you know  today about how far this goes out? I mean how much historical drilling data have you got, for instance?

Scott: Williamson: So we’ve got, I suppose the things we can talk about, we’ve got a 1km ore body. It’s 500 meters wide. There’s multiple millions of tons, so multiple tens of millions of tons of economic Nickel sulphide in the first ore body. So if we were to build a 2 million ton per annum concentrator, we might be looking at a 10 to 20 year mine life. So yes, those are the sort of numbers we’re looking at.

Matthew Gordon: Okay, and I know you haven’t done the scope of study, your PEA at the moment, but you talked about being funded through to BFS. What type of capex numbers would we be talking about? Because again, you’ve references low capex compared to peers who may be talking about USD$1BN to kind of get sulphide projects a little bit cheaper. So what do you know?

Scott: Williamson: Yes, so what we can say is that the numbers are still looking very competitive: circa USD$$100M for a downstream processing facility. We would still need to upgrade the concentrator so there’s another capital spend there, which we’re still doing the work on, but I’m confident we’ll land below say, USD$200M total. So yes, we’re still 20% off a HPAL scenario. So yes, we’re aiming for that 10% to 20% compared to that billion dollar HPAL plant, which is our main competitor.

Matthew Gordon: Right. Okay. Yes, I mean it’s very, very different. I think we’ve done enough interviews with people talking about the difference in laterites and sulphide ore bodies. So, USD$200M market cap again, where would you, I mean, because you’re going to tell me you are getting into production in the next two, three years. Right? That’s pretty quick. In the scheme of things.

Scott Williamson: Fortunately, I’ve now signed up EcoPro, and they are not going to accept anything less, and they’re going to keep me accountable to that. And that’s fine because with my background being mining engineer, I’m happy to go forward with this. And the good thing is now we’ve got the funding partner, so that won’t be a bottleneck. So going forward, finding one big bottle neck, we obviously need to push very quickly through these studies and then obviously we don’t want to be cutting corners on any of that drilling and metallurgy, and so there’s a lot of study work. There’s still 12 to 18-months of studies here and then we can build in 2022, and mining in 2023. So EcoPro will probably will make me accountable to that, and I’m happy because as long as they keep funding it, I can deliver that.

Matthew Gordon: Well, fantastic. If they keep funding it, great – happy days, you can focus on running the business, not running around the world, chasing money. Right? Not that we can at the moment, but yes, you know what I mean. So if I look at this project, I need to understand it from an investment perspective, okay? That’s what people watching here are trying to work out. It’s like what am I buying into? So you’re saying it’s a quick to production, low capex, high-grade Nickel project. Obviously you’ve seen a bump in the shares today, it hasn’t really done much prior to that because you’ve been working out what you’re trying to be and what you’re trying to focus on, what you are trying to do. What can shareholders look forward to this year, or even next year in terms of proper catalyst moments?  Because I think that drill results come and go and no one cares. Right? But what are you going to be able to tell people which is going to significantly move this company along? What are those big moments?

Scott Williamson: Yes, I think the first one would be that main resource; so we can really wrap some numbers around the resource: tons and grades. And you will see the grade of these by-products as well. So that’ll be June/July. And then the scoping study is probably the biggest milestone because that’s when we start to put NPVs around this. So I’ve already told you about capex, but where we’re obviously aiming for NPVs that are multiples of our capex number. And so there will be a moment here where we are reminded here, when people realise that the market cap, whether it is 20 or 30, we are talking multiples of USD$100Ms of NPV here. So that’s the moment where the market goes, okay, so there’s an NPV of that, they’ve got the funding partner. There’s already been a mine built there before, so there will be a mine there again. It has to sink in eventually. So yes, the key milestones will be the scoping study, the mined resource – that’s when the institutional investors have to come in and say, well hang on, this is going to be a mine again. So, yes, I think it’s when we wrap the numbers around it. And obviously it’s very difficult to do that until we do the formal draw process and all  of that. That will come.

Matthew Gordon: No. Okay. You covered a lot of the right parts there, I mean, I guess the big one that people are looking at is obviously the fact that you’ve got a partner. Are you going to be brave enough to say you’re fully funded through to production?

Scott Williamson: The conversations we’re having are that they still want us to bring our own capital. And the reason why is that they don’t want to be left holding the baby. And there’s a great story; it’s the Ambatovy mine in Madagascar, Korea blew themselves up putting themselves up. Korea learned the hard way. I don’t want to be left holding the baby here. And so they do want us to bring our own capital to the table. But you could almost say that it is fully-funded because within Korea I think we can bring all that capital to the table. And so we’ll start working with other players as well here. So yes, we’ve closed, but we’ll still need conventional capital markets at some stage.

Matthew Gordon: Okay. Which you expect to get from Korea or elsewhere in the world?

Scott Williamson: Well, there are pockets of money out there and they are harder to find, those that can invest in this type of opportunity. And so we’re hunting those down at the moment. There’s a chance that we could fund this almost entirely through Korean money but that’s not a good strategy either, we need to expand and look at all the options.

Matthew Gordon: Yes. I think you referred earlier to your optionality around the funding is important to you in terms of negotiation or else you’ll find your money all of a sudden it gets quite expensive if you’re reliant on one partner. So I think that makes a lot of sense to me. Okay. So lots and lots of good stuff there, Scott, appreciate you coming on and telling us all about it. Obviously you have moved things on significantly from even from November to today; it’s only four short months, we actually, it will feel like very long weeks at the moment with this confinement. But you know what I mean. I look forward to hearing about the scoping study and any of these other results as they come through. But you’ve identified quite a good asset there. I hope you hope you can get all the way through to this BFS quickly. What’s your timing on that actually, the BFS?

Scott Williamson: 12 to 18-months from now, I think we can deliver that. So the scoping study – as soon as we can, so sort of August, September. PFS soon after. The conversion from scoping to PFS will be fairly quick because most of our, we are hoping that most of our resource will be in that indicated category so we can convert to PFS quickly. There is a lot of work to get into that bankable stage, which is part of the plants and yes. And so that’s a 12 to 18-month process.

Matthew Gordon: Actually, you raised an interesting point, before we go is,  would EcoPro fund any pilot or demonstration plants, or is that going to be part of the larger funding?

Scott Williamson: Yes. So by that stage, we probably would’ve, I suppose, built our partnership to a formal like a SPV type scenario where we would actually fund that together.

Matthew Gordon: Okay. Enough said, Scott. I appreciate your time. I know it’s getting late there, time for a beer I suspect, so I’ll let you go and do that. Stay in touch and give us a call.

Scott Williamson: No worries.

Company Website: http://blackstoneminerals.com.au/

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.

The Blackstone Minerals company logo

Blackstone Minerals (ASX: BSX) – A Major Strategic Partner The Market Hasn’t Noticed?

The Blackstone Minerals company logo
Blackstone Minerals
  • ASX: BSX
  • Shares Outstanding: 192M
  • Share price A$0.14 (08.04.2020)
  • Market Cap: A$27M

Last week, Crux Investor interviewed Scott Williamson; he’s the Managing Director of Blackstone Minerals (ASX: BSX). Blackstone Minerals is a nickel-cobalt-gold (battery/precious metals) company looking to get into production within the next 3 years. That’s certainly an ambitious stance!

There are numerous articles and interviews on the Crux Investor platform relating to nickel, or the EV revolution. Why not check some of them out? You won’t regret it.

Blackstone Minerals offers a low-cost, high-grade, bulk-tonnage nickel project in Vietnam, and now it has brought a major backer to the table. But why hasn’t the share price moved? Williamson is targeting nickel + co-product (platinum, palladium, gold, rhodium, copper, cobalt) production within the next 3 years, and claims the company’s new major partner will hold them to this commitment.

We discuss:

  1. Company Overview
  2. News Announcement: Negotiations and Terms
  3. Market’s Reaction: What has the Share Price Done?
  4. Vietnamese Assets
  5. Monetising the Bi-Products
  6. Low CapEx Compared to Peers: Getting into Production
  7. Plans For 2020 And Beyond
  8. BFS Timings: Who’s Financing the Studies?

Company Website: http://blackstoneminerals.com.au/

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.

The Blackstone Minerals company logo

RNC Minerals (TSX:RNX) – The Dumont Nickel-Cobalt Project: An Exciting Option?

The RNC Minerals Company Logo.
RNC Minerals
  • TSX: RNX
  • Shares Outstanding: 608M
  • Share price C$0.31 (31.03.2020)
  • Market Cap: C$185M

Fresh off the back of our uplifting interview with the CEO of gold producer RNC Minerals (TSX: RNX), Paul Huet, Crux Investor interviewed Johnna Muinonen, the President of Dumont Nickel (a subsidiary of RNC Minerals).

You may also want to check out our last update from Huet. We’ve covered RNC Minerals with detailed investigative articles for much of the last year. Make sure you check them out.

RNC Minerals investors have been focussing on the company’s strong, stable gold-production, but have they been overlooking one of the most exciting elements of the story? The Dumont Nickel-Cobalt Project could offer investors exposure to the EV revolution, as nickel and cobalt demand are projected to swell. RNC Minerals will look to monetise these assets once the time is right, and nickel and cobalt markets are favourable.

Cobalt has some ethical concerns, and a contributor has covered these in detail on this platform.

Investors will be clamoring for information about Dumont, and Muinonen was happy to oblige, providing Crux Investor with plenty of nickel nuances and cobalt considerations.

We Discuss:

  1. Overview of Dumont Nickel
  2. The Nickel Market: The Impact of Covid-19 and What’s to Come
  3. Positioning and Differentiating Dumont in the Market
  4. Greener Mining Solutions Being Applied at Dumont
  5. Timing on Monetising Dumont: The Ongoing Conversations
  6. Fully Financed: How Long Will the Money Last?
  7. Feasibility Study: The Highlights

Company Website: http://www.rncminerals.com/

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.

The RNC Minerals Company Logo.

Anthony Milewski – Every good gold digger’s gonna wind up there (Transcript)

A photo of Conic Metals Chairman, Anthony Milewski

Interview with Anthony Milewski, Chairman of Nickel & Cobalt Royalty & Streaming company, Conic Metals (TSX-V: NKL)

CLICK HERE to watch.

Milewski gives us his insight into investing in the nickel market and builds on Mark Selby’s recent nickel interviews with us. What are the red flags and what are the positive signals when thinking of investing in nickel projects? What stage projects have what what types of risk profile? What are the signals? Can you build a Hpal project for less than $1Bn? Horizonte Minerals (AIM: HZM) says yes. What do Mark Selby and Anthony Milewski say?

Interview Highlights:

1:23 – Fall of Indonesian Nickel Production and Price: The Reasons
5:45 – High Capital Intensity: Is an HPAL Project Possible Under $1B?
10:45 – Types of Investors to Invest in Nickel: Should They Invest Now and in What? 13:51 – Key Parts to Look at When Investing; (13:55) Exchange, (16:03) Jurisdiction, (20:13) Project Type
21:45 – Chinese to Fund Nickel Projects: Where Does the Price Need to be to Interest Western Financing?
26:32 – Management Teams: What Questions Should You be Asking Them?
31:20 – Types of Projects for High and Low Risk Tolerance
33:17 – A Minute on Conic: Are They Looking at Dividends?
34:18 – Capital Structure Pet Peeves: What Should Cause You Concern?
39:30 – Share Register: Importance of Management’s Involvement


Matthew Gordon: Hello, welcome to Crux Investor. We’re here today with Anthony Milewski, he’s the CEO of Conic Metals, but we’re not going to talk about Conic Metals today. You’re going to tell us about the world of Nickel.

Anthony Milewski: I will, but by the way, I’m the chairman.

Matthew Gordon: You’re the chairman!

Anthony Milewski: I’m the chairman.

Matthew Gordon: You got promoted? 😉

Anthony Milewski: Non-executive chairman.

Matthew Gordon: Really? They didn’t want you doing too much? 😉

Anthony Milewski: I don’t want to cause any trouble.

Matthew Gordon: Okay. First question, and please don’t blame the Coronavirus for this one.

Anthony Milewski: It’s definitely the Coronavirus’ fault.

Matthew Gordon: That’s literally all I heard last week for everything that went wrong in a company was the Coronavirus even though it’s been going only a month and their share prices have been dropping for months. But you’re not going to do that. Indonesian Nickel ore production fell significantly last year. Why?

Anthony Milewski: Yeah, I think there’s probably a couple reasons. I think one reason is Nickel prices are just off. I mean, I think that’s part of it. But there are other reasons. There was a ban instituted in Indonesia where you had to ship a refined product. So, depending on what smelters are paying, depending on the logistics of those smelters, certain producers could sort of be shut out of that market because they can’t ship direct anymore. So, I think it’s a combination of Nickel price and just the factors around the Nickel export.

Matthew Gordon: Right. And you said the Nickel prices dropped and I think we talked about this previously in other interviews. But what’s your rationale for that? Why do you think that’s happened?

Anthony Milewski: Well, I think first of all, even as much as we want to talk about future demand for electric vehicles, it’s driven by stainless-steel. That’s really the driver of the market. Now, last year, we saw a big draw down in LME inventories. And we think that that was probably hedging and forward buying. But, notwithstanding that, if you look at the last month, LME inventories are kind of right back up there. And with the Corona virus and a decrease in the stainless-steel demand, with Nickel having tapered off a little bit, it makes sense that production for a marginal producer would be down.

Matthew Gordon: Conic is a royalty and streaming company. We can talk a little bit about it.  You’ve made some big bets on Nickel. You still believe that the EV thematic is holding true. You did say last time we spoke, it’s probably a couple of years out in reality, which I think was a nice reality check for the market to make people stop and think, because everyone gets very excited about these things. So, your view on the numbers hasn’t changed?

Anthony Milewski: No. I mean, look, if you look at Cobalt, if you look at Lithium, these false dawns where everyone gets excited about adoption of electric vehicles, which is real, and I’m a huge proponent of. But I think in certain cases that market can really move. You have a sell off, then you have reality set in, and then you can actually have that real move. And what we see with Nickel, we didn’t see that extreme move that we saw in both cobalt and lithium. We did see a move. And I think the reason, by the way, for that is that, stainless steel drives the Nickel market, whereas in cobalt and lithium, small incremental demand can really change the dynamics of the market. So, it’s stainless steel in a way is a more robust market. And so, it’s harder to really jam it up on the idea of some future demand. And so, we did see a bump. But I think now what you’re really going to have to see is a higher price to bring back in more speculators and interest.

Matthew Gordon: Timing for that?

Anthony Milewski: It’s impossible to say. And I do think what’s happened in Rhodium and Palladium recently is kind of interesting and potentially telling. And that is to say, both those markets had people out there for five, six, seven, eight years talking about the pending doom and gloom scenario. And actually, as it turns out, they’re right. I just read this article that this morning about people stealing catalytic converters in London. So, they turned out to be right. And where I’m going with that is what’s interesting with Nickel and some of these other metals, if we don’t get investment into projects, bringing more supply on in the future, that chart ultimately will start to look like a palladium or rhodium chart. And I think that’s not healthy for a commodity but it’s a reality when it takes years to bring additional supply on line.

Matthew Gordon: This probably was the Coronavirus but you promised to write me an article some weeks ago.

Anthony Milewski: It’s coming!

Matthew Gordon: I’ve got half of it here. So, we’re going to talk about that half of it.

Anthony Milewski: The good half!

Matthew Gordon: And just for everyone at home, this article is really to talk about being able to pick winners and losers in the space because in all commodities there are companies which are going to make it. Other companies perhaps will struggle a bit. And we don’t want to waste anyone’s time talking about companies which perhaps are going to struggle for whatever reason. So, we’re going to talk about some of those headlines for Nickel. They kind of apply to all commodities in a way some of them.

Anthony Milewski:  Well Nickel is unique. The one I found really interesting. And I’ll tell you why. Because Nickel, unlike Gold, you could get a Gold CEO in here who would potentially have a project that would need under $100MIL of CapEx for production. That’s possible. Nickel is very, very capital intensive. In fact, I would argue that Nickel is possibly the biggest destroyer of value over 20 years with the HPAL projects, projects like Goro ended up costing $8Bn. And to name a couple, Ambatovy, you have Ravensthorpe…

Matthew Gordon: Here’s one. I’ve got one. So, we’ve had a bit of a debate online because we got a quote from someone you know, Mark Selby, saying you can’t build a HPAL project under $1Bn. We’ve got an AIM-listed company, the management team, CEO, saying that’s not true. He has got some new Chinese technology coming through and HPAL will be able to be delivered for much less than that. Are you a buyer of that? What is this new technology?

Anthony Milewski: Yes. So, here’s what I would say. I think you’re talking about two separate things. If you’re talking about a brand-new stand-alone project, I’m unaware of a single instance where someone’s done that for under $1Bn. When they’re not relying on infrastructure, when it’s a new project sitting in the middle of the jungle, wherever it is, I think that’s not happening anytime soon. However, if you’re talking about specifically about some of the stuff that the Chinese are doing with HPAL in Indonesia, that’s totally different, because what they’re doing is, they’re tacking on $1Bn onto $7Bn dollars of infrastructure.

Matthew Gordon: So, there’s the infrastructure component and with the processing plant component. So, can you build a plant on top of a resource for a billion bucks?

Anthony Milewski: Can you build a plant on top of an existing producing mine in Indonesia where the Chinese have already spent $7Bn? Yes. So, can you go from $7BIL to $8BIL? Yes.

Matthew Gordon: Greenfield site?

Anthony Milewski: I would be hard pressed to give a single example of the world where you could do that. This is import about investing. So, I think when you’re looking at Nickel names, I think you have to ask yourself, what is really fundamentally the process? Not are we sugar-coating it. Is it HPAL? And if it’s HPAL? The answer is this is an HPAL project I think you have to think it’s going to be in the billions of dollars. And so, if you’re thinking about a speculative play, it’s a big ore body, will it go up when Nickel moves? Answer might be yes. But if you’re thinking will this be a mine? I think the answer is going to be most likely not.

Matthew Gordon: So, how would a company get a Feasibility Study done by an independent contractor to tell you it’s going to cost less than that for HPAL project?

Anthony Milewski: Well, I can’t speak to any specific situation, but I think we just generally look at Namascar. Now they’re in receivership now and they had, I think, no less than four of the top contracting firms working on that project or consultants at contracting firms. They missed it by, what, $500M. So, I think it happens, I think is the answer, it happens. And, I can’t speak to why one person will miss it, or another person will miss it. But HPAL, one of the things to remember about HPAL is the tailings really should be in an environment, especially like if it’s tailings sitting behind a tailings dam, need to be in an environment where you evaporate more water than rains in a year. So, if you’re in a place or a situation where you like have torrential downpours and you’re not going to evaporate like you just have a real problem with tailings. And in a post valley world, I think globally regulators are thinking about tailings. So, to take a step back from all that and talk about just investing in Nickel, I think you need to think about is this a sulphide or is this a laterite. Because at least, like in (RNC) Dumont was an example in Canada, potentially (Giga) Turnagain someday, those projects, the processing is very simple and straightforward, like everyone knows how to do that. You can come up with a number that’s real. It might be $1.5Bn for Dumont. I don’t know what that number is going to be, but that’s the number. Whereas if you go into some of the Australian HPAL processes or elsewhere in the world, frankly, you don’t know how long a piece of string is. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t necessarily own those names because when the Nickel tape happens any big research will go up because it’s just the case that that will be true. So, you can own a basket, but specifically, you need to trade those names, because if you look through the cycle, it’s hard to see after Ambatovy, after Ravensthorpe, after Goro, it’s hard to see that anyone is going to build a greenfield HPAL project. Different than brownfield expansion, tagging onto an existing project, but a greenfield project is pretty unlikely in my view.

Matthew Gordon: Ok, so let’s veer away from that, HPAL at the moment, and come back to investing because you gave some clues about the sorts of things people should look for. First of all, we should probably identify the type of investors who would invest a Nickel because this is not an overnight day trading scenario or even get out in the next six months or so. If you’re coming in now and I guess you would advocate getting in now, or would you?

Anthony Milewski: Well, I would say, what do you think the average amount of money your investor has to invest, $5,000, $10,000?

Matthew Gordon: I don’t know. There’s so many, the average is difficult.

Anthony Milewski: Well, let’s just say you have $1 to invest in Nickel, I don’t think I would just go by a dollar worth a Nickel equity today. I think you want to cost average in over time. But certainly, what we saw in Rhodium and Palladium and a lot of other commodities is they can move really quickly. And if you actually do subscribe to this notion that EV adoption is generating new demand, it’s going to impact the price of Nickel. If you subscribe to that notion, that investment thesis, I think you over time want to average in to these Nickel names. I wouldn’t go spend all my Nickel allocation today. Especially as we’re faced by a lot of uncertainty around coronavirus. But I would think that over time you would want to leg into it.

Matthew Gordon: I think that’s fair, and again, reasonable. Like you say there’s a lot of people who come and talk to us and tell us how much of their commodity they’re going to put into a battery and the EV revolution is going to change their company literally overnight. You need to buy now. And I just think sometimes for a lot of companies that’s not true. They’re so far away, so far removed from the EV chain.

Anthony Milewski: Well timing is tough. I look at lithium right now. Some of these names, they move overnight. Lithium Americas, I mean just on a rocket ship lately. They announced this deal, which effectively takes away the operatorship. They get money and now it’s going to be built. So, this thing goes on a rocket ship, but I would just say as an investor, it’s hard to predict. So one of the things I would consider, I guess, when I look at some of these names is making sure to own some names that don’t require capital raises because if between now and that move, it’s two years, let’s just say, if you look into that balance sheet and you can see that they’re going to need two capital raises, well just wait and go in when the capital’s raised. I think in particular for the juniors, this is relevant because from my perspective, if you could invest in Nickel like let’s own a basket of names. So own Independence Group, this is an adult company. It’s producing Nickel and it’s hard to foresee that they can raise capital. You’re not going to get as much torque as you would in like a Giga and with Turnagain. But at the same time, it’s a much safer, safer bet. So, I think you have to have like a range of these names.

Matthew Gordon: Right. Okay. And that’s just Nickel we’re talking about. Obviously, people have got lots of options, not just mining, not just Nickel the commodity, but lots of options within mining and outside of mining and portfolio approach which most sensible people would advocate. Let’s come back to some specific things that you’ve started writing about in terms of things that you look for. The first thing we talk about is the exchange. You’ve got to work out which exchanges you’re comfortable being on. Why?

Anthony Milewski: Well, if you look at different commodities, do better on different exchanges.

Matthew Gordon: Is that true for Nickel?

Anthony Milewski: Yes, it’s actually Nickel that’s does better on the ASX. If we’re being honest, the ASX and the reason is, is that retail investors in Australia understand Nickel, there is a larger number of Nickel publicly traded companies for Nickel. And so, I would say, depending on where the asset is, that makes more sense. Now, for Gold Canadian and North American producers do better generally speaking, on the TSX. Australian producers do better, there’s always exceptions, on the ASX. So, I think understanding comps for that exchange is important because if you have peers, which look sort of similar, that means you’re going to have research coverage. It also means you’ll have like a general body of knowledge among retail and institutional investors. So, it’ll be easier for them to get up the curve and potentially invest in the name that you’re looking at. So, it is always important to think about the peer groups. Now in a bull market, of course, probably it doesn’t matter as much. But in a market like this I think you can actually have a quite a bit of upward support in these names when you’re on the right exchange.

Matthew Gordon: OK. That’s interesting to me.

Anthony Milewski: I can do a data-point, not just to plug.

Matthew Gordon: Please.

Anthony Milewski: Conic Metals. The primary asset of Conic Metals is the Ramu Nickel joint venture we discussed. That joint venture assets looking almost exactly as Conic does today. Not quite as good because there’s more in Conic trading on the ASX, was trading at kind of $100/$110M market cap. Today on the TSX, it trades at $3M. So, there’s a bunch of other factors in there, but it’s just one single example. I think you can find that across different commodities.

Matthew Gordon: Ok. So, what we’re going to do, we’re going to piece together lots of moving parts here and you’ve got to consider all of these. So, you’ve sort of talked about project stage. So, if there’s anything more you want to say, we can sprinkle it in later, but I want to talk about jurisdiction. And that kind of comes the point we made earlier with regards to where your next Nickel project is. Some countries are better than others. You’re dealing with Southeast Asia, Indonesia. You’ve got the Canadian plays. You’ve got Russians. There’s a lot of big players out there. Why is jurisdiction specifically important to Nickel?

Anthony Milewski: Well, let’s look at Cuba. So, Sherritt, which is an important producer of Nickel fundamentally has a problem where a lot of investors are not allowed to invest in that company because they’re US, because the fund has U.S. investors. So, then you have a problem with Cuba, even though great mine, great asset, right? Russia, maybe you don’t have restrictions, but at the same time, people perceptions about Russia. And so when you kind of go around, clearly the best Nickel assets to invest in would either be in Australia or Canada from perspective of the market. But there are interesting things in Africa as well like this project, I think it’s Sama Resources. It is potentially a large discovery in West Africa. But I think it doesn’t get as much credit as it would in Canada or Australia because of its location. So, investors over the years have had bad experiences in Africa and certain countries. It just makes sense, like in Gold, if that asset is sitting in Canada, it’s going to have a higher multiple than if it’s sitting in somewhere in Africa generally.

Matthew Gordon: So, that’s in West Africa, Sama Resources?

Anthony Milewski: Yes. I think Robert Friedland invested a bunch of money in it. His technology is on it. It’s an interesting story because it’s potentially huge, right? It’s just one example of a name where if that same asset was sitting in a different jurisdiction, it would have probably materially higher market cap.

Matthew Gordon: Absolutely. Talking of things that affect, different jurisdictional plays. We had a contributor send in a piece about what’s happening in West Africa at the moment and I wish more companies would respond to this, to these sorts of articles where there’s a bunch of terrorist activity happening in places like Burkina Faso, Southern Mali and then Liberia and so forth. And the companies are choosing to ignore these things. And we’ve had a few phone calls for allowing someone to publish on our sites talking about these negative things. But I think it’s a great moment for the companies to come on and talk to us and say, well, actually, it’s fine. This is going on, which is not good, but it’s business as usual for us. It’s not going to affect our operations. But rather than bury their heads in the sand and try and get their PR people to tell us we shouldn’t be having these conversations. So, jurisdiction is important, I think, because we’ve definitely been caught out. We’ve definitely lost money investing in the wrong jurisdiction and these kind of safer plays, or more relevant plays for Nickel hopefully they will work out for your company. You talk about Indonesia.

Anthony Milewski: PNG.

Matthew Gordon: Papua New Guinea? Apologies. How’s it doing business there? That’s something you must know a lot about by now.

Anthony Milewski:  We’re very fortunate in that because MCC, which is a very large company, is operating the mine. So, I think we’re fortunate just because we don’t have to deal with a lot of the day to day. We don’t deal with any of the day to day. In fact, we’re not the operators. So, it’s a joint venture interest holder. And because they’re such a big company, I think that, they’re able to navigate but it’s not without its headaches. I think that’s true of anywhere though. You can experience that in the US and Canada as well.

Matthew Gordon: So, it comes back to your investment in royalty. It’s investing in mining without the mining risk.  So, your job is a lot easier, is it?

Anthony Milewski: Well, it’s definitely easier than building a mine. I can tell you that. That would be tough.

Matthew Gordon:  Right. You talk about project types. You kind of get into a lot of detail about this. What do you mean by project type?

Anthony Milewski: I mean, if some geologist comes on here, they can criticize and say, well, there’s really 20-types, but basically there are two-types, Nickel sulphide and laterite. Those are the two primary ore bodies that we talk about. The laterite ore bodies have the HPAL process, which is very hard to get right and certainly has a history of massive cost overruns. Sulphide has always been preferred until the HPAL technology came along. But what you’re facing today is that no Nickel sulphide ore bodies tend to be lower grade. And so it just means you have to process more ore and the Capex, I can’t think of a project with under $1Bn Capex. I’m sure there’s some small projects somewhere, but by and large, ones you’re talking about $1Bn to $5Bn and the market’s just not ready to fund that. There’s just no actual money to fund a project like that, which is kind of what makes Nickel interesting because there are no projects out there. Dumont being one of the fully permitted ones for instance.

Matthew Gordon: It’s got the scale.

Anthony Milewski: It’s probably $1.5-$2M and no one’s sticking their hand up. And if you stick your hand up right now, today, it’s probably, 4-5 years from commercial production.

Matthew Gordon: 3-years if you’re listening to them.

Anthony Milewski: Whatever. In practice, right?

Matthew Gordon: It’s a long time, it’s a lot of money. I get it. Those are very difficult conversations with the price as it is today, most certainly. What do you think the price needs to get back up to before or how long does that need to sustain for before you get funders or consortium funders are thinking I have $500M, now’s the time to move?

Anthony Milewski: So, my experience right now is that it’s really Chinese money. I mean, even when that move starts to happen, what I see is interest coming out of China and that’s bad. I think that shows a commitment to electric vehicles and a realization about what’s happening with EV adoption. So even as we move past Indonesia, which is kind of where a lot of that investment that you referred to earlier is going, I actually think inside of Africa and elsewhere you’re going to see Chinese investment is lost. So, it’s not going to be just isolated into Indonesia. It’s going to be kind of globally.

Matthew Gordon: You’re up for building these large giga factories for this E.V. revolution. They want to be in control of as many of the moving process possible. And you’ve got a lot of the European automotive manufacturers funding these bills. And we look at their budgets, their forecast budgets and they’re in the tens of billions of dollars. But you’re saying that at a basic level, the Chinese, the ones that are going to be funding these mines into production in this E.V. revolution, because we hear the same story in copper, we hear the same story in lithium.

Anthony Milewski: It’s the real story. It’s a real story.

Matthew Gordon: I get it. It’s the same story.” We’re going to do this, we’re going to do this”. But the money isn’t seemingly available from the West and everyone’s looking to China like they used to, to be able to get these things done. Do you think that Chinese are going to take a grip on the speed at which this EV revolution is allowed to move and will it be to their drumbeat?

Anthony Milewski: Well, certainly I think what they’ve done is they’ve set environmental policy, which is actually pretty spectacular, like they’re leading the world in environmental policy as it pertains to adoption of electric vehicle. And if you think about the automobile industry, China really failed at creating an automobile industry in China. They might create parts, they might create certain brands. But really, the US, Korea, Japan, Europe, Germany, they kind of held the grip. And I think they’re saying, guys, the gig’s up and what they’re doing is they’re not going to sell you a battery. They’re going to sell you a car. I actually think if we fast forward 10-years, let’s say, and you look out in London, you’re going to be buying a Chinese car. Now, it might not be called the Chinese car. It still might be called Ford.

Matthew Gordon: Well, that’s my point. That’s where I was going. I thought you were going somewhere else. But they own these brands now.

Anthony Milewski: They’re going to own these brands. And so, they’re going to be vertically integrated. And so, you’re going to have a loss of Detroit in the traditional sense, like the automobile industry is going to be lost. And the reason is because if you’re a Western investor, you know, what was the S&P last year? 30% or something crazy, right? What’s Tesla up? I mean, the market’s on fire. All-time highs a couple of days ago, right? So, why would invest in this tiny little sector. In fact, two days ago, last week, you had all-time highs in every single sector of the S&P except for mining and energy. So, if you’re an investor, you’re not going to allocate to the sector. So, you get no money from the west because your kind of year to year, 12-month compensation or you’re passive and you can’t choose. And then in China, you’ve got this low cost of capital and you’re trying to build an industry. It’s kind of inevitable that it’s happening.

Matthew Gordon: Are you not worried about quantitative easing in the US and it’s a lot of borrowing going on to generate this growth. We had a lot of commentary for Christmas about this, that there will be a moment where the market just implodes.

Anthony Milewski: I’m not a Gold company where I’m wearing my tin hat. Like I think you should interview someone in a tin foil hat. But I do think for that maybe this is one of the most interesting moments for Gold in a long time because you do have all these random checks. But when you’re talking about governments, the one thing I will say is their ability to carry the trade, to kick the can down the road is probably longer than we think. I mean, there are these scary facts like by and large, the Russians have sold US treasuries. The Chinese aren’t buying treasuries, they’re lending them all off. But it’s hard to say like some doomsday scenarios happening next week. I think that the world can’t have the reserve currency, namely, you can export inflation. But you can’t have the reserve currency fail because you failed too. So, we can have this conversation in 10 or 15-years where there’s maybe more than one reserve currency but, you know, should there be a recession? Could there be a recession after a 10-year-old Gold market? Are we going to have a mass panic civil war? No, that’s not happening.

Matthew Gordon: Let me ask you about management. You’re a royalty company. People must approach you all the time asking for money, your money, and you have to do diligence on them. So, you get to meet a lot of management teams, specifically Nickel, if we can stay on Nickel. What are you seeing out there? Are there lots of good teams? Nickel’s an easy thing to min, get into production, get into market, or do you see only a handful of people capable of actually bringing anything to market?

Anthony Milewski: Well, it’s kind of extremes. On the one hand, you have independence in PETA, PETA are this great company. They don’t really need anything, they just kind of keep ticking on. And there aren’t that many small Nickel projects left that are potentially fundable. Dumont would be an example, but it stuck with Waterton. And I think R&C may have the operatorship. But the reality is, they don’t have much control. So, the question for Waterton is, are they going to do anything this cycle or maybe it’s so irrelevant to their portfolio that they’re focused on Gold. I don’t know the answer to that but it’s a great asset that could be moved forward.

Matthew Gordon: Talk to me about the management team. I want to know, what are you looking for when you talk to these guys? Is it all about the asset? Given that you said a second ago, we sit back, the management teams run these things. So, what are you looking for?

Anthony Milewski: I actually find that there’s this weird Darwinian thing, which is generally good management teams end up with good assets or it ends up that way eventually, right? I can’t tell you what a world class asset is being run by buffoons. I’m sure there’s examples.

Matthew Gordon: I don’t want you to name names, but I’m saying what would do they need to know, what gives you comfort?

Anthony Milewski: A team, in particular for Nickel, that understands the technology around that deposit. Especially, is it a sulphide? What’s that going to look like? What’s the process? What’s the flow sheet going to look like? In the face of not only all the HPAL things we talked about, but in the face now of Namaskar, where they raise a billion dollars. They got the flow sheet wrong. Or at least the Capex were unrelated to refinery. It’s a mess. So, I think if you’re going to do a royalty, you have to believe it can be built. And so that means you got to have sufficient technical knowledge in-house to believe that that group can build it. But I would tell you, I don’t really think at least off the top of my head, I can’t think of a project out there that’s actually going to get built by a junior company. It’s a $1.5Bn Capex. What happens is they’re going to bring it up to feasibility, they’re going to get it ready with partners and then in one form or another, they’re going to hand over that operatorship to someone who is actually able to build it, right?

Matthew Gordon: What are the red flags? Are you saying right OK if a junior company is saying “I’m going to get this thing into production” you’re going to call bullsh*t on that?

Anthony Milewski: You can just look at the product and know.

Matthew Gordon: Well, we don’t know. You’re the expert here.

Anthony Milewski: Some of the microcap, massive disseminated laterite low grade ore body as you look at that. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have asked us to be clear if it has a $6M market cap today, and uranium is a great example of this, and Nickel triples. Well, that’s $6M market cap company trades as an option. So, it may well trade at $150M market cap through the cycle. So, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own it but that’s different than as a royalty company thinking about whether or not you want to give them money to invest.

Matthew Gordon: Right. Good point by that. So, I want to talk about, and for people watching this and for me, how do I identify having spoken to the management team, what should I be asking a management team to give me the clues to allow me to make an investor decision?

Anthony Milewski: So, I would ask myself, firstly, what is my risk tolerance? Am I delving into the speculative? Because if you’re going really speculative, you know Mark Selby for instance, so Mark, I understand in the next two weeks or sometime very soon, Mark is going to have a publicly traded company with Nickel Asset. And that’s an exploration play. Now, look, if he makes that discovery, that’s going to go up. Now, if he doesn’t, by the way, it’s going to crash. So that’s one type of investment. Buying independence is really just going to be a function of cash flow and earnings relative to the price of Nickel. Now, Nickel has a whole bunch of projects in between like, I can’t think, there’s a handful of them in Australia, just blanked a couple of their names and they’re going to fit somewhere in between on the spectrum. And what you have to ask yourself is when I look at that ore body type, do I think that there is a shot of that getting built in the cycle?

Matthew Gordon: Another scenario for you here, okay? You’re going to say buy Nickel all day long. Lots of different options in Nickel, as you should. But if I’m a high risk tolerant, I’ve got some throw away money here, don’t mind if I lose it. What is the type, don’t need to name names, what are the types of Nickel companies I should be looking at? And I’m going to ask you the same in a second if you’ve got a low risk tolerance.

Anthony Milewski: So, if you’re high risk, I would look at really large ore bodies that will trade as options and they will happen.

Matthew Gordon: At some point they will happen. Buy them, put them in your drawer. Done.

Anthony Milewski: However, you should think about it in terms of an option value like theta in other words time decay. You should actually think about that as an option. So, you buy $50,000 today, by the way, if the time horizon is five years, it’s probably going to zero because they’re going to raise money three times. By the way, just like an option, if it happens in the next 24 months, you might do X times your money. So, I’d think about that as an option.

Matthew Gordon: That’s nice. I like that.

Anthony Milewski: For better or worse, like death or glory, I like to have a little bit of money invested in exploration play like when Mark’s thing comes out just for fun, but that’s very binary. You know, you can only twin a director’s hole so many times.

Matthew Gordon: Yeah, we’re not betting the house. But it’s worth putting something on that.

Anthony Milewski: Exactly. Those are the high-risk ones. But personally, my biggest Nickel positions, besides the company I’m the chairman of, are these large option plays where I look at them as time decay theta because I think it’s going to happen sooner than that, then that thing gets diluted down because of capital raises. So, that’s what I would look at. It’s very risky and I think you leg in unless the thing has no market cap as it is.

Matthew Gordon: We were talking about a Gold company in the same position before we kicked off the interview. Yeah, I understand. So, that’s your low risk scenario, or indeed invest in a company like yours which out dishes out dividends.

Anthony Milewski: So, the way that Conic works is we have a loan sitting at the joint venture level that’s getting paid off with cash flow every month. Ramu has been producing for seven years. The first tranche of that is paid off in kind of 14-18-months, depending on Nickel cobalt price. And then once that’s paid down, we’ll start with free cash flow.

Matthew Gordon: Dividends galore.

Anthony Milewski: Dividends galore. There will be no dividends between now and free cash flow I can promise you. That’s not happening.

Matthew Gordon: You’ve got to ask. This is one of which I love, not a lot of retail guys discuss or really understand, and I get a lot of questions through on DM and e-mail and through social media, which is around capital structure. So, that’s kind of my background. I kind of enjoy the structuring of deals. It’s literally the first thing we look at before we walk into an investment diligence process, which is how has this company structured itself from the beginning and what has happened to it, its structure, to this point and why? Again, it’s one of the headings that you put on here because I know that you like this.

Anthony Milewski: A personal pet peeve I have, no debt before production unless it’s part of that financing package. So, like sometimes I see these junior companies that are 5 or 10 years away from production with a convertible note. This makes no sense to me. It’s one thing if this is part of the package of money, it puts you into production, that makes complete.

Matthew Gordon: We talk about near-term revenue, for us. So, if it’s 12-months we could…

Anthony Milewski:  If you have a feasibility done and you’re going into production, that should be part of your capital structure along probably with the stream of royalty like that’s kind of the new capital structure. But if this junior mining company is pre-fee, whatever the case is but years away and it has that a convertible note, you’re going to get blown out. Show me a time you don’t get blown out. I’m sure there’s one. So, I think that’s I think that’s important. I also think one of the desperate moves that a lot of juniors make just in general is they give away the offtake way too early and they give it years away. And the problem is, if you give the off take away five-years before production, then actually really materially hinders and a lot of cases your ability to raise financing for production because the person who might fund you no longer can have the offtake. So, I think that’s why should leave the offtake unencumbered as long as you can.

Matthew Gordon: Great point.

Anthony Milewski: And if you’re years away and it’s encumbered to me, that’s a big red flag.

Matthew Gordon: But a lot of juniors and we spoke to quite a few recently talking about announcements of offtakes imminent and we don’t say anything but we’re looking at them and going, what terms could you possibly be empowered enough to negotiate now? Compared to down the line?

Anthony Milewski: It just reflects the capital market. There’s no equity. There’s very little equity there.

Matthew Gordon: But they’re looking for a catalyst. They’re looking for a moment to say something to the market that we’ve done this off take agreement and the terms of which are usually very vague and if they are in a bit more detail, then they are fairly one sided. So again, I’m like you. I’m not I’m not a fan of it. And I’m even less profound when the CEO touts that as that being a moment for significant change in the company’s fortunes.

Anthony Milewski: Certainly, like for graphite, it’s a very unique market. But for copper and Nickel, I think it’s a bit odd and it doesn’t make any sense because especially for a specialty market, like a mixed hydroxide or even like a lithium, it’s such a specific product you’re making that some offtake contract is going to basically be referred to a specialized product, which you may or may not be able to make years down the road. So, I think it’s a false catalyst and it’s probably driven by the fact that in order to get financing, certain types of debt, you ultimately will need for bulk commodities in particular, but for a lot of places, you need to take or pay contract that people can see that you can sell the material. I think what’s happened is management teams have seen that be successful. They started to draw that out was way too early. So, I think it’s a nonsense.

Matthew Gordon: What are your other pet peeves? I mean, for me, when people start talking about MIU’s or non-binding contracts or those sorts of things, which are meant to signify moments.

Anthony Milewski: I don’t want to criticize. Part of the problem is, put yourself in the shoes of the management team, you’re doing the right thing, you’re generally playing by the rules. And literally no one cares. Out of all of your listener base, one-person cares. And so, you’re struggling to generate interest because you have a view on name a commodity. I think there’s this pressure that gets put on the management team to manufacture a story.

Matthew Gordon: That’s the moment that worries me most, when we’re having discussions, when they are manufacturing…

Anthony Milewski:  That’s mining right now. Everybody except for Gold is having a moment. It’s manufacturing a story.

Matthew Gordon: But it puts retail investors, who perhaps haven’t seen cycles, or haven’t seen these moments where these stories played out before, puts their money at risk. That’s the truth, right?

Anthony Milewski: You could trick someone into buying in.

Matthew Gordon: So, I think that’s unacceptable. Truly unacceptable. And when we see that, we will call it out because it’s tantamount to lying effectively, or theft, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a bit extreme, but that’s our view. And we’ve seen too many of these juniors put in difficult positions and make difficult decisions, make the wrong decisions with other people’s money whilst they’re being paid a salary.

Anthony Milewski:  Otherwise they have no meaning actually, they’re not binding another party. It’s just a nonsense. Your point is that while sometimes it gets people to buy the stock, they shouldn’t otherwise do it.

Matthew Gordon: Yeah. Share register. That’s another point you make here. This is kind of interesting, because there’s a train of investment thought, which is if you just basic invest in anything Eric Sprott invests in.

Anthony Milewski: Well, that’s kind of the Canadian model right now.

Matthew Gordon: And it kind of works right now. You get in a bit late, you get out a bit late, but you’ve made a bit of money probably because that name, there’s a few others obviously, there are more options in the market than Eric, those names going in signify to retail that this is going to work because Eric’s money has gone in. Now, it’s also worth noting that for Eric some of this money is option money, people like Eric, they’ve got hundreds of millions available to them and this is option money. So, it works out great, but doesn’t matter so much. He spreads the love. Do you think that’s actually a good investment strategy? Would you recommend?

Anthony Milewski: Well, it certainly would have been successful over the last year, I think with Gold and the other stuff, I don’t think you should ever rely on someone else, you should always decide based on your situation and your views. So just blindly investing where Eric invests is probably not the best strategy because eventually it won’t work out, I don’t think. I’m just not criticizing him, but just saying you should pick your own names. So historically, you’d say is this a big company, is this a big fund? Is that being funded? But what I’ve noticed is actually the stickiest money, interestingly, is retail money. Most of the money now in mining is pretty short term. I mean, setting aside its own private equity money, which is expensive. It’s pretty short term. And so historically, whereas you’d always BlackRock in, as you know, whoever in, I’m not sure that’s as much cachet to becoming an institutional stock. I don’t know that carries as much weight as it once did.

Matthew Gordon: It has different effects for different companies, clearly.

Anthony Milewski: The meaning is, at one point, the institutional investor brought the big equity in and so you went from $100M to $1Bn and you could raise the money to build that big mine. And now that’s just not the case.

Matthew Gordon: I’ve seen too many variances. I’ve seen companies which have got big retail and it’s helped with liquidity and it’s all great. And then I’ve seen other companies where the retailer goes, pardon phrase, batsh*t crazy and it’s stalling the company again, because there’s all sorts of rumours, unfounded or misinformation or whatever, so different horses for different courses.

Anthony Milewski: People are pretty worked up.

Matthew Gordon: Yes, they are, because it’s their money. And I kind of like the fact that people get impassioned because this is their money. This is their hard-earned money that they’ve earned or been given or inherited or made in some way, so well done them. And part of this is entertainment value. I say to the guys, it’s kind of WWE, except without the fancy dresses here. It’s entertainment. There’s money to be made. And I like that. And we have a lot of very passionate followers and subscribers, so I like that. But I’m coming back to the share register component here. So, you’re saying that the mix for you, you like the retail being involved more than the institutional or how does it work for Conic?

Anthony Milewski: Do you know what else I actually like? I actually like does the CEO or does management actually own any of the stock? I guess it’s like the classic Canadian thing, if someone jams a deal together, whoever that person is sitting in the shadows, the thing goes, they sell their stock and have a good life. So, I think it’s nice to see that the management has stock in a company.

Matthew Gordon: Always. Got to.

Anthony Milewski: It’s not realistic in these big Capex projects for them to own 10% of it or something. But at least if they have enough to make it meaningful for them. I like to look at what are their options looking like. Does it matter if it succeeds or fails? If it doesn’t matter, then why should it matter to you?

Matthew Gordon: This is a whole other discussion here because we get people coming in with lots of views, where you’ve got to pay for the best or they’ve got to pay themselves to make their family comfortable, allow them to concentrate on work or that you’ve got to buy success by paying these guys the best to incentivize them to work harder. Hundreds of scenarios. I mean, personally, we don’t like to see a big salary paid. We like know options and success fees and all of those things that you would hope so if it works out, shareholders make money. They make money. It’s all great. One of our guys is doing an article at the moment “Top 10 best excuses as to why they need to be paid so much”. And we’ve heard them all from divorces to actually things didn’t quite work out at the last company, I’m still paying down what I owe there etc. There’s lots of reasons. But don’t make it the shareholders problem is my view.

Anthony Milewski: It should be set up such that they’re incentivized to make it work. Because if they’re not, if it’s just a wicket, then what do they care if it doesn’t work? Let’s go find a new wicket. So, I think however that is set up and there’s different ways DSU’s, RSU’s, options that can be said up a lot of ways, but you should be able just to look at it and ask them what happens if this sells for 100% premium? Are you making any money? Or whatever the numbers are in that particular situation.

Matthew Gordon: Yeah. Okay. And I think that’s probably one close to your heart which people should read the paperwork. I always say to people, why get angry now? You should have read the paperwork before you put your money down. You know what you’re getting into. If you don’t know what you’re getting into. Don’t invest. It’s really simple. Don’t put yourself in a position where you might get pissed.

Anthony Milewski: On that point, I think a lot of times, especially in Canada, lets speak about Canada, that’s a market I know really well. There’s a huge amount of information available for retail shareholders. What I would say is if the amount of money that you’re putting into this name is going to impact your mental health, it’s going to cause you stress if it goes to zero. So, it’s one thing if you’re this rich guy, you buy $10,000 of it and like, who cares? If that’s you, then don’t worry about it. Whatever that number is, when you get to that number, go on Sedi, download the AIF, download those documents or just read it, because I think what you find is most companies are actually fully disclosed. It’s just the people that read it. So, I would say if the amount of money that you’ve put into stock matters to you, that could be $1 could be $1M, if it matters to you, take the time to go on. It’s all free. All disclosures free. Download it and read about the management profiles because you know, what you’ll find is whatever is on the website is the best foot forward. But when you get into the disclosure documents, you might see there was a cease trade order in their last company, or you might see nothing. But the point is, if it matters enough to you that you’re going to be stressed if it goes wrong, then you should definitely read the paperwork.

Matthew Gordon: Now, we found ourselves in a scenario recently where we interviewed a CEO who got awfully upset that we dared to ask him about his remuneration package and how that was structured.

Anthony Milewski: Is this the guy that’s going to sue you?

Matthew Gordon: He’s going to sue my ass.                               

Anthony Milewski: For reading the disclosure?

Matthew Gordon: That’s not happening. We ask them some tough questions, but it’s all public information and there’s nothing wrong with that. And I think the last time we spoke, we asked you some pretty tough questions about your remuneration after Cobalt 27. You answered them. It was fine. But that backs up the point. It’s all publicly available. So have a look. If it’s going to irritate you, don’t invest. There’s lots of companies that will probably meet your criteria but do the homework, I guess that’s what I’m saying. OK, we’ve got to go. Thanks for coming to London specially to see us and to hand in the first draft, I appreciate that. I literally can’t wait for you to finish it on the plane on the way home. And we’ll look forward to publishing it.

Anthony Milewski: Thank you very much for having me as always.

Company page: https://www.conicmetals.com/

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.

A photo of Conic Metals Chairman, Anthony Milewski