Energy Fuels (NYSE: UUUU) – Picking Winners & Identifying Losers

A conversation with Mark Chalmers, CEO of Energy Fuels (NYSE: UUUU) about what Uranium investment targets are going to need to have to make it in this cycle. Without contracts in place some Uranium companies will not get funded. So price discovery is important but that does not equate to immediate financial relief for some. Don’t be left holding that Uranium stock.

There is lots of money to be made if investors focus on the fundamentals and are not distracted by rhetoric by Uranium company’s that won’t make money even at $100 a pound. Pick companies with the right business model. Management teams experienced in bringing Uranium companies in to production and selling in to a contract market.

We discuss our investment thesis with several Uranium CEO’s. If you believe in the macro story of the Supply Demand story for Uranium then you need to know how to pick winners in this section. Not all boats will float on this high tide.

What is clear is that if the management team has not worked in mining Uranium before and produced and sold uranium in to the market, they don’t know what they don’t know. Cash is King – In a market short on institutional funding, some companies are running on vapour and struggling to find money and if they can, it is expensive and dilutory. Quality assets – the basics of mining are the same. Companies that can get Uranium out of the ground cheaply will do better than others. Investors need to understand a company’s ability to mine economically.

If you buy in to the macro story, we encourage Uranium investors to start looking at which companies are most likely to make it. It is apparent to industry insiders and veterans which companies and which assets will find it more difficult than others. We are listening to them and forming our thoughts.

Interview Highlights:

  • 90 Day Working Group Announcement Expectations
  • Importance of Management
  • Cash is King: Who Won’t Survive?
  • Who Should I Consider as an Investor?
  • Energy Fuels: Rebuilding the Share Price, and The Mill – A Means of Standing Out
  • The Market: When Will it Change and What’s The Plan if it Doesn’t?

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: Good to see you, albeit online. We caught up at the WNA Symposium in London last month. What was your take on it?

Mark Chalmers: Well it’s a good event. I really enjoyed being there again. And I caught up with a lot of people.

Matthew Gordon: There was a lot of excitement around the WNA Fuel Report as possibly being a catalyst for change. And we agreed at the time that it wouldn’t be. But the next catalyst for change is President Trump’s Nuclear Energy Working Group. It’s a week or so before that is due to announce.

Mark Chalmers: We don’t know exactly what timeframe the president will act on the report. Or what announcements will be made.

Matthew Gordon: There’s been various speculation as to what it could entail. But you’re not expecting it to focus necessarily on the uranium market, but the nuclear market as a whole. It’s hard to forecast what the impact could be for US uranium companies.

Mark Chalmers: There’s no guarantees, but I believe the working group gets it. I think they get it. I would be absolutely shocked if we get nothing here. The question is what will be proposed and what will the President decide is appropriate. It’s not very often you get on the President’s desk twice in 90 days. And I’m very proud that we’re able to do that. We’ve got this focus on the front end, the fuel cycle. The focus is absolutely required by the United States government, the largest consumer of uranium in the world, the United States of America is one quarter of the world’s uranium. We cannot go to zero.

Matthew Gordon: done a lot of interviews now with uranium CEOs over the last 3-4 months. As an investor, we’re starting to build up a picture of what the market looks like. I am a believer in the macro story in terms of the supply / demand story and what those numbers look like. I don’t have a sense of timing. I don’t think many people do. I’ve heard from 3 months to 24 months in terms of timing from people. I wanted to speak to you about some of the thoughts that we’ve had, and get some affirmation of some of those thoughts, if indeed you agree. There are lots of different companies at different stages and different positions financially, who may or may not make it, depending on how long this goes on for. But it was clear to me that you need three things. 1. You need a management team who’s been there and done it before. And I don’t mean mining. I mean getting uranium out of the ground, getting it to where it needs to be in terms of being able to process it and sell it and to market – that’s one. 2. Cash, because a lot of companies are running out of cash. And 3. Fundamentals of the asset itself, you’ve got to come back to that, because mining is mining. Start off with the management component with you first?

Mark Chalmers: Oh, absolutely.

Matthew Gordon: You is because you have been through a couple of cycles. You have produced. What would you say to investors about the importance of why the experience of having been through, not only a couple of cycles, but you’ve actually produced product and got it into market. Why do you think that’s important?

Mark Chalmers: Uranium is very unique. And it has a number of dynamics. When you start looking at uranium projects, it has the mining risk, and processing risk. It also has a lot of risk because it is uranium and that is obviously connected to the nuclear fuel cycle. A lot of people underestimate how all those things meld together and how one of those elements can really throw a monkey wrench into any project. When you look at other mining industries like gold and copper, silver, zinc, whatnot. They’ve had a lot more continuous operations over the years. They haven’t had the hiatuses that the uranium market has had. We go through these peaks and valleys. And the valleys, often are very pronounced and very long lived. And you lose a lot of that expertise and the knowledge. So there are similarities, but also many differences.

Matthew Gordon: Your last point about a lot of the expertise has been lost, because the sector has been in the doldrums for a while. People have got to make a living and they go off and do other things. I’ve spoken to only four CEOs who have ever managed to get companies into production. The rest are learning on the job. And as an investor, my problem is I don’t necessarily want them to learn with my money, because things can go wrong if you don’t know what is coming down the line. To coin your phrase, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. And that’s fine with someone else’s money, but not with mine. I just thought it was interesting with some of the conversation’s that we’ve had, it became obvious that these companies were just hoping that the market would come back and there would be enough money sloshing around. And some of these mistakes would get hidden by all the money that would be thrown at them for investment. But when things are tight, like they are now, if you don’t have the cash to be able to cope with this market, you’re in trouble.

Mark Chalmers: It’s pretty hard when these companies get to the point where they’ve gone to the equity markets multiple times. The share price continues to decline. The market just gets tired of the story. And so that’s why it’s important to maintain a healthy cash balance. And I think the one thing that is really a problem for a lot of these really small mining companies, juniors, micro caps, and it is pretty chronic in the entire industry, is that people get down to that last $100,000, or $1M and then they go out and try and raise money. It’s expensive or impossible to do. We’re not in that position. We’re a lot more complicated than a lot of these other companies. Other companies may have one project or it’s not constructed. So, the holding costs may be lower. But you just don’t want to get against the rope, because when you’re against the rope, people know you’re against the rope.

Matthew Gordon: I’ve gone through a period of learning about Uranium equities, speaking to some great influencers in the market, some fund managers. I’ve managed to speak to a couple of the utility companies. And I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago. It made me really nervous, actually, for the first time in this space. And it comes back to that line, ‘not all boats will float on a high tide’. They just won’t. I’ve been approached by a couple of groups to ask for my advice on a couple of junior uranium companies, who are struggling for cash and who are speaking to these finance groups to take them out. It’s like they’ve had enough. They’ve fought their fight and don’t want to go on, or don’t know how to go on. And that made me nervous, because it reinforced my thoughts. I’m a buyer of the macro, there’s going to be winners, but not everyone’s a winner. It’s clear because there are people struggling right now. And the longer this goes on, the more problematic it becomes. So, if this thing goes on another 6 months, I can see more than a couple of companies struggling because they don’t have the cash, or the ability to persuade a generalist fund to put money in. And the specialist funds have made their bets and they can probably see better than some of generalist funds, as to who is going to make it and who’s not.

Mark Chalmers: With a lot of these companies. Not only do they have no money, but they also have projects that are not proven. And in many of those projects need hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of capital investment, if not billions of dollars.

Matthew Gordon: When you start talking about things like getting some debt into the company to be able to be in a position to build out whatever it is that they’ve got, or be able to even pay for the Feasibility Studies (FS). Again, there’s no real plan there. Mark, you’ve been around the block. You’ve seen a few things and some of the companies I’m probably talking about. What’s your take on the market?

Mark Chalmers: I don’t envy them. I don’t envy them, because when you’re at the bottom of the bucket and there’s no water coming in to fill up your bucket, what do you do? And it goes back to, ‘there’s no shortage of uranium’. Uranium deposits out there in the world have not all been created equal. And if they don’t have any money for just daily operating expenses… In a lot of cases, those projects are not proven yet, they’ve never been commercialized. So, there’s a lot of technical risk for those projects. In most cases, it’s going to be far, far more difficult, costlier and take more time than they expect. And then you throw on top of that a new project. It’s going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. In most cases hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars. It’s a hole hard to crawl out of. And so, I don’t envy these folks at all. You’re at a huge disadvantage if you don’t already have proven projects, if you don’t already have projects that have the capital investments made. You’re way back in the back of the bus and when you’re in the back of the bus, and you don’t have any money, you’re not going to get up to first class.

Matthew Gordon: What I’m hearing is that exploration companies are some ways away. Certainly, not in this cycle from getting into production. So as an investor, do I put my money into those now because money’s cheap, but risk is high. There’re some companies with a possibility of being funded to get into production. But again, they’re not going to get into production anytime soon. The next 2-3 years, maybe if they’re ready to go today. But not many are. Would you talk to producers who are armed and ready to go?

Mark Chalmers: If you’re playing a sector like uranium, your safest bet is to play probably 2, 3, 4 of the better, more established companies, and you can do that in a way that manages your risk. We’ve seen the damage, or collateral damage, that’s happened to a lot of people back in about 2010/11 after Fukushima. With the deterioration in share prices. That hit us all. That hit Cameco, that hit Energy Fuels and everybody else. So, there is not such thing as no risk, but there is such thing as having less risk. And there is a saying, if you believe in a macro, which I agree a 100%, that you can play certain companies that have less risk and have probably the same upside as a lot of these riskier plays.

Matthew Gordon: You guys got hit, July 11th/12th with the Section 232 announcement. You guys got hit big time on your share price. You dropped off a cliff. You’ve recovered about $0.45 – $0.50 cents since then. What should that tell investors?

Mark Chalmers: That’s an example that certain events can clobber these stocks. I believe that there people were certain of a positive outcome on the Section 232. We thought, as well as many others, even that we talked to the government, that there was a high-likelihood that that was going to happen. It didn’t happen. We got hit, as did most others, particularly those in the United States. It’s a sector that in the up markets, it’s multiple bagger. In a down market, it can be a multiple bagger in the opposite direction. It is a tricky sector, but it still goes back to sophistication in how you make your investment. It shocks me sometimes that people come to me and say “oh, I’m getting in the uranium business and I picked X, Y and Z” and those are exactly the products that I would never have recommended to these people. Now, even in some of those cases, in the right circumstances, people can make money on those stocks. I don’t think there’s any absolute 100% the best plan. But I also think that a lot of people making these investments, they don’t like the super high volatility. And that there are just different elements of risk. And what people do, what percentage of their assets that they’ve invest in high risk returns, compared to what their ultimate horizon is and how they’re diversified, that is down to them.

Matthew Gordon: Can I just talk about your mill, because this the other bit, which it’s not one of my tick boxes, but it’s definitely a massive plus for you guys. It’s one of the only operating mill in the US. Is that right?

Mark Chalmers: Correct. If you go back like 30 years, there were like 35 mills, And White Mesa has basically been in good standing, has been completely operable since that point in time. There are two other mills. There’s a Shooter Canyon mill that ran for a few months or something back in 1979/80 or something, then shut down. And then there’s the Sweetwater Mill in Wyoming that ran for maybe was a year or two, also shut down 30, 35 years ago and hasn’t operated since.

Matthew Gordon: Looking at your mill, it gives you certainly optionality in terms of what you do. But for people without a mill, what are their options? How do they go about processing their ore?

Mark Chalmers: Well, they either have to build their own mill, or if in the region, they have to basically strike a deal with us to have access to our mill. And there are some examples of work that’s been done in the past with toll milling agreements or joint ventures. So, if you don’t have the mill, and you’re a conventional miner, you don’t have any options, you have to make some choices. I’ve had people tell me they don’t need to mill. They can ship it to China or to Brazil or somewhere like that. That’s farcical. It’s farcical. You’ve got the costs of transportation. The mill was correctly positioned for sustainability. And that’s a big issue that investors should feel comfortable that our mill has been around nearly 40 years and has survived these peaks and these valleys because of its flexibility. And, it’s been able to cash flow, and many times, even though the uranium price were too low to run it just for uranium production.

Matthew Gordon: What are your plans for the next 6 months if nothing happens in terms of the price discovery in the market or 12 months?

Mark Chalmers: If we don’t get relief through this government working group we will manage our expenses as tightly as we can. We’ll continue on with the macro environment we think is alive and well. We’ll continue pushing these different parts of our business that are less uranium price dependent like the alternate feed and the clean-up of abandoned uranium mines. Everybody needs higher uranium prices. This is really a critical crossroads that we’re at with the working group. We’ve survived the test of time. We’ll continue to survive the test of time. But it will be more difficult until uranium prices recover.

Matthew Gordon: And I keep asking every time I see you because I’m not quite sure what the answer is going to be each time.

Mark Chalmers: Well, I liked your comment that a lot of people have quit speculating on that. And I think that’s one of the reasons that these uranium share prices have been suffering. I think a lot of people are tired of speculating, including investors. Everybody seems to be wrong. You know, like you said, six months or two years or one year or whatnot, people been saying that…

Matthew Gordon: If you’re a fund manager, you don’t care if it’s one year, two years or three years. You’re getting paid your 2% and 20%. It’s okay. You can afford to be wrong for another three years, If you’re an investor like a Joe Schmo like me, where you’re putting your own cash into this stuff and you’re underwater and you don’t know what’s coming, you’re unsure. People have been telling the macro story for so long that you’re beginning to doubt whether that’s true or not. You jump up and down and go, hurrah, every time you hear someone talk about the macro story. But maybe you start having doubts. So, getting some sense of timing is important because it’s our hard-earned cash here we’re talking about.

Mark Chalmers: Absolutely. And I always say that whenever people have the most doubts, as is when you should be investing more. People like Rick Rule, it’s quite interesting to listen to some of his discussions and when he started getting interested in uranium. And it was the late ’90s. And he’ll tell you how many doubts he had. But then he will also tell you that he had multiple investments. So, I think the worst was like a 20 bagger or something. So, it is a very unique sector and frustrating. But when it comes, it comes and it comes big. And, there are there a lot of people that made a lot of money in this over the years and there is going to be a lot of money made again.

Matthew Gordon: I just want to make sure that people aren’t being misled and that they focus on the fundamentals, what’s important with regards to the company, assuming the macro is true. I want investors to make the right bets in the right companies rather than have their money frittered away by companies perhaps that are just struggling with G&A, let alone getting into production.

Mark Chalmers: There are companies out there, I won’t name names, that even if the uranium price goes to $100 dollars, they will not be successful. And I think that’s what you’re alluding to. You don’t want people to get in investments that will have no possibility of ever really making it. They might get a bit of a bounce off of an up market. But investing in broken business models isn’t a really good long-term strategy.

Matthew Gordon: I’m not alluding to, I’m trying to shout from the rooftops that in our assessment, having looked at these companies, looked at the numbers, done the analysis. I agree with you, whether $100 bucks or $70 bucks, there are uranium companies which are just not going to make it. They’re not designed to make it. They don’t have the people on board to show them how to make it. People need to ask the right questions.

Mark Chalmers: Being in the space, I have to be a little more careful when it comes to pointing out some of the shortcomings.

Matthew Gordon: I wanted to speak to bounce our thoughts off you. I’m not sensing any pushback. Appreciate your time and taking the call as well.

Mark Chalmers: It’s always a pleasure, Matt. I enjoy talking to you.


Company page: http://www.energyfuels.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. We provide paid for consultancy services for Energy Fuels. 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.

Serabi Gold (LSE: SRB, TSX: SBI) – Steady Growth for Shareholders. At Last.

Having flatlined for 4 years, Serabi Gold are looking to double their production and get to 80,000oz by getting their recent acquisition to market. High grade selective mining. It’s an old story which is looking to getting going again and like most junior Gold miners for the last 4-5 years, the only thing holding them back was access to money. They have had their head down focusing on producing at 40,000oz at a steady state for the last several years. That is not an exciting level. Most small institutional funders are looking for 100,000oz per annum. So what has Serabi done to change things and make this story relevant again for investors? We get the back story and find out how they plan to sweat their current assets and more importantly how they intend to fund it.

With Gold above $1,500 they are finally making a reasonable margin, even for an underground operator. We find out how they have structured their debt and what happens next. What do you think of their plan?

Retail investors have started to get interested again. And a couple industry strategic players involved. It feels like a new story as shares have started moving in the right direction. That said what we like is that they appear to be sticking to what they know and are targeting growth from very similar assets. Existing greenfield and brownfield also look promising.

A very open and confident pitch by the CEO. They have always had a plan, and now with the cash and cash flow and they seem to know how to deliver it. We follow with great interest.

Interview Highlights:

  • Overview of The Company
  • Team Experience: Have They Got What it Takes?
  • Share Price and Shareholders
  • Company Strategy and Assets: How Are The Projects Coming Along?
  • Update on Coringa and M&A Plans
  • Market Conditions: How Will Free Cashflow Affect Their Chances?

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: Let’s kick off for the one-minute summary for people who haven’t heard the story before.

Mike Hodgson: 40,000 ounces, high-grade gold production in Northern Brazil. Para state. It’s a big artisanal gold field. We are the first operator in that part of the world. We’ve got great local relationships. We’ve actually put a mine into production. It’s taken a while. The company did it many years ago. The mine actually closed. We actually started it up as brownfield site we’re mining high-grade gold, 8g/t. Which really, I think sets us apart from the rest. People have got so used to 1g/t, 2g/t. We are 8g/t. We are underground high-grade, selective mining. And we’ve acquired about 18 months ago the Coringa asset, which is essentially a carbon copy of our current Polito operation. We’re going to put Coringa to production, make it 80,000 ounces. We’re growing organically, but certainly in a very controlled way.

Matthew Gordon: I’m interested in this story, because you guys have been in South America for a while. I’d love to understand a little bit about the team’s experience in mining in South America. What’s everyone done?

Mike Hodgson: Brazil is a country that probably is very dominated by large enormous surface deposits. I won’t pretend to say it’s been easy. We’ve actually had to address the fact that there aren’t very many small underground mines in Brazil. Therefore, there’s a people skill shortage. I suppose we’ve cheated a little bit. We actually are next door to Peru and Bolivia and we’ve got a very key people that come from there. I was the COO of Ovando Minerals in Bolivia before this job. I’ve spent much of my career working in the Cornish Tin Mines. So I’m very specialized in small underground mines and I worked for TVX before on a small underground mine. I can’t escape it, but clearly, I’m probably moderately successful at it. So we built a team, which involved key management in the mine, which came from Bolivia. And we brought over a Peruvian contractor to help us with the selective mining. Our ore body at Polito and the ore body that will be developed and put into production at Coringa, are high-grade subvertical narrow veins. Quality ounces is what it’s all about. Controlling dilution is what it’s all about.

Matthew Gordon: Apart from yourself, who on the team experience has that level of experience?

Mike Hodgson: Well, on the board itself is a gentleman called Eduardo Rosselot, an older colleague of mine. A mining engineer, a Chilanian guy. He’s been very important in terms of actually helping us with our funding. And the rest of the team in Brazil, we’ve got key Bolivian mine management. The Mine Superintendent is Bolivian and all the technical team are Bolivian. The key to our success is really this team of mining expertise and we have actually boots on the ground. That works very well. The Peruvian contractor we’ve now actually nationalized. They are now all Brazilian paid and on the Brazilian payroll. It’s a very important point because, there’s no real problem in terms of these people working in Brazil language wise, which certainly was something which concerned us at the very beginning. But just going back a step, probably people may or may not know that Serabi did put Polito in production 2003. It started probably the correct way. But back in the 2000s in London, where company originally listed, there was, let’s say a lot of people in the stock, who perhaps shouldn’t have been in the stock. They did really understand with junior mining. And I think the company did two things. 1. It chase scale to try to meet shareholder expectation. 2. It also changed the mining method because it was very difficult to find the right people for the job. So when we actually restarted this mine back in 2012/13, we got the right team in and the formula for success has been the mining. My saying always is ‘grade pays, toness cost’.

Matthew Gordon: You raise interesting point. There have been, and possibly still are, some people have been in this a long time, long suffering. The share price has been flat for a couple of years, but it’s recently picked up again. You must be quite pleased?

Mike Hodgson: We’re delighted. A little bit of brief history on that. It comes back to some of the people that I’ve been around with, like Eduardo Rousselot one of our Chilean directors. He was really instrumental back in 2012 when we want to reopen this mine. The markets were terrible. There was no money out there for exploration. There was no money for resource growth. There was only money for cash flow. And it was hard to find. Eduardo introduced us to the Fratelli Group, one of our biggest shareholders. These guys put money in at risk where nobody else would. And they backed us.

Matthew Gordon: And they’re still there?

Mike Hodgson: They’re still there. A big shareholder. They basically went through 50% because they did want trading freedom. But frankly, there was no one else coming in any way. So that’s where they were. We reopened the mine very successfully, got up to 40,000 ounces pretty quickly, were we’ve now been for about 3 years. They underwrote the entire financing, took all the risk. The problem with that was our stock was incredibly tightly held. We had no retail.

Matthew Gordon: Not no retail. Not enough retail.

Mike Hodgson: Very little retail. There’s no liquidity. Everything was great about our company except the capital structure in a way. And we thought, well, we’ll fix that.

Matthew Gordon: What have you done about that, because I note Greenstone are now in there.

Mike Hodgson: There were ticking along quite nicely, doing 40,000 ounces. Operationally terrific. Corporately still with some problems. But back in 2017, we actually acquired the Coringa asset. Now the Coringa asset was from a company called Anfield, which has now been rolled into Equinox, one of Ross Beaty’s companies. Before that, it was actually in the hands of a company called Magellan. And we’ve been trying to buy this asset for a long time, because it’s a carbon copy of Polito. We’ve been mining Palito for a number of years. We know we’ve got all the relations in the region, we’ve got the methodology, the formula…

Matthew Gordon: Before we get into the project, because I do want to come on and cover that. I just want to stay with the shareholder component and what the thinking is.

Mike Hodgson: The buying of Coringa actually was a catalyst to do another capital raise. We bought Coringa for $22M and we funded $5M out of cash flow, but then we obviously got to find another $5M and then the final payment. $22M in total. We did a capital raise in March 2018. And that point Greenstone came on board. And River & Mercantile in London.

Matthew Gordon: Just explain to people don’t know Greenstone, because they are pretty well known in the industry…

Mike Hodgson: Greenstone are a private equity fund, London based, they’re invested in probably 10 or so stories. Pretty much a multi-commodity.

Matthew Gordon: A very technical team.

Mike Hodgson: They whey work with us very well. They obviously liked Clive and myself for a long time. They’ve been trying to get into Serabi for a long time. And they’ve been looking for the opportunity and acquiring Coringa was the opportunity for them to come in.

Matthew Gordon: They know what they like. And they are very selective. It’s a very strong team.

Mike Hodgson: They came in around that financing in April 2008. A group called City Financial came in. And also we had a Swiss family office that was still actually in the story. Now this year, obviously, we know the City Financial ran into some problems. And the Swiss Family Office also wanted to liquidate their position, which at the time wasn’t welcome news. So, 6% of our stock was just basically dumped on the market in the Spring of this year. And our price went £0.40 to £0.23. And we thought that was a bit of a nightmare. Turned out to be an absolute blessing in disguise, because that stock just got picked up by retail guys. So, for once, and you’ve seen our graph of our liquidity, it’s amazing. We’ve just flatlined for about 4 years, doing all the right things, but not getting any love. No appreciation. And then all of sudden, retail guys get a hold of it. We’ve gone from like 9% retail in London to probably 16%-17%. And it’s happy days.

Matthew Gordon: It helps. It is really important for new people coming in to look at the corporate structure of a business before they invest. We’ve talked in the past about the paralysis that can come with too much institutional investors. Either one individual or multiple institutions who sit and hold, and don’t trade.

Mike Hodgson: With Greenstone, in that financing in 2018 didn’t really do a lot for liquidity. I liked this expression, ‘it gave us an amount of democracy at least’.

Matthew Gordon: What does that mean?

Mike Hodgson: These days, I don’t know. At least we had two big shareholders on the Board now. So there was a natural balance now. We got three shareholders now over 10%. And two of them sit on the Board. So there was a bit more democracy there. Fratelli came down from 52% to 32%. So that was good. That raise didn’t bring in liquidity really. But obviously, the selling of this stock in the summer helped.

Matthew Gordon: So you now recognise the importance of retail, family office and HNWIs?

Mike Hodgson: We have tried so hard to get retail into this company. It’s just been institutions coming in. We’ve only done two raises.

Matthew Gordon: So now you got a better retail in there. I want to spend some time with you and understand what’s going on in terms of the business plan, the strategy, how you’re going to deliver it, where you’re going and who’s going to actually deliver that? So describe if you can, what is the plan? We know where you’ve come from, you’ve done a great job describing that. So today you’ve got a couple of assets. So you got to deliver those.

Mike Hodgson: Technically, on their current operation, Polito. Basically is one plant, which is plant-constrained, which is actually pretty unusual these days. Because most companies of mine-constrained. Now, the good thing about being plant-constrained is it brings discipline. You’re always treating it with the highest-grade possible.

Matthew Gordon: Just be clear to people what you mean by that.

Mike Hodgson: Well, grade is king. We’ve now had a head grade around 8g/t for ever. So that’s what we work with. And being plant-constrained means we’re not just throwing tonnes at the plant. We’re actually throwing quality ounces at the plant. That’s the important thing. Palito is in a very steady state of production. Two ore bodies feeding a central plant. 500t per day between 7-8g/t. That’s what we do. And we’re kind of limited at the moment. We don’t really want to expand the plant, because our ore bodies, as you can see from the presentation, they are high-grade, narrow veins. So all our business is to actually mine these veins as well as we possibly can, minimizing dilution as much as we can, to get quality out of the mine. And then basically through the plant. Inevitably even doing this where the best possible way we can, we still get some dilution into the into the system. Over the last 18 months we’ve actually been testing ‘ore sorting’. I know this is a big buzzword these days. I’ve just come back from Beaver Creek and it is all the rage. It won’t solve all our problems, but certainly help a lot.

Matthew Gordon: What is that going to help with?

Mike Hodgson: There’s ores and waste. The gold is inside the sulfides and outside that is just pure waste granite. The ore sorter is actually a waste remover. It sorts on either color, or on density. The difference is really, really good. The intention is to pass our lower-grade material through the ore sorter. And it’ll screen out waste. First of all, it’ll take waste out of the system. That will save us about $1M a year. But more importantly, it actually liberates about 20% of space in the plant. We can actually add more high-grade ore and make a little plant go from 40,000 ounces per year to 50,000.

Matthew Gordon: And very low cost presumably.

Virtually no cost. That almost goes straight to the bottom line. From today we’re 40,000-ounce operation probably making about $4M-$5M a year.  It’s positive cash flow. We put in the ore sorter.

Matthew Gordon: It doesn’t cost a lot. Comes out of cash flow.

Mike Hodgson: $1M

Matthew Gordon: So no dilution. And improve efficiency and productivity.

Mike Hodgson: That’s the first thing that we’re doing at Palito. Down in Coringa, our other new asset, which we are developing. That is actually build ready. When we bought that asset, Anfield did a terrific amount of work there. They spent a lot of money. And they built camp. They bought a process plant. They bought all the toys. A lot of the mining equipment. They did a lot of work. They did the studies, which is great. People ask me all time, why did Equinox sell the asset. Scale! Too small for them.  At the time they probably thought the asset was going to be a lot bigger and was going to be their platform to build a gold mining company in Brazil. And they were looking for something a lot bigger than Coringa could be. Although it’s a very tiny deposit, it doesn’t really work for anybody else except us. We’re in Tapajos. We’re the only hard rock producer. Coringa’s 200km down the road from Palito. There’s little point two companies having to 50,000 ounce mines, in the same region where there’s very little else. They belong in the same stable. So the marriage occurred. We bought the asset. We’re now working our way through the permitting process. We’ve just submitted our new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or statement yesterday. We should get a public hearing in around well, after that’s been protocoled and approved, which hopefully will take about less than a month. We will get a public hearing when we actually go to the local community, and hopefully get approval. And I think because we have been in the region for 10 years with the same authorities. We’re not exactly the new kids on the block.

Matthew Gordon: So just on that. We’re starting to build a picture of the types of facilities, mines, operations that you are comfortable with. And they are similar in profile.

Mike Hodgson: Very similar. I don’t think you can actually have a deposit more similar.

Matthew Gordon: Sorry I did mean to ask, in terms of the ore sorter, what’s the timing of that and more important what is the timing of when the benefits of that start flowing through?

Mike Hodgson: The sorter has taken a while to get. But it’s now at site. It’s being all the infrastructure around. It’s now being fabricated and installed. We will switch it on probably in November 2019. We hope to be doing its job in January 2020.

Matthew Gordon: So imminently it will start to contribute towards the bottom line?

Mike Hodgson: We’re going on guidance. We’re about to close Q3/19. It’s been just the same as Q1/19 and Q2/19. Another 10,000-ounce quarter. So we’re bang on guidance to do our 40,000 ounces for the year. And I think next year we’ll hopefully be making a hole in 50,000 ounces because of the ore sorter.

Matthew Gordon: So that that’s going to hit the bottom line from Q1/20?

Mike Hodgson: Yes, it will. And we’re sitting here today, 40,000 ounces making about $4M – $5M. That’s going to go up very handsomely with the ore sorter. 10,000 ounces of very little incremental cost. With just a little bit more process cost.

Matthew Gordon: Something to look forward to end of Q1/20. So now we’re going to talk about Coringa, because it meets the profile, it’s a similar looking system. More of the same. You know what you’re about. So tell us about what’s happening at Coringa.

Mike Hodgson: Repeat the formula. Coringa, obviously, our big news recently was the publication of our PEA, which was great. It really just demonstrated what we absolutely expected.

Matthew Gordon: You made a few tweaks to it?

Mike Hodgson: Yes, it’s going to be a 40,000-ounce deposit. The process plant is there. A little different to Polito. This process plant was bought from a mine in Para. It’s actually much bigger, so there’s no capacity issue with this plant. It’s a very similar deposit to Polito. We are just working our way through the permitting process at the moment. One thing that we do have already is we have the mining license, which is something Equinox never got to. We can start the mine tomorrow, subject to funding. We are going to start going underground. Why is this important? It’s important because we want to first of all, we want to establish the continuity, because Coringa degree is a greenfield site. It’s drill holes. 1. We actually want to establish that continuity. 2. The indications are in a lot of the drill holes that actually the widths at Coringa are probably a little better than Polito. And I think there’s an opportunity to maybe semi-mechanise this deposit, which would be great. Great for cost per ounce. And 3. we want to take a nice big bulk sample because Copringa is 200km away from Polito. We will truck that bulk sample up to our ore sorter at Polito. And we will let you run it through and see how it performs. I would suspect that the ore sorting is going to work very well and therefore, although we don’t need the ore sorter from a capacity issue at Coringa. Why process granite? Why not put an ore sorter in there? Again, it’s all about grade, grade, grade. Get that grade up as high as we can and the get the ounces from processing as little material as possible.

Matthew Gordon: What was the timing on all of this?

Mike Hodgson: We want to actually start the underground development in before the end of the year. In Q1/20. Now, we can start the mine. What we cannot state at Coringa yet is the process plant and the construction. We’ve got to work our way through the process. Now, that’s why the EIA has gone in. We hopefully will get what’s called the Preliminary Licence by the end of the year. That is basically the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) followed by the positive public hearing by the end of the year. If all that happens, that will be great. Then we can actually launch into what’s called the construction licence. We then bring in an engineering company to come and do the basic engineering, which is basically the design work for the erection of the process plant. That will probably take around 6 months. So we would like to think we’ve got the construction licence by early Q3/20 next year. Which means that we can start building.

Matthew Gordon: Construction towards the end of next year is what you are aiming for?

Mike Hodgson: I would like to think we’ll start August time we will be starting to build. And having just done it at Polito.

Matthew Gordon: You are talking to the same departments and government bodies. You have established relationships. The track record. You expect those sorts of timings based on what you previously experienced.

Mike Hodgson: Exactly. These are the guys that gave all of this for Polito five years ago. We’re just doing it again with Coringa. So they’re very comfortable with us as being the only game in town really. But the good thing if we do start the mine first to actually assess and maybe improve the mining, optimize the mine plan by this underground development. And maybe optimize the flow sheet by adding in an ore sorter. We’re just going to improve those PEA numbers even more. And the good thing about that is I think people will note that in the PEA, we’re talking about a CapEx number of $25M, there’s 20% contingency as well. And let’s face it, that study was completely based on Polito. It’s the one thing we have 100% confidence in is costs.

Matthew Gordon: True. I’d say you more than most. Because most PEAs have a variance of +/-30%. You’ve based it on what you’ve done previously.

Mike Hodgson: I thought that the consultants were being rather penal. 20% contingency on costs on a mine that’s just up the road is identical to the one we’re going to do. So we’re pretty confident that the $25M, we can chip into that. And there’s also the All In Sustaining Cost (AISC) is coming in at about $850 and this 20% contingency on that. So, we’re looking forward to Coringa really bringing our costs down.

Matthew Gordon: Now, that’s because most of your costs are staying at Polito.

Mike Hodgson: So that’s why it’s loaded.

Matthew Gordon: The blended number?

Mike Hodgson: $900-$950.

Matthew Gordon: A nice number. Is there much you can do about that? I know you’ve got various fixed costs which you can’t affect.

Mike Hodgson: The gains are basically if we can actually get some mechanised mining in there. The gains are going to be will an ore sorter work at Coringa too? These are the real nice little gains.

Matthew Gordon: Is there a number you’re chasing?

Mike Hodgson: I think we’re pretty tough to do underground mining much less than much less than $900, maybe high $800s. That’s gonna throw off a nice bit because it wasn’t so quick.

Matthew Gordon: We’ve got three locations. What’s that combined number look like? You’re heading up towards original size production.

Mike Hodgson: So the two are the two mines, Polito and Coringa. They’ll both be doing about 40,000 ounces each now as well as that. The other thing that we’ve been doing is basically on mine site exploration in and around the Polito and Sao Chico ore bodies. One of the use of proceeds of the capital raise that we did in 2018, when Greenstone came on board, was we flew an airborne geophysical survey, over the whole tenement. 40,000 hectares of that wasn’t cheap, but the results it threw off were great. The thing lit up like a Christmas tree. Again, what we’re looking for is, are these sulphides which show up with airborne geophysics very well. And we have artisanal mines all in our property. They’re not a problem. They only mine that top 10m They are their exploration tools. They’re great. So a combination of those and anomalies etc are really important. We use the airborne geophysics as a high-level filter. And then wherever we have anomalies, we go on the ground to do follow up ground geophysics and geochemistry, and just basically this risk reduction before we actually drill. And we’ve actually got some fabulous anomalies, both in geochemistry and ground geophysics in and around Sao Chico, which is our satellite ore body. And where we are now drilling at Sao Chico in the immediate mine site area looking for strike extensions, which is going very well. And then we’re going to move on to these discovery drill programs on these anomalies, which are only 3-4km away from the actual Sao Chico deposit itself. We can turn exploration success into production growth very quickly, particularly at Sao Chico. So the third part of our our strategy is to continue Polito as it is, add the ore sorter. Develop Coringa, advance the permitting and actually get underground at the same time. Finally, on the organic growth, its mine site exploration and maybe a little bit more in and around our current producing assets Polito and Sao Chico. So all in all, base case 80,000 ounces, we think we can with a bit of exploration success in and around our backyard’s, we can get to 100,000 ounces in the next 2-3 years.

Matthew Gordon: Well that’s the magic number.

Mike Hodgson: It is but it frustrates me a little bit because, I think the most important thing is cash flow. Free cash flow. Everyone’s obsessed with 100,000 ounces.

Matthew Gordon: It’s more an indicator of scale and opportunity. I think the picture you’ve painted today is an interesting one, in the sense that, you know the type of structures that you’re after and the types of projects that you are comfortable with and have the knowledge of developing. You’ve got to get Coringa going. But it also says potentially future M&A is we know what we’re looking for. We’re very, very specific. I know you’ve got the organic stuff. Is there much M&A thinking going on?

Mike Hodgson: I just think we recognize that we’re not ready for that yet. I think I think at 40,000 hours it’s hard. You have really got the currency, and we’ve got a project to build already. So that’s where our focus lies. I think once we’ve got Coringa permitted and we’ve got the funding in place, and we’re building it, we’re really on our way to 80,000 ounces. I think at that point we’ve probably got the firepower to have some serious conversations. And, you alluded to our costs. At the end of the day, it’s underground mining. It’s not the cheapest mining on the planet. Open pit brings that. So, I would like to think our next acquisition would be if we do one, or merger it’s a blend of underground high-grade with some scale to get our costs down.

Matthew Gordon: is there much of that in Brazil.

Mike Hodgson: Yes, there’s more of that than there is the underground. I think we’re the best small underground miner in Brazil.

Matthew Gordon: I’m a buyer of that.

Mike Hodgson: We won’t do a deal for the sake of doing the deal.

Matthew Gordon: That’s what I mean. There’s dilution in that. It’s a new type of mining for you. And there are many carcasses on the side of the road in Brazil. Step forward with caution.

Mike Hodgson: Our ex-chairman always says to me, sometimes the best deals you do are the ones you don’t do.

Matthew Gordon: Keep your money in your back pocket. But I like sweating your own assets with this organic growth. If you’re in an area that’s prolific and well-known, why not.

Mike Hodgson: The area has seen 30Moz of artisanal gold mined. There’s been no systematic exploration in this part of Brazil, which scares a lot of people off. But for us, it’s a blank canvas. And I really do think the ore sorting, and our approach is going to be a bit of a paradigm shift to this part of the world. We do not market ourselves as a Brazilian mining company. We market ourselves as Para mining company. Because Brazil is a collection of 26 states. State government rules over Federal government big time. You’re not going to solve any problems in Brasilia. It’s all in Bélem in the State capital. And again, we’re in Polito. We’re going to try to develop Coringa using that relationship. This is a great place to be.

Matthew Gordon: So let’s talk about the market. Obviously you are producer, so you’re seeing the benefits of the gold price, which is great. Explorers and developers are not seeing it. Most of them aren’t seeing it. You are. Which is great news for the bottom line. More free cash flow. But you’ve got things to spend it on?

Mike Hodgson: We always have. We’re saving as much cash at the moment. We have a final payment to actually fully acquire Coringa at the end of the year. We’ve just got the cash. We’ve basically got that in the bank. Which is good. So we’re just trying to build as much as cash as we possibly can through the end of the year. So make sure Coringa is 100% ours. Which it will be and then we derive forward.

Matthew Gordon: You’ve got the cash to acquire the asset. You’ve got incremental free cash flow in with gold as it is today, long may that continue. Is that enough to allow to do the things that you want to do. Certainly around growth organic, for instance?

Mike Hodgson: It’ll be tight. It all depends on where the gold price is going to be. I look at Coringa and we’ve got we’ve actually got we’ve had it we’ve got a great relationship with Sprott Asset Lending. The only equity raises we’ve done the last 5, 6 years, have been the equity raise to put Polito back in production. And obviously the what we did last year to get Coringa. In the meantime, we’ve just taken on some debt.

Matthew Gordon: So that’s Sprott?

Mike Hodgson: Sprott Asset Lending out of Toronto. We basically borrowed $8M. We paid $8M back out of cash flow. They thought we were legend Most people do an equity raise to settle the debt. We earnt a huge amount of trust with these guys and they are absolutely ready and waiting when we’re ready permitted with Coringa.

Matthew Gordon: So again, I just say it sounds like you know what you’re doing with it goes to your cash position with the acquisition and the debt and so forth. So maybe that’s one we can pick up on the next update when you have delivered a few of these things. Because I guess you’ll be in a position to know where you’re at, and what you want to do. But, just just on this market condition at the moment. Have you got any views? Is it going to sustain? Do you have an opinion?

Mike Hodgson: Well, we had a board meeting today. Everyone around the table had a different view.

Matthew Gordon: Well, who knows?

Mike Hodgson: Do you?

Matthew Gordon: Well, no, absolutely. Absolutely not. But I’ve heard some really quite strange $3,000 type numbers being put out there. Obviously that sells.

Mike Hodgson: I just went to Beavercreek to the Metals Summit. We are all of the gold bulls? 85% of our costs are in Brazilian Real. Once we’ve got the double whammy. We’ve got we’ve got the gold price growing and 6,300 Real ounce. I mean a year and a half ago it was just over 3,000. There always used to be a natural hedge between the Brazilian Real. When gold strengthened, the Real was was weakening or vice versa. We never really got the double lift.

Matthew Gordon: A lot of people are getting that.

Mike Hodgson: Record levels in Australia. Record levels in Canada. All the resource-based economies are actually getting this.

Matthew Gordon: But it’s question of how long it lasts?

Mike Hodgson: At the end of the day, you look at the macro economics. China and the US and all that, it probably bodes quite well for gold with all this uncertainty, I think. But, people with much better pay grades than I, have got it pathetically wrong. Well that’s probably why, the time is good. Our share has gone to three times, and the market’s there at the moment. I hope he’s gonna be there when we finally need it.

Matthew Gordon: It’s been a good chat, good introduction, because we haven’t spoken before. Our listeners and subscribers have not heard the story before. I know you’ve been around for a while. I wanted to speak to you. I like the robust, relentless, can do attitude of the business. And its share price has been what it’s done for the last few years, but it’s on the move. It’s doing all the right things it seems to me. I want to see that you continue to deliver what you say you’re going to. Do you want to leave us with maybe a few reasons why new investors should be looking at Serabi now?

Mike Hodgson: We’ve now got a record. There’s liquidity. You can get stock now, which is great. For a long time, you couldn’t. So that’s a plus. And there’s a lot more steam in this price. We’ve got a real great economic tailwind at the moment. We’re going to be meet guidance. And next year it’s going to get a little bit better.


Company website: https://www.serabigold.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.

Pan African Resources (AIM: PAF) – A Dividend Paying Gold Producer

Interview with Cobus Loots, CEO of Pan African Resources (AIM: PAF).

We don’t tend to like investing in Gold producers as they rarely perform for shareholders. But we like this one, a lot. The CEO is brutally and refreshingly honest. He spends lot of time pointing out the difficulties in mining and operating in South Africa.

However, they make it work. They have a long track record of producing Gold and paying dividends. Last year they suspended the dividend payments as their debt borrowing for the new plant was the focus, however, they are planning to pay a dividend (subject to shareholder vote in November). The Audit Results are out today. The numbers are extremely encouraging and show a tremendous growth across the company. Cobus Loots talks about how they have done it and what the growth targets are in the short term. We were impressed about the way they think about capital allocation. Investing in their assets, they want to repay the debt on balance sheet, paying a dividend and how to deliver growth.

They still have a lot to do but we think this team is rigorous in its planning and methodical is how it delivers its projects.

Interview Highlights:

  • Overview of the Company
  • Audit Report: Great News?
  • Safety & Why It is Important to Pan African Resources
  • Productivity & Production: What Numbers Are They Looking At? Can They Lower Their AISC?
  • Paying a Dividend: Why Now?
  • Mining in South Africa: Benefits and Risks
  • Company Financials and Share Price: What’s The Outlook?
  • Future Plans for The Company

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: I’m looking at your executive officer statement. We had a chance to quickly scan through this. Some great numbers on there, you must be very pleased.

Cobus Loots: We are quite pleased. And I think this was a great improvement on pretty much all fronts.

Matthew Gordon: Definitely. Give us a one-minute summary of the business for those new to the story to start with.

Cobus Loots: The company is Pan African Resources PLC. We’re a UK company, but with a South African base, with all of our operations currently in South Africa. We have two large gold mining complexes. The first being Barberton Mines. Barberton Mines has been going for almost 130 years. So, gold mining started in Barberton in 1886. We’ve made some major improvements in recent years at Barberton. So, we have the underground mine that we’ve been mining, and will continue to mine for quite some time. And then we also have a tailings plant that produces ultra-low-cost ounces. The other complex is Evander Gold mines. The largest operation that we have now as part of the Evandar is the Elikhulu plant. That also produces very low-cost and low-risk gold ounces. And then we have an underground operation that we are also in the process of developing further at the moment.

Matthew Gordon: Can we talk about some of the growth stories that I’ve been reading about, eg: Egoli and Royal Sheba. But let’s start with these numbers. You’ve produced some exceptional numbers there. What stands out for you?

Cobus Loots: What stands out is the fact that we improved our safety performance at the year past. That’s critical for us on a number of fronts. If we can’t produce safety, we cannot produce. I’m very happy to report that all of our safety statistics have come down in terms of incidents in the last year. That’s a result of principally the Elikhulu tailings plant, which inherently is just a lower risk operation, but then also a massive focus on safety schemes, safety initiatives across the group. The safety box is never ticked. We have to continue to work on safety, but it was a good performance. Operationally we exceeded our production guidance for the year past. That’s obviously quite a positive. Actually, from all operations we had an improved performance. On the cost side from an All In Sustaining Cost (AISC) perspective we reduced our costs quite substantially. I’d like to say we are the lowest cost producer in South Africa as a group, certainly amongst the lowest cost at the moment. But not only that, we also internationally very competitive. So, AISC came in at $980 an ounce. The international benchmark at the moment is just over $900. So, $980 versus $900. Not bad. And there is potential for us to bring down that cost further in the year to come. So overall, good performance. I’m also very pleased by the fact we are proposing a dividend for approval at the upcoming AGM. And that’s positive. We had to suspend the dividend last year as a result of obviously gold price. What was happening at Evander, the substantial capital we were incurring on the construction of Elikhulu. So, I’m quite happy that the dividend is back. We’ll be at a more modest level, but it’s still to 1% yield is not to be frowned at.

Matthew Gordon: Good news it seems to me, but not without a lot of hard work from your team. And I noticed the first thing you focused on there was safety, which again is unusual. People usually to stick that at the back of the presentation. Why is it such a big deal for you guys?

Cobus Loots: If you analyse it coldly, the world is changing. If you can’t produce gold safely, it makes it very difficult to produce. Our people are our primary asset. That’s an addition to our ore bodies and all of our other infrastructure. So, we need to take care of our people from a health and safety perspective. Safety first, health also very important. So, without our people, well, we can’t achieve what we’ve achieved in the last year.

Matthew Gordon: Good. Nice to hear. Let’s talk about productivity. You’ve increased your forecast, so you’re going to be producing at what level by the end of next year?

Cobus Loots: We’re guiding 185,000 ounces for FY20, which as going to you said, is quite a be a big improvement on the 172,000 that we did last year. So that’s off the back of a number of projects. So, 1. Elikhulu will produce now for a full year. We commissioned Elikhulu in September 2018. So, we really only had the benefit of nine months of production from Elikhulu. You obviously ramping up also. So now you’re looking at a full year of production from Elikhulu which includes the enhanced or increased capacity via the ETRP. It’s a tailings block. So, we’re saying 65,000 ounces from Elikhulu. We’re saying 20,000 ounces from what we call the Evander Pillar project at the Evander underground, and then 100,000 ounces from Barberton. So, that makes up of our increased production guidance of 185,000 ounces.

Matthew Gordon: That puts you firmly in the mid-tier producer range. And if you look at what gold price is doing in the last couple of months, you’ll start to see the benefit of that in terms of margins, because of the amount that you’re producing. I make that point for investors, because there’s an assumption because gold is up that the junior explorers and developers will benefit. And they don’t. It’s the producers who will benefit far more quickly because of sales. You talk about the lower AISC, which I thought was interesting. You are striving to drive towards that $900 mark. You’ve clearly made some headway into that. What do you attribute that to and how are you going to continue driving the AISC lower?

Cobus Loots: The first contributor to the reduction of AISC has most definitely been our tailings business. We commissioned Elikhulu in the last year. It’s quite a large plant. It processes 1.2Mt of tailings p/m. And that’s where we get our 65,000 ounces of gold for the next year. The great thing with Elikhulu is it produces at an exceptionally low AISC. We should be at $650, if not lower. We then have the Barberton tailings retreatment plant (BTRP) that does also 20,000 ounces. So overall, we have 85,000 ounces that are what we like to call ultra-low-cost production. This provides a stable base load, for our portfolio, and allows us to survive pretty much in any gold price environment. And it brings down the groups AISC quite significantly. Those are the tailings businesses. There’s quite a lot of optimization happening underground at Barberton. We’re simplifying the infrastructure. We’re doing a lot more development which allows us further access to high-grade ore bodies. We’re looking at the marginal side of the business to see if we cut some ounces and reduce costs? There are a number of initiatives also ongoing to further reduce the AISC for the group.

Matthew Gordon: But that does tend to suggest that the Barberton costs are quite high.

Cobus Loots: If you look at our results presentation, Barberton underground actually has put different shafts with different cost structures. The flagship underground business is Fairview. Fairview has been going for many years. It’s an incredibly high-grade ore body. It’s on average more than 10g/t, but we get pockets of +100/gt. The principal ore body that we mine at Fairview is the MRC. It has a life currently of 20 years. And we’ve been doing a number of improvements to infrastructure to ensure that we can continue to mine successfully, safely and profitably in years to come. So, Fairview by itself is still a fairly low-cost producer. Then we have a more marginal ounces at Sheba and at Consort. So those are the answers that we have to focus on and reduce that all in sustaining costs.

Matthew Gordon: With regards to Sheba, what’s the chances of that making some kind of contribution this year?

Cobus Loots: Sheba has certainly contributed in the year past, but the focus is increasing that contribution. It’s a project that we’ve been speaking about for some time. We want to get the first gold out of Royal Sheba in the year to come. Sheba should do better this year.

Matthew Gordon: Let’s talk about dividends. But you’ve announced that you’re going to pay a dividend, it’s got to be voted for. I’m assuming the shareholders will accept. What made you do that?

Cobus Loots: It’s a modest dividend versus what we’ve paid in the past. It’s still in effect a yield versus having your money in a bank and in some jurisdictions earning a negative interest rate. I think that makes it attractive. If you consider the way that we think about capital allocation. 1. the first is investing in our assets. We have to continue invest in our assets, otherwise we will not be able to continue to generate returns. 2. is balance sheet, because of the project Elikhulu that we constructed in the last year, our balance sheet is highly geared, certainly more than what we’d like to see. So, in the next year, we’d like to repay quite a lot of the debt we have sitting on the balance sheet. 3. it is providing a cash return to our shareholders in the form of dividends. 4. once we’ve taken care of those we also look at growth.

Matthew Gordon: Mining is tough. Mining in South Africa is really tough. But your track record of bringing projects online is good. We talked previously about doing business in South Africa and what it was like. And you said, ‘yeah, it is tough, but we deal with it. We’re used to it’. Tell people about that conversation because I thought it was fascinating.

Cobus Loots: Well, I’ve concluded that gold is so precious because it’s so difficult to mine regardless of where you are actually doing your mining. South Africa has a fairly negative perception internationally and some of it is justified and some of it potentially is not. We have a long history of mining, certainly gold. More than 50% of all the gold that’s been mined in the world has come from our country. We have great infrastructure. We have access to power. We have access to technical skills. We have a good constitution. We have a good legal system, etc. But then you’re faced with the con’s also. You have unemployment. The economy is not doing great. There’s uncertainty in terms of mining legislation. We have power challenges, electricity issues. So, that sort of makes for an interesting mix. But as you point out, we’ve been able to mine successfully in South Africa for many years. We’ve been able to bring great projects online in South Africa in recent years which demonstrates that we have the ability to operate. One thing that’s certainly come to the fore in the last year is that Africa generally is a difficult place to do business. You look at regulatory issues in Tanzania. You look at terrorism in West Africa. You have to accept that mining in Africa does come with challenges and you have to equip yourselves and skill yourself to be able to deal with us and be successful and operate successfully and sustainably.

Matthew Gordon: You bring up points which most CEOs try to avoid discussing, which I appreciate. It’s also on page 7 of the presentation whene you talk about the underlying risks and how you’re dealing with them. It’s quite attractive when a company is refreshingly honest about the issues that they are dealing with. What it is hard to argue against is your track record of continually delivering the answers. What’s also important is driving that share price up. You have had your share price affected negatively. So what are you doing about it?

Cobus Loots: Well, if a share price does badly and we continue to sort of fret and worry about the share price, that it doesn’t really get us anywhere. So now we have a saying that ‘we focus on those things we can control and then the share price will take care of itself’, as it has done to some extent. I don’t want to speculate about the future, but now we’ve repositioned ourselves as a low-cost producer, even in a global sense. We have a long life. We have great projects where we can further increase production with fairly benign investments. I think we’re well positioned. We are safe producer. We are investing into our communities. We’re making a difference where we operate. All of that makes for a good mix. And if we deliver pretty much what we said we will do, the share price should take care of itself.

Matthew Gordon: As a producer, you’re benefiting from a higher gold price. Certainly, next year’s numbers will should, if it continues, benefit from a higher gold price because your margins are quite good. They’re definitely improving. I want to see them continue to improve. And I’m sure you do too. Let’s see what that looks like in the next the next few months. The one thing which I look for when I’m analysing a company is an understanding its financial health. You have debt at the moment. Which project are you using that for at the moment?

Cobus Loots: Well, that was the $130M Elikhulu project this last year. The project-based testament to what you can get done in South Africa. So, to put $130MIL into the ground in 12 months is not insignificant. This plant can cheat 1.2Mt of material a month. We currently produce for 65,000 ounces at an ultra-low AISC in the year ahead. So that’s to demonstrate that you can get things done in South Africa.

Matthew Gordon: And have you got more plans to raise any more money for capital expansion programs or are you done?

Cobus Loots: We are funded as far as the existing projects are concerned. So, there’s no need for us to go to market. I think the shareholders want to see us deliver on what we said we would do. 2019 was a first or second step in doing that and 2020 should be more of the same.

Matthew Gordon: So, margins are improving. Cash flow is starting to improve, are you starting see the benefit of it now?

Cobus Loots: Well certainly at the current gold price we are definitely seeing the benefit. That’s another positive around being based in South Africa. We have generally a Rand cost base, which is our local currency, which means that inflation is higher than what you’ll find in U.S. dollar terms. Wage inflation is higher than what you see in dollar terms. Electricity inflation is higher than what you’d see in dollar terms. So that’s sort of generally then puts a squeeze on margins. Where there’s a benefit is when you find a local currency, the Rand, blow out a little bit more to the dollar. What it’s done in the last months. So, then you see the margins actually go up quite a bit more than what you would find in dollar terms for your African producer. You can look to hedge. But what I’m saying is that the negative on cost inflation is offset when you find a large depreciation in Rand, which is what we have seen in the last month. So, $15,000 gold price is good for us, 700,000 Rand per kilo gold price, which is what we look at is even better for us at the moment.

Matthew Gordon: And then there’s just one other aspect – you’ve covered off safety and you’ve covered off the CSG component, but there have been some disturbances in-country. One of your sheets talks about arrest rates. Why declare that one? What’s that got to do with your ability to mine?

Cobus Loots: Well, illegal mining is a serious issue, and not only in South Africa and the rest of Africa. But you do find the guys being in South Africa quite militant, aggressive, armed. It’s meant that we’ve had to up our game a little, to professionalize further. We’ve spent a lot of money on security in the last year, more so than in years past. And that’s to protect our assets and to make sure we can continue to mine safely and sustainably into the future. So, yes, it’s endemic in South Africa. The fact that you have really high rates of unemployment. That’s going to create discontent. It’s going to create sort of people that have nothing to lose. And hence are desperate and that’s understandable. And so, we do what we can. If you look at our operations, contractors and employees combined, we employ 3,500 people. So, rule of thumb each of the workers and contractors look after up to 10 other dependents. So, 35,000 people that’s depended on our business. So, that is a big responsibility for us and it’s also a big responsibility for government to make sure that we can continue to operate. And we have been seeing the support from government, both nationally and locally, in terms of making sure that we can continue to operate.

Matthew Gordon: It is not just restricted to Africa either. We’ve been speaking to some companies in South America also struggling with illegal workers and all the issues that brings. You’ve got to be sensitive, but you also need to be able to continue to mine. If I may finish off with what you’ve done with your current assets, you’re sweating those assets and working them hard. And that’s reflected in the numbers we see. We look forward to seeing some guidance as to what that is looking like during the course of the next 12 months, obviously. And the final question is always, so any plans for any acquisitions?

Cobus Loots: We continue to look at acquisitions. It’s always a good thing because it teaches you. I always say in looking at other people’s businesses, you learn quite a bit about your own assets and what you can do differently. So, to some extent we’ll be busy with Royal Sheba, as a product of us looking at assets elsewhere. So, it’s not a priority for us. If we only sweat our own assets and we develop as we’ve set out in our plans for the year ahead, you should see a nice appreciation in the value of the business. So, an acquisition is not an imperative for us. So, we’ll continue to look, but we are certainly by no means desperate. And we’ve always said if you can develop your own portfolio, that really is first prize. Elikhulu being case and point. Egoli potentially also part of Evander, being a second example of what we will look at in the year ahead.

Matthew Gordon: And I’m guessing, given you’ve got experience in underground mining and tailings, if you were looking, you’d be looking for some similar kind of setup that would be optimal for you.

Corbus Loots: I think generally it’s difficult for us to justify going out of Africa. Southern Africa in a way makes more sense because it’s close, it easier to manage. Well, I wouldn’t want to limit the company by only that. So, you know, does it make sense a risk adjusted return basis. That’s what we would look at.

Matthew Gordon: Cobus, thanks very much. I know you’ve got a really busy day today with these numbers out and you’ll be speaking to lots of people. Thanks for making the time for us. Appreciate that. Please stay in touch, because I think you’ve built, or you are you continuing to deliver on your track record. Refreshingly honest.

Cobus Loots: Great. Thanks for having me.


Company website: https://www.panafricanresources.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.

European Lithium (ASX: EUR) – A Giga Factory JV with a Junior Lithium Developer?

Interview with Tony Sage, Non-Executive Chairman of European Lithium (ASX: EUR, FRA: PF8, VSE: ELI)

Can European Lithium plug in to the European EV and battery revolution? They talk about how they think they can attract EU debt funding and a strategic equity partner. Will that partner be prepared to pay more for buying local / greener? Tony talks to us about the realities of how junior miners attempt to get funding and why he believes European Lithium is in a unique position in Central Europe. We are interested in understanding the terms and conditions to their recent €10M convertible note funding facility. If you are a shareholder, do you like terms?

We get his take on the Lithium pricing cycle and timing for recovery. Their Feasibility numbers need the price of Lithium to rise significantly to be economic. Do you agree with him?

We are also fascinated by the fact that European Lithium sits on the ASX (ASX:EUR), Frankfurt Exchange (PF8), Vienna Stock Exchange (ELI) and NEX UK (EUR). Find out which exchanges work for them and why.

Interview Highlights:

  • Overview of the Company
  • The Background Story of European Lithium
  • New Shareholders: Who Are They Targeting?
  • Lithium Market and Geopolitics
  • Standing Out: Can They Get Financing in Today’s Market?
  • Cash Position
  • What Are The Board Preparing For? What Are The Main Concerns Going Forward?

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: Why don’t you kick off with a 1 minute history of the business.

Tony Sage: mine was developed by the Austrian government back in the 1980s. They were looking for uranium but they found Lithium. Unlike any Western company, they actually went out and built the mine straight away without doing all of the work that is required before you start building a mine. What they did is they followed the Lithium from the ceiling of the opening and just followed it all the way down. It’s a beautiful structure inside the mine. But unfortunately, when we took over in 2012, there wasn’t data to prove how they found it. So what we’ve done in the 6 years that we’ve owned it, is mine it So we mined 1,500t. And we also drilled. So that proved, as all Western companies need, is a JORC compliant resource. So we know we’ve got 11Mt of ore there. That that will last 22 years as a mine life. And we completed in that time frame a PFS. So a Pre-Feasibility Study has been completed. It was completed by one of the leading engineering groups in the world, DRA. So that’s basically the premise of our story.

Matthew Gordon: How this has come about? You’re involved with Cape Lambert. Cape Lambert is a shareholder in this project.

Tony Sage: It’s a very interesting background. It started off with a cocktail party. One of my colleagues met The Count of that district in Austria, near Wolfsburg. And they got talking and he’s introduced himself. He was in mining. And The Count said, ‘I’ve got a mine on my property’. That’s where it started. So in 2012, we had a look at it, and invested in his property. We paid him a lot of money for access. And then over time, he enjoyed what we were doing, and he became a shareholder of the company. I didn’t have the funds myself personally. So I used my investment vehicle, Cape Lambert Resources, and we invested some money in. And since then, we’ve got other investors in. In 2012, Lithium wasn’t flavour of the month but in 2016, it became flavour of the month. We kept it private for 4 years. And then we listed it on the Australian Stock Exchange back in 2016-17. At the time Lithium was exploding around the world. But in Australia, there were 41 separate ASX listed Lithium companies at the time. And a lot of those were in Australia, some of those were in Africa, and obviously some in South America. So we were being drowned out by all of the Australian ones. So if you’re an Australian investor, and you say I want to operate a mine in Austria, I would just say you’re crazy. Mining doesn’t happen in Europe. So listing in Australia was an error of judgment. But we got the money when we listed, and we were able to progress the project. But then in 2017, we listed it in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and Berlin. And from that moment on, it exploded. The investor base moved from 100% Australian shareholders to now 55% shareholding base in Europe. And most of those European shareholders are German or Austrian. There’s a splattering in UK, France, Switzerland. So we realised we hit on something extremely good. If you look at a lot of the social media, our company is clicked a lot more than some of the bigger companies in Europe because of 1. EV, 2. it’s a unique story that a mine is going to be actually reopened 20 years later in a little country called Austria.

Matthew Gordon: I do want to say over the management since experience and so forth, but you talk about shareholders and the split between Europe and ASX. Obviously, it’s a European asset. So you’d hope that people would be interested in Europe, but just looking at your share price. Lithium companies across the world have been absolutely hammered. In fact, what is the Lithium price at the moment?

Tony Sage: We’re going to produce is Lithium hydroxide, at its peak was $22,500 per tonne. And you’re looking probably at $15,000 – $16,000 a tonne now. So it’s dropped a lot in the last 12 months. The actual raw Lithium price, got to just over a $1,000 a tonne. It’s probably trading at $450 to $500 a tonne now. Hydroxide has gone down about 35% over the last 4 months.

Matthew Gordon: Most of the numbers I’ve seen from you is using $16,000 a tonne. So obviously that’s taking a bit of a hit. I’ve read various things from JP Morgan that suggest that it’s going to go lower. What do you think?

Tony Sage: We look at benchmark. We look at Roskill, but we also look at the broader world. China has just announced, it wants to build 1M electric buses. Now you just think about the amount of Lithium required for 1M electric buses. The slide started when one of the biggest producers out of Chile said that they were going to double production, because they had an agreement with the Chilean government to increase their production. It didn’t happen. But that was the initial scare. From that date that was announced the Lithium price actually fell about 15% on the day. Lithium stocks all around the world just went down 10%, 15%, 20% because they thought all this production was coming off. However, 1. that production is not coming on. 2. you’ve got countries like China, who are now announcing that they’re going to be a 1M electric buses. Now, there’s not enough Lithium around today to produce those 1M buses in the timeframe they want. The price will go up.

Matthew Gordon: You’re projecting that. I think like most supply demand stories, there’s two sides to it. We accept that the demand is probably going up because of the whole EV story.  But likewise, as soon as the demand goes up, new entrants come into market or production, which is sitting idle at the moment or on a very low level, goes up. JP Morgan would suggest that there’s going to be double the amount of production out of South America alone into the marketplace. So that is going to affect pricing. It’s a question of where it settles. Production is not going to stay as is. It would be insane to think that. I think people will be attracted to come into the Lithium market again. It’s a question of can they do it economically. And we’ve spoken to a lot of Lithium businesses. You’re right, in the ASX lithium is a dirty word at the moment because people’s shares are underwater. It’s a question of when does the price start to move again? You’re going to get through this cycle into the next cycle. Can you get financed at current levels?

Tony Sage: I think we can. I wouldn’t be pushing ahead, spending already $12M-$13M on the Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS). Spending another $10M on the definitive or bankable, unless I was very confident. We’ve been in discussions with project financiers, quite large ones, European-based. What you’ve got to understand is the broader geopolitical situation. You’ve seen it now with Rare Earths. China has said to the world, we’re not going to export any more Rare Earths. At the moment China produce over 80% of the Cobalt required for EVs and 85% of the Lithium for EVs. Now, if they’re going to build 1M electric buses. And of course, with cars and obviously battery storage… how many batteries do you think they’ll be exporting in 10 years time? So the EU has made Lithium and Cobalt critical minerals. There’s only a few players in Europe that can produce in Europe. 25% of the world’s Lithium ends up in Europe. They produce none at the moment for electric batteries.

Matthew Gordon: Let me understand the terminology. You say critical minerals need to be produced from within Europe. Or have they got the ability to buy out in the wider market?

Tony Sage: Well, OK, let’s go into Hydroxide and Carbonate production. All comes from China. They’ve built one plant here in Western Australia. Who owns it? The Chinese. At some point like they have done with Rare Earths, they could say for their own critical needs, that they can’t export any more Lithium Hydroxide or Cobalt Hydroxide, or Cobalt Carbonate or Lithium Carbonate. At some point, it might not happen, but the security countries like America and Europe as a whole need to have is some production in their own backyard. Ours isn’t going to anywhere near create the supply that is needed by BMW, Volkswagen.

Matthew Gordon: So again just so I understand. Are you talking about production or are you’re talking about processing?

Tony Sage: I’m talking about production of Lithium Hydroxide or Carbonate in Europe.

Matthew Gordon: Right. Because it’s a fairly abundant resource, isn’t it? That’s the problem.

Tony Sage: It is. But mining it economically is the key point. So it is abundant everywhere. So, for example, we just take Pilbara Minerals, for example, 4 weeks ago, they were in big trouble. They got rescued by the Chinese because the price has fallen down, because they’re in a remote location. We’re in Wolfsburg, right near the railway line, 40km from Graz, where Samsung have a battery factory. We’re in an industrial area in Europe where we can export to any country in Europe by train for very little compared to having it from Australia or South America, shipping it to China to get produced in China. All China does buy it for $450- $900 a tonne, and sell it as Hydroxide at $16,000 a tonne to battery makers in Europe. The EU have recognized that. They’ve recognized that with Rare Earths. They were scared by the Rare Earths announcement by China on 2020 no more export. So they’re madly, as with the Americans now, trying to find Rare Earths. But it’s the same problem that will be with Lithium Hydroxide and Carbonate. Forget the raw stuff. I mean, there isn’t a plant in Chile that produces Hydroxide or Carbonate. They ship the raw product to China to get the Hydroxide.

Matthew Gordon: Are you’re saying that Europe is coming up these protectionist policies to be able to produce and process their own Lithium in their own backyard?

Tony Sage: Encouraging policies, encouragement for European mines to be able to produce Hydroxide, Carbonate for the European market.

Matthew Gordon: An encouragement! We’ll talk about the funding program launched by the German ministry, which you mention, in a minute. But if I’m Gigafactory producing batteries, I’m going to go to the cheapest supplier, aren’t I? I’m going to go to the South Americans. So how do you stack up against that?

Tony Sage: Well, 1. the freight cost. We’re not paying $22 – $25 a ton to ship it from there to Europe. 2. if you look at and read our Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS), our cost structure is very good. The number is $6,500 -$7,000 a tonne, whereas 12 months ago we could have got $22,000 for it. Now we can get $15,000. It’s still a very big margin of profit, excluding financing costs, for our shareholders. So we believe we can produce for the European market a safe green, very green supply of Lithium Hydroxide to the European market without any problem with geopolitics. If the suppliers, for example, as we saw 7 months ago, the Argentinian government slapped a tax of 10%-12% on every export, including Lithium. So if you’re a Lithium producer in Argentina, you’ve just dropped 12% of your profit.

Matthew Gordon: Yes, but they’re also producing at $3,000, so they got some margin. Lowest quartile producers.

Tony Sage: Well, in Chile they are, Argentina not so. But in Chile. Yes. Chile is very un-environmentally friendly.

Matthew Gordon: Meaning what?

Tony Sage: Well, they’re producing this from brines, which takes up a lot of water. And which is causing all the grief with the local population. And they don’t want any of those mines to be increased, because if you’ve seen a brines production facility, it’s pretty ugly to the environment. So environmental, ours is all underground. So we can get a big green tick and we’re producing Hydroxide for EVs or other environmentally friendly industries. So I think we get 1. a big green tick 2. the German car manufacturers for example, I think one got into a bit of trouble investing in a Cobalt mine in DRC.

Matthew Gordon: That’s a well-trodden path with regards to Cobalt and DRC and child labour and so forth. Let’s stay away from that. Let get into this. So what I want to understand is how does your project get financed today? I know you did a raise earlier in the year. What are the terms of that. $10M was mentioned. But it was a bit more complicated than that, wasn’t it?

Tony Sage: So it’s a financing facility that we can draw down on. It’s complicated because it depends on the share price at the time. They get a 10% discount to the market. Say we are trading at $0.10. They get it at $0.09. And they don’t do it all at once. So we’ve got the facility there. They can do it when they feel like. So, we’ve only drawn down on that facility $2M and so we got $8 million left.

Matthew Gordon: And you can drawdown in $1M tranches upon conversion of all the notes from previous rounds. That’s the way it works?

Tony Sage: So when they finished when they finished selling those to recoup their money, we can then draw down the next one.

Matthew Gordon: Got it. So it’s a real stagger. It’s not $10M per se. It’s a facility, as you said.

Tony Sage: It’s a facility and it can last 3 years.

Matthew Gordon: So let’s come back to financing, because that’s where the fascinates me. At $15,000-$16,000, you’ve shown your what the economics are here for you. But if I’m a banker, I’m discounting today’s price by up to 40%. So it becomes a question of, can you persuade people that your thesis about price going up is true? And if you can, that’s great. If you can’t, then what are your options in terms of getting this thing finance? Once your DFS is complete?

Tony Sage: Well, 1. the DFS will say whether we’re robust enough. So if the DFS comes out saying this is a very marginal project, I wouldn’t go to any bank with this. That’s one scenario. We’re expecting the opposite because the Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS) was very robust. So I’ll have a very robust DFS. So I go to the bank and I will say, ‘this DFS proves there’s a 40% margin in this. How much can you project finance this?’. They will say, ‘this much’. We will seek some EU funding, whether it’s a soft loan, whether it’s a…

Matthew Gordon: Tell us about that? You talk about the German ministry putting a battery production funding program together of €1Bn. That’s quite a lot of money. But how much of that would be applicable to you? How much of that €1Bn would be set aside for mining?

Tony Sage: Unknown. If we, for example, link up with a battery manufacturer, as a joint application for use of these funds, it might be a larger number. As a miner, by ourselves, I don’t think we would be able to do it. We’d have to link up with maybe an end user. I’m just throwing out names. An automotive maker in Germany or a battery maker in Germany. We can partner up and then apply for that. But separate to that there’s EU funding. It’s called Horizon 2020, and under that, there is a direct application for us as a critical mineral for Europe. We may be able to get a soft loan. So that soft loan might be €50M at a very attractive interest rate, which is probably almost zero repayable over X amount of years. So at the same time, say the number is $400M that we’re looking for. We would do $70M of that in direct equity, and the rest in project finance and or funding from a source like Horizon 2020, or from the €1Bn fund from the German government.

Matthew Gordon: How does someone like Horizon 2020 assess your project and the economics of a project like this.

Tony Sage: The credibility of being the… the PFS is done and the DFS is coming. We would have to present a case to them that 1. it’s very good for Europe. 2. it will create jobs in Europe. 3. it is green. We’re not going to hurt the environment by doing what we’re doing. The three key criteria in Horizon 2020. We take every one of those boxes.

Matthew Gordon: It’s interesting that none of those criteria are about the economics.

Tony Sage: No. Again, it’s about creating jobs. If you look at virtually any government around the world, it’s not really about economics. It’s about creating jobs. This is a fiscal investment by the EU into something that’s going to create jobs and solve the problem, albeit in a small way of producing a critical product for the European industry, rather than being reliant on China.

Matthew Gordon: So potentially that type of money is quite important, because it’s… I’m not saying dumb money but it’s money which is a different set of values or needs from institutional money, who does care about the economics, because they’re buying shares in your business, presumably on the equity side, and want some guarantees that you’re going to be able to mine economically and pay back the debt. So have those conversations been had? How do you know that Horizon 2020 is interest in investing in something like you?

Tony Sage: Well, because we’ve applied, and we’ve talked to the right people at the right agency. And we will await the outcome of the DFS. They’ve got a stringent programme as well. We’ve got to have a document that shows that we will be economic. We will create jobs in a low job area, especially for youth near Wolfsburg in Austria, where we are. So that would create long-term 300-400 jobs, short-term 1,500 during the construction phase. So we are going to create jobs in that. And if you go to the local government in that area, we’ve got two sets of competing mayors who want us to build the plant on their side of the fence. So we’ve got so much support from the local government. We’ve got so much support from the Austrian government. So now it’s one step higher, which is the EU in total. And they’ve got so many other factors to look at geopolitics, which we’ve talked we’ve touched on environment, which we’ve touched on. And most important jobs.

Matthew Gordon: Most important for them. But I’m talking about shareholders wanting to come in and invest.

Tony Sage: But if we get that money. That’s a big chunk of shareholders who will go, ‘wow, that’s great’. That’s $50M, $70M. How are you going to get the other… $300M. $70M of that is going to come directly as direct equity. So that’s roughly 25% of it. We’ve done the numbers with banks. What they’re looking at for the project finance side, and they can project finance probably 60% of the project.

Matthew Gordon: So let me get this straight. I want to get the numbers right. You say $400M required. You’re getting potentially, let’s just say for a second argument, $50M of debt from Horizon 2020 on a 70/30 debt / equity split.

Tony Sage: Half of that.

Matthew Gordon: So I’m just trying to think as a retail /high net worth /family office investor looking at your company going, ‘I think this is a great story. I’m going to invest. How do I feel about Horizon 2020 coming in?’. I guess if they’re putting $50 million towards the debt. Great. But it’s still costing the company, whatever nominal rates that these people are charging…near zero. You’re suggesting. That’s great news. Do I look at that as some kind of endorsement of the project? I guess not. It’s about job creation, and is it green etc. So I’d need to some see who else would be involved with this, is what I’d be thinking. You talk about advanced stage discussions with some of the off-take agreements as a means of… would that be pre-funding in terms of the off-take? Who are some of the names involved with this who would give me some comfort around the validity of the project?

Tony Sage: We’ve signed NDA’s with these companies. But rest assured that a large German automakers and builders of batteries themselves is another company. And let’s go for one other one, which was in the industry of producing electronic tools. Now, the reason I don’t pre-sell the off-take now is, once this DFS is done and people see how robust the project is, you’ve got other suppliers around the world that will say here’s a foothold into Europe. So if we’ve already sold our off-take pre the DFS, we won’t be a takeover target.

Matthew Gordon: Ok.

Tony Sage: If I don’t and the DFS comes out, here we are. There’s a small player in Europe is only going to produce 11,000t of Hydroxide per annum. They are in Europe. They’ve got all these contacts. Wouldn’t it be great to have in our portfolio? So if we’d already sold the off-take is very much more difficult to have that story. I’d like to be in a position where we’re completely transparent. We’ve got no-offtake partner now. We don’t want one now. And we will wait until the DFS is done and we can sign 4 agreements today, if I wanted to. And a couple of those are outside of Europe, but I don’t want to sign one now for that reason.

Matthew Gordon: And I appreciate the insight into the strategy and the thinking. That’s well-noted. So, if I look at the project now, $16,000, which is what you’ve done the numbers on, and let’s say it’s roughly give or take that on any given day at the moment, you’ve got a 25% IRR, which is reasonable. But you’re right on the margin in terms of price in the market at the moment. So you’re looking for this price appreciation to drive not only the IRR, but the NPV of this project up. Are there institutions that you’re talking to or begun conversations with, in anticipation of what the DFS is going to tell you?

Tony Sage: Yes, we’ve got a couple of institutions already in the stock. They bought through the last equity raising we did. So they’re sitting back. I’m going to be completely honest now. Virtually everyone, the two major banks, European banks, and two off-takers want to wait for the DFS. The Chinese obviously don’t care about the DFS. They’ve seen the PFS. But we don’t want to send concentrate from Austria to China for $400-$600 a tonne, and it comes back in to Europe at $16,000-$17,000 a tonne. So we can take easy money now and breeze through the next 6 months, or we can hold tough like we have. Be true to what we want to be able to do, which is finish the DFS. And then go to the two major banks that we’ve talked to and say, ‘right, this is it now. You’ve asked us to be our clients. Can you raise X amount of dollars on the IRR based on this final report from DRA’.

Matthew Gordon: Those are an investment banks as opposed to debt providers. And the current investors are going to be very different from the types investors you’re looking for going forward, aren’t they?

Tony Sage: Absolutely. Yes. Completely different. At the moment, we’ve got, in Australia, we call them mums and dads; in Europe they are called family houses. So we’ve got a lot of family house investors in Europe based in Austria and Germany. We’ve got a little bit of investment, now that we’re listed in London on the NEX. And a few are coming through that. The reason we did that is to broaden our investments spread of investors from Europe, and a lot of family houses in London, and a lot of municipalities can’t invest unless you’ve got some sort of listing in London. So we chose the NEX because it was the quickest to get on. And since we were on, it doesn’t trade very well, because most of the family houses buy on the Frankfurt Exchange where we trade millions and millions a day.

Matthew Gordon: It’s cheap and quick on NEX, but doesn’t necessarily trade or give you the volume of liquidity you need. So how much cash are you sitting on?

Tony Sage: $1.7M in the bank right now. Our next drawdown is $1M, which should come through by the end of October, halfway through November. And that will continue. So in another 3 or 4 weeks, we can draw down another $1M or so on.

Matthew Gordon: So they let you know how they’re doing with regards to selling down the shares.

Tony Sage: Well, we see it because they have to come through us to convert their shares. We’ve obviously got the share register, so we know when they are selling it. So we’re okay for now. Would we want a different funding, partner? Maybe. So, there’s lots of different options on the table. We’re not going to say we’re stuck with this one, but this one will suit us for the time being until we finish the DFS.

Matthew Gordon: You mentioned part of your strategy is, you don’t necessarily want to take off-take partners on board yet, until you get clarity on the DFS, because then you’ll understand what your options are. You’re a small Lithium player. You’re in Europe. That’s a USP for you or your positioning it as such anyway. What are you doing? Some companies choose to hunker down until there is price discovery. The price gets back up. Or some people like charge on at 100 miles an hour. Some people JV. What’s going on with the board’s thinking. What are the things keeping you awake at night Tony?

Tony Sage: Well, the biggest one right now, believe it or not, is geopolitical. Because everything affects everything in this world. Trump’s fight with Xi Jinping, everyone should be worried about, the whole world should be worried about.

Matthew Gordon: We are. That’s why Gold has gone up.

Tony Sage: Yeah, $1,500. I’ve been reading reports over $3,000 an ounce by mid-next year. But if I’m thinking purely of business, that is my number one concern. China already has proven with this Rare Earth announcement that it will try and hold the rest of the world to ransom if it doesn’t get its way. Trump is belligerent on the other hand, and he wants his way. So, that negotiation is very important for a lot of things in commodity prices around the world. So that’s one thing that keeps me awake at night. I think part of the reason that the US now says, ‘I want to buy Greenland’, because I know there’s a whole lot of Rare Earths in Greenland. So that one maybe a parody or a joke from him. But he’s quite serious about getting investment in Greenland. And I think now with the Prime Minister going to visit Trump. He’s come out and said, ‘we want to really be involved in Lithium, Cobalt, Rare earths’, anywhere in the world with any Australian company. So geopolitically I think there will be a resolution coming up, whether it’s in Trump’s favour, China’s favour. Who knows? But that will settle a lot of the nervousness. You’ll see Gold maybe come down a little bit. But I think everyone then will think, right China’s ready to go again. We just saw the spurt in iron ore prices, for example. It went from $60 a tonne back to $125. Because they’ve got rid of their stockpiles and they needed it very quickly. If there is some sort of resolution, China will need to fiscally spend money again and that will increase the Iron Ore price. But that goes on to other things. If they’re building 1M buses, they still need Iron Ore. But they still need Lithium. I look at the whole of the world and think about things that can happen, cannot happen. For the board, we’ve got a very good project in a very good country. The government of Austria wanted to go ahead. The local government there wants to go ahead. We’ve had no environmental issues come forth for us. Being in Europe, you see every time there’s a new mine set up, there’s greenies everywhere trying to stop it. Ours is not like that. It’s all underground. I think we’re in a unique position to go ahead, finalize the DFS, have a document that we can present to project financers, institutions that will take chunks in an equity raising and obviously go to the $1Bn fund people out of Germany and also the Horizon 2020 out of the EU. I’m looking forward very positively and I believe that the Lithium price will start to move upwards from January next year.

Matthew Gordon: We shall see. I think lots of people want to see some movement there. And then it’s a case of what happens next. Do we get a slew of Lithium miners coming into market or not? And how do you take advantage of your unique position in Europe and capitalize on that? Tony that’s a great first introduction to the company. I would love to stay in touch and see how you get on.

Tony Sage: Thank you very much.


Company website: https://europeanlithium.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.

Small Uranium Companies May Need to Change Strategies to Survive – Dustin Garrow

Dustin Garrow, former Paladin Director, and industry advisor to Uranium companies, Uranium ETFs and Uranium Funds, was involved in writing the WNA Nuclear Fuel report, especially the uranium chapter. A lot of investors on social media are seeing the findings of the report as a signal for a recovery in the uranium price. We ask Dustin Garrow if this a realistic assumption.

Analysts say there needs to be production at higher price. This report says ‘yes there needs to be more investment in the fuel cycle and particularly uranium. So everyone is saying the same thing. The Demand forecast marginally positive. Dustin tell some of the factors for altering the data from companies to show a more realistic outlook.

Will some of the junior uranium companies fall off the cliff if the price discovery takes longer than hoped. How will their strategies need to change?

Certainty is still not here, but the mood is more positive. Dustin Garrow saw 10-12 investment groups which is more than have attended more many years. Not a lot of the US utilities. He talks about conversations with generalist investors. And also an update about the 90 Day Working Group.

The report has previously had a reputation of being vague. But a lot of hard work has gone in to making it a little bit more commercial. But still avoids talking about the economics! It doesn’t talk price. Surprised, we were. But it does now discuss long-term contracts and term market.

Did you know that the EU and US represents over 50% of the uranium requirements. 1.9 billion pounds of uranium, and 90% was on long-term contracts.

Interview Highlights:

  • WNA Expectations
  • WNA Fuel Report: What Will it Do For The Market?
  • Current Mood in The Market: When Will Price Discovery Happen?
  • Struggles of Raising Funds in The Junior Space
  • Investment Hacks: What Should You Look Out For Before Investing?
  • Buying Physical Uranium: What Should You Know?

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: It has. We, like you, have been trotting around, meeting people, interviewing people at the WNA Symposium London, getting a sense of what the mood is. What do you want to get out of it?

Dustin Garrow: I think an important part is the biannual market Fuel Report from the WNA. I happen to have been involved in the uranium chapter. And the initial reactions have been very positive from outside organizations and people. I think the report reflects more of the concern of some of the fuel cycle participants. And it goes not just to uranium, but also the conversion side. I think the industry perspective now is more in line with what I’ve been seeing, particularly in the uranium side, on the supply issues that are looming.

Matthew Gordon: The WNA Fuel Report comes out every two years. It has had a reputation of being just a little bit vague. It paints a broad picture. But this year, a lot of hard work has gone into it. And we’ve met some of the authors of that. You were involved as well. It’s just that little bit more commercial. It’s getting to where it needs to be. You were involved with the uranium component. What was the brief?

Dustin Garrow: I’ve been involved in the report for many series of it. It was originally designed as an internal communication document. It wasn’t nearly as critical as to how it was put together. And the other thing is you can’t talk economics, can’t talk prices for anti-competitive reasons. But then it became the industry position, as particularly more investor groups, began to look in the uranium side. So, there’s been that lengthy transition. Still can’t talk economics. But it now it addresses things like the need for long-term contracts. There is still a big hurdle at this point. A lot of companies are at the starting gate in various forms, but without the utilities committing to more than a 2-3 forward year agreement, they can’t raise financing. It’s now being recognized, the term-market, it’s role in this industry. I looked at the US and the EU deliveries since 2000. There’s really good data on both the regions, which represents more than 50% of uranium requirements. Over that period, they’ve taken delivery of 1.9Bn lbs of uranium and 91% was under long-term contracts. So, the idea that the utilities rely on the spot market just doesn’t reflect reality. They still buy about 20Mlbs a year in the spot.

Matthew Gordon: It talks about long-term contracts which is a really important part of the industry for sure, but it’s not giving any indication around price because it can’t be anti-competitive.

Dustin Garrow: So you say things like ‘adequate’. And that depends on the specific company. What’s adequate for a Cameco is not adequate for a new build project somewhere else. But it’s a crucial element in the progression of the production facilities.

Matthew Gordon: If I look at people like TradeTech or UXC, they can get into this. And I think is important for commercial reasons that they can get into this. They sell those reports into utilities funds etc. But these interviews are for the ordinary guy like me and you, who want to buy shares in equities. What does this report do for them? Does it give certainty to the marketplace so therefore, people start behaving in a different way and therefore the equities react?

Dustin Garrow: What’s important is a lot of the investment analysts have concluded that there is a need for more production and it will be at a higher price. It has to be because of the economics of the new production facilities. The WNA, without talking the economic side, is saying, y’es, there is a need for more investments in the fuel cycle and particularly uranium’. So now everyone is saying the same thing. Now the contrarian would say, ‘well, now it’s time to look over the other direction’. I think one thing that was brought out in the WNA Fuel Report is the demand forecast. Recently the WNA had a low-case which had demand eventually dropping off. Well, now even the low-case is a positive I think it’s 0.1% growth. But it’s not a drop off. So, across the three cases, the reference case is about 2% growth per year and the higher one is 3.5%

Matthew Gordon: How did that how did they marry this up with the supply case? Most companies will overstate, will be a little bit hopeful about what they’re going to be capable of doing, but they are restricted by a number of factors.

Dustin Garrow: I think what what’s another important thing is there’s more judgment being put into the WNA Fuel Report. In other words, you can take the public statements of all these companies and say, ‘well, his history suggests that it’s going to take longer, it’s going to be slower’, or whatever and more of that’s going in the report.

Matthew Gordon: That’s great news.

Dustin Garrow: So, it’s not like, ‘oh, no, you’ve got to say just public information’. So, there’s some judgment that goes into it from people…Frank Haney, who ran the working group. He’s retiring next year after 50 years in the industry. So, we have some long beards involved.

Matthew Gordon: So that’s the WNA Fuel Report. Generally, very positively received. It’s certainly an upgrade from where it’s been, a lot of hard work gone into it and a lot more realism. Let’s talk about mood. I’ve been speaking to people and I’d say the general mood is positive, without necessarily being certain. It’s better than it was 6 months ago when we first started discovering the world of uranium. I’ve had some fantastically wide-ranging views on when price discovery happens from 3 months through to 18 months. Now everyone’s got a different business model, and everyone has different needs. But the people sitting in the middle are thinking maybe it’s going to happen next year. What are you hearing?

Dustin Garrow: I thought it was interesting that at the WNA symposium I think there were ten or twelve investment groups represented. We’ve never had that before. We’ve had maybe 2 or 3.

Matthew Gordon: And these are generalists?

Dustin Garrow: These are these are the guys that are either going to buy physical or buy inequities. They’re the guys that are going to put the money up for the industry. And someone said last night at a dinner I attended… when you’ve been around in this business so long, you walk in a room and you sense the mood, and it is on that positive side by the producers, either real or those that plan to come into production. The meetings that I’ve had outside of this symposium had been very positive. It’s not, ‘oh, well, what about the Japanese? They’re never going to’…It’s more like, ‘I’m on board now. When is it going to happen?’. The Section 232 in the United States… we had the July 12th memorandum from the President, which some people interpreted as, he had no interest in helping the domestic industry. But if you read his statement, it was ‘at this time’. And now the 90 Day Working Group will come out with some kind of remedy. But it will be uranium conversion, enrichment and probably be pretty neutral regarding the utilities. What’s going to be their exposure? But the point being, it’s not going to affect the general market. It’ll be kind of played out in support of the US government. But I think some of the utilities, particularly in the US, have the big unfilled needs, are saying, ‘well, I still don’t know what’s going to come out’. We’ll have that answer by mid-October. And then I think that they’ll start making their procurement decisions.

Matthew Gordon: We’ve had similar conversations. I think quotas, tariffs, subsidies. No-one knows.

Dustin Garrow: I think that’s all off the table. There will be some form of government support just directly. It won’t limit imports of other origins or anything like that.

Matthew Gordon: Let’s step back and see what happens there. But I think that’s going to be very interesting, obviously, for the US uranium companies. One of yours, Energy Fuels, obviously waiting to see what’s happening there.

Dustin Garrow: I think that activity in the term-market is what’s going to help raise the spot price. So, it’s not going to be the spot price goes up and then there’s term activity. The utilities are already doing their due diligence. They’re contacting suppliers. How much have you got? What timeframe? What kind of pricing are you looking for? That’s a precursor for them coming out. And like one of the US utilities was just in the long-term market, 2021-2025… So, again, they’re starting the process that they’ve not been willing to do because of the price differentials for a number of years.

Matthew Gordon: So, you were at the Eight Capital dinner last night. What were you hearing? What were the questions that are being asked?

Dustin Garrow: Well, no one’s saying, ‘well, is the price going to drop?’. What are the factors that are going to move it up and when do we see those asserting themselves? Now, some of us, we are die hard optimists. We could start to see it before the end of the year. But I think by first quarter, keep in mind, there’s a big conference in Nashville at the end of October, where there’s only like 3 US utilities here. They’ll all be in Nashville; the producers will be there. I think there’ll be much more discussion because we’ll know what the working group recommendation is or outcome. So, we could see some of them will say, ‘well, I’m going to get out there now. I’m not going to wait’. And we could start to see an uptick in term-contracts.

Matthew Gordon: Based on your assertion that you think it’s pretty soon, a lot of companies are going to like that news. Not saying it’s going to happen, just that they’re going to like your view. If that doesn’t happen… we’ve been speaking to a few people and we’ve been interviewing a few people. So, we’ve got a broad sense of what’s happening with it with a junior uranium space. A lot of them are needing to raise capital to keep going. They may get to the end of the year, but that’s it. Do you feel that the funds or the institutions that you’re talking to are ready to have those conversations with these juniors or are they going to struggle?

Dustin Garrow: I think some, because they have a good business plan, good projects, they’ll be able to maybe live on the drip for a while. They’re not going to get that big multi $100M financing done without term-contracts. I think they may be optimistic on how long that takes. It’s not that the price goes up, the next day the phone rings and all the utilities sign big contracts and by the end of the week away you go. It can take months and months. And at some point, the Cameco’s enter the market. And at some point, you’re going to see a lot of activity once you get to a certain degree.

Matthew Gordon: That’s great saying that because I think if I look at the retail following that we’ve got within uranium. Very passionate, very optimistic and patient group of people, very knowledgeable too. But they shouldn’t expect an immediate pop in price. There’ll be a gradual escalation on price. Is that what you’re saying? That could be as well as long as 12 months before it gets to where it needs to be? When does it get to $50?

Dustin Garrow: Well the term-price at $30 we could see $40 very quickly, because I think that’s the next plateau. A bit of contracting by some, then another pop up to $50. Well, how long does that take? Are we dictated to by the utilities when they come on the market? So, yes, by some time. First half of next year should you see a lot of term-contracting activity. And it’ll affect the spot-price. I think we’re within a 6-month window.

Matthew Gordon: I’m going to go back to my institutional days. I’m looking at price, if it hits $40. Most of these companies are still under water at $50-$55. So, in a meaningful way, it doesn’t matter if it is $20 or $40, but for the funds, if they see contracts in place, they have security. They still have to take a guess on what the future holds. And that the company can get product to the utilities. They’re got to say this will get to $55. That’s only break even for some of these companies. Some these companies need to make more than that to be able to pay back anything they have borrowed. So, there’s still a lot of uncertainty in terms of ability to raise capital. Is there not, at this point?

Dustin Garrow: Yes. That’s why some of them are out meeting, a lot of meetings, a lot of discussions and preparation for them. Then you go out and you do your whatever amount of term-contracting. I think the financing is available, but with the right conditions.

Matthew Gordon. We’ve been meeting and talking to a lot of the funds and institutions, and they’re generalists who, as you say, are coming back in and having a look at what’s going on. They’re having to get back up to speed, to understand what’s happening in the market, and they’ve going to take a view on what the future looks like. But, yes, I think the money is there, under the right conditionas. But that is going to come down to 2 quite important things that I’ve discovered in the past 6 months, management teams who have produced uranium and got it into market. Not many of them, right? And then, of course, the basic fundamentals of mining, is this a good asset? Can you get it out of the ground, let alone get it into market?

Dustin Garrow: Well, as you know, we’re having more specific questions. In other words, will a rising tide lift all boats? I think some of the investors that have either been in the space or more sophisticated, whatever, are saying, well, now of this group of companies, where should I place my funds? I think probably the primary question that I’m getting back is, ‘I’m on board, I think it’s great, next year. But where do I place my funds?’ And part of it is, like you say, management teams, the experience. And that’s hard to come by these days. Very difficult. There’s just not many veterans left. And uranium is a unique commodity because of the political, social issues surrounding it.

Matthew Gordon: I’ve been calling it in the past few days ‘Mining +’. Mining’s hard enough. Then you have the uranium component, which is a political hot bed. And some of those geopolitical concerns. But without getting at the macro, we all agree that the general consensus is it’s positive, a huge infrastructure needs filling. But if we come back to the management team. There’s about 50-55 companies in the uranium space at the moment. As the market recovers, you’re going to have new entrants coming in. It’s hard to imagine that any of them are going to have relevant uranium experience.

Dustin Garrow: It will be difficult.

Matthew Gordon: So, again, for our Subscribers, that’s something that they need to consider when making an investment decision. A new story doesn’t necessarily equate to capital appreciation, because these new entrants are unlikely to get into production with new management teams with no experience. Not impossible, just unlikely.

Dustin Garrow: During the last uplift, there were like 400 / 500 companies. I was at PDAC and everybody was tacking up a sign. ‘We also do uranium’, on top of everything else. And geologists with some drill logs they were they were getting funded. I think this time around it will be more difficult, because the questions will be asked, ‘who is behind it?’, peal it to the next layer and. And who’s going to do this? I want names. And that’s going to be a difficult part of the equation for some of the companies to convince funds. And it goes into the term-contracting. The utilities will say, ‘I’ll do a 200,000lbs /300,000lbs contract. I’m not going to do 500,000lbs. I don’t know you guys. I don’t know your project. It’s not built. So, I’m going to be cautious’. So, that means junior companies have to even do more contracts than maybe an established producer, of which there aren’t many left.

Matthew Gordon: Yes. A few things going on there. If you don’t have anyone who’s produced or been involved with producing uranium before, as an investor, you’ve got to think twice because it’s complex. It is not just drilling holes in the ground, finding it, digging it. It’s not that simple. There’s what happens afterwards. The bit that you’ve got a huge track record on was, I’m not selling you by the way… I’m just referencing that you have huge experience in this, the contract side of things. That’s not easy because, time comes into this. There are buying cycles. Term-contracts are 5, 7 years, aren’t they?

Dustin Garrow: They come in cycles. And just as a quick side note, when we did the bankable contracts for Langer Heinrich, the banks laid out very specific requirements. How much volume? At what price? Over so many years. So, we had to then construct a contracting plan that met all those needs. And sometimes you have holes and the banks go ‘fill the hole before I’m going to press that release of funds’. So, there’s more to it than like I said, the phone rings and you pass around contracts and you’re done. Won’t happen that way. It’s not to say these other companies can’t be successful. It just may take a bit more time. They may have to be more flexible in contracting.

Matthew Gordon: I think the phrase I heard yesterday was that ‘they don’t know what they don’t know’.

Dustin Garrow: And it’ll come to their front door.

Matthew Gordon: And that takes time. And that takes money. And sometimes they can’t fix it. So, a lot of things to be cautious of as an investor in the uranium space, unless you get a team that’s been there, done it before. I think that’s important because a lot of people, generalists, I’m not talking about the wonderful uranium crowd that have been in there through thick and thin over the last two years. I’m talking about generalists coming back home when uranium does kickback, will need to understand that. It’s not a case of all boats float on a high tide. I fundamentally disagree with that statement. I think all boats float for a while. And then the inevitable happens, they sink. So that’s great if you get it on the way up. But if you’re if you’re left on the boat, you’re in trouble.

Dustin Garrow: TradeTech, one of the two long time industry consulting firms has just put out a study on production. And it goes beyond, ‘well, here are the costs’. They look at full cost because a new project’s not going to be built on cash costs only, but then they try to look at what are the impediments? What about the secondary licensing? What about the mine plans? What about contract? Have they gone out and approached the market? Are they ready to do that? So, it’s kind of a guideline, a cookbook, to look at and go, ‘well, you know, just because you’ve got the best technical project, you may not be in the first mover group. You may not veto the third’, because of where the projects located for a number of reasons. So, the industry is trying to help some of the consulting firms in that regard.

Matthew Gordon: But that’s fine for people like you and me. We can afford that report. I saw it yesterday. Great report. And we can interpret that and extrapolate what we want from that for retail, family office, high net worth. They’re not going pay for that report. They don’t have access to that. They’re going to have to trust the information that they’ve got access to. And that’s why I’m interested in talking to people like you, you’ve been around the block a few times. You’ve seen a few cycles, influencers who understand what’s going on in the uranium space. But it can also help bring to light some of these issues. What the company says and what the company is capable doing are sometimes polar opposites. They’re very far apart and that’s the difference between making money and losing money. And that’s important. This is investor’s money. That’s what I care about.

Dustin Garrow: I think money will be made in this space again. I think it will probably be on a more selective basis.

Matthew Gordon: Pick the right team. The right boat.

Dustin Garrow: Yes. And a lot of it’s the right team that can get things done.

Matthew Gordon: Are you seeing any good stories out there? Over the past 2-3 days and over the past six month I’ve heard different business models and I don’t mean physical or ETFs or equities. I just mean companies which are up or coming at it in a different way, which makes sense, or companies which have got all the fundamentals in place. What type of company would you invest in? Or advocate in investing in?

Dustin Garrow: I think you’ve hit the high points, those that can demonstrate some experience in the commodity and mining in general. That always helps. If they’re not totally cash starved at the moment, that’s a plus. It gives them a little more breathing room so they can go out and meet with utilities and lay the groundwork. And if it’s like, ‘well we can’t go out, we can’t talk to anybody, we don’t have any money’, then it’ll be tough for the utilities to put you on their supplier list. When they don’t see you and you may have the best widget, but they can’t see it. The utilities need yellow cake in the can. They aren’t that interested in your share price. They can’t stuff shares or certificates in their reactor. They want to make sure in 2023 on June 1st you’re going to deliver that 100,000lbs, because they work it into their fuel plan. So that’s what they’re after. And so it goes beyond just the investor side. You’ve got to convince the customers that you’ve got credibility, particularly with new projects. If you’re a new person on the block it’s it can be a challenge.

Matthew Gordon: I just talked about something which was buying physical uranium. There’s a company in the UK called Yellow Cake. You’ve got one in North America which is called Uranium Participation Corporation (UPC). How does that work? What is buying physical uranium?

Dustin Garrow: There’s really more than one model and I’ll talk UPC, Yellow Cake. They’re being characterized as sequesters of the uranium. UPC has held their inventory for 15 years. And Yellow Cake, the business model, as you know, I’m chief commercial officer for Yellow Cake. Is to accumulate that inventory at good acquisition cost. The current 9.4Mlbs we acquired at under $22. Buy it and hold it for an extended period, add to it when the stars are aligned correctly to where we go out and raise money, buy more. We’ve got the option with the Kazakhs. And it’s an investment that the investor can make up a bet on the market. In other words, ‘I think it’s going to keep going up. I will accumulate shares’. At some point they may say it’s $45-50, could come off. Then they’ll take a different decision. But it’s basically that store of value that they can make decisions on.

Matthew Gordon: And it’s based purely on the price of uranium spot that that day. ‘I bought it $25, it’s now at $40, I’m checking out’, because it just happens to be in the form of shares. You’re buying and selling physical product.

Dustin Garrow: But the material doesn’t like come in the market. Now there’s a different group, which there’s 6, 8, 10 investors that have bought physical. Now that means they hold the U308 at a conversion facility. They come in, they add to that when they think the price is going up. And at some point, I think when they say, ‘well, OK, I’ve doubled my money in six months and I’ll sell some of it off’. I think that happened earlier this year. So, that’s a different model.

Matthew Gordon: One is physically selling off, but that’s a group of institutional guys, presumably. The first one you described was there’s an inventory sitting there. So, you can you can buy shares in that. It will continue to sit there. And once you want to sell your share, you can sell it someone else. But the uranium still remains there. It’s not going into the market per se. It’s a security.

Dustin Garrow: Yes, it’s a lot easier than if you buy physical because then you get into the storage accounts. There’s fees, there’s all kinds of things. Not to say that’s a bad part of a three-legged stool, but it’s different. And I know the analysts are really struggling with ‘how do you model that?’. Cameco has mentioned it on their calls. But apparently late last year, that group bought 8-10Mlbs. Could have been more, could have been less. And I’m asked how and when will they sell? At what price? Some might sell at $35. They go, ‘hey, I bought it at $25 I’ll sell it’. That’s a great deal, I’ll go do something else. Others may say this thing’s rate going up quickly. I’ll hold to $50. They may sell at $35 and come back at $40. So, it’s a growing part of the spot market that to some degree you can’t model. It’s like, ‘well, how do we model this? We know what the utilities are going to do. We know the producer buying’. I contend you can’t model it. If it was one person you go, well, I can kind of figure out what they’re doing, but it’s now a diverse group all over the world. South America. Australia. North America.

Matthew Gordon: Right, so if I’m looking at something like Yellow Cake. You buy at $22. If the price goes down. There’s nothing you can do about that. So, the value of what you bought is less than what you paid for it. But your expectation by investors buying shares is that it’s going to go up. So, there’s no equity risk per se, it’s just purely on the products above the ground sitting in containers, Cameco’s facility or wherever it’s held. Whereas equities, a bit more exposure to all the risks below the ground and management decision making and availability of cash. So, it’s just a different risk profile.

Dustin Garrow: So, it allows you to participate in the uranium space by either Yellow Cake, UPC or physical. I understand one of the large banks that’s been involved in buying physical has been providing that service. You don’t have to get a supplier or storage agreement. We’ll do it under ours. So, there’s the entrepreneurial side of that, for a fee. So, then that takes some of the goodness out of it. And then it’s the equities. Everybody says, well I’m going to buy Cameco. Well yes. They’re a fundamental part of the business. But actually their upsides are limited by ceiling prices and defined price contracts. So, if the price goes to above $100, if you look at their sensitivity table, they start to hit a ceiling. Now, on the downside, they don’t go down below about $30. So, they’ve got a collar. And that’s part of their business model. I’m not sure everybody looks at that. They think, well, if the price goes to $200 it great but  in reality Cameco will hit their ceiling.

Matthew Gordon: It’s also not good because there will be a lot of entrants, new entrants in at that point.

Dustin Garrow: I mean but then the different strategy, different risk.

Matthew Gordon: So, to finish off because I know you’ve got places to be, you’re meeting lots of people today. You think uranium people should be looking at it, should be considering as part of their investment portfolio. General consensus is quite positive.

Dustin Garrow: Yes. More and more people are looking. I did a roadshow in April with yellowcake and it was mostly North America. And certainly, we did Boston, New York, but out on the West Coast. Los Angeles. San Diego. So, we see a broader spectrum of interest. And I think it’s waiting on the Section 232 though, we don’t know what that kind of means. But once the green light goes, even if it’s a pale green. I think there’s going to be a lot of investment.

Matthew Gordon: People will be waiting until then, I think generalists are waiting till then, see what that outcome is, whatever it is, some degree of certainty about how to move forward.

Dustin Garrow: Figure out what does it mean and then the utilities will react so you’ll see that term market start to pick up.

Matthew Gordon: Dustin. Good to see you face to face here in London. Enjoy the rest of your time here. I think you’re diving on aeroplane tomorrow. We’ll catch up hopefully in October.

WNA Nuclear Fuel Report Contributor, Julian Tapp, Talks Price Manipulation – Vimy Resources (ASX: VMY)

Chief Nuclear Officer and economist Julian Tapp of Uranium company Vimy Resources (ASX: VMY) did his own research in to the nuclear market and his findings told him that the WNA Report was inaccurate. So he got involved in putting this new and improved version out.

As an economist Julian loves getting in to the detail. He helps us understand what investors should be focused on. And who the winners and potential losers are. Can the 3 biggest players control pricing and effect the chances of juniors getting into production? Julian gives us his opinion. The pricing matrix is very delegate. Manipulation or markets?

If you believe the WNA Nuclear Fuel Report is an important catalyst you need to understand what is in this report. Julian tells us why the report is more commercial and has more rigour in the process of putting the information together.

Interview Highlights:

  • WNA Expectations and The WNA Nuclear Report Overview
  • What is The Importance of The WNA Nuclear Report? What Needs To Be Improved?
  • Big Nuclear Players Could Affect Prices, So Why Don’t They? What Does That Mean For Junior Players?
  • Winners vs Losers & How To Tell The Difference
  • Vimy Resources: Can They Affect The Share Price Before Prices Change?

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: You’ve been meeting and greeting lots of people, sort of finding out what’s the mood is.

Julian Tapp: Everybody turns up for the WNA Symposium. So, you just hang around, talk to people, find out what the views are.

Matthew Gordon: What do you think the general mood is, positive or negative?

Julian Tapp: I think there’s a certain amount of optimism. I know it might sound odd but the past the past few reports, every time the WNA Report has come out, the forecast has got worse.

Matthew Gordon: You’re talking about the WNA Fuel Report. You’ve been involved in it. What was your role in that?

Julian Tapp: Yes, I have. Well, it is quite interesting. Going back a couple of years, when we did the (Vimy) DFS, I actually built a model to forecast world demand for uranium on a reactor basis. When I finished I wondered how it compared to what the WNA had done. I looked at their model and we got similar answers in aggregate. But regionally, there were big differences and wondered how they got those numbers?

Matthew Gordon: Why is that important?

Julian Tapp: I think actually their assumptions were wrong.

Matthew Gordon: That was a couple of years ago.

Julian Tapp: If you look at the current one, you’ll see that the projections are more optimistic. They’ve been raised, particularly the lowest scenario.

Matthew Gordon: What has been raised?

Julian Tapp: The forecast capacity of nuclear reactors operating and getting uranium over the next 20 years.

Matthew Gordon: Got it. And why is it better?

Julian Tapp: A couple of prominent reasons. Firstly, the assumption used to be that the French were going to reduce their nuclear capacity to meet 50% of electricity target by 2025. So, although the previous Fuel Report didn’t have them getting there by 2025, they were trying. Everybody now recognized Emmanuel Macron (French President) had kicked the can down the road. It’s 2035, if you actually listen to what he says. It’s isn’t ever going to happen. So for the pessimistic forecasts they put out, that lower case scenario used to have them losing 20Gw capacity. And that’s now not forecast to happen. In America there was an expectation that nuclear reactors, when they reach the end of their license life or when they just won’t get extended. And again, we had a lot of discussion about this. I kept saying when it gets the end of its life, it doesn’t get an extension if it’s not safe. But please tell me who thinks these reactors aren’t going to be safe after 40 years? They’ll be perfectly safe. Well, same argument where they get 60 years. Will they be safe? Now, sometimes you have to spend money to upgrade them, to keep them going. And if the economics are not good, maybe you wouldn’t pay for that upgrading.

Matthew Gordon: Are they safe? Have there been any incidents?

Julian Tapp: None. There’s never been a nuclear accident that was related to the age of the plant.

Matthew Gordon: That’s semantics. So, have there been incidents? Deaths?

Julian Tapp: Not in recent times. It’s interesting you should also ask that question. Even Fukushima. A vast majority of deaths were nothing to do with it, it was all to do with the tsunami. Now you will see people walking around saying “oh, there’s been one reported death.” Not true. There was a guy who worked at TEPCO who went to the site. He was like a radiation inspector and he got lung cancer.

Matthew Gordon: Unconnected?

Julian Tapp: Well, when you look at the time between when he was exposed and when he got the lung cancer, it was like two years. Usually it’s ten years between being exposed to radiation and radiation he was exposed to wasn’t high enough to trigger that sort of reaction. A different subject to be talked about but nuclear reactors are incredibly safe. A horrible way to talk about it, but if you look at the fatalities or deaths per thousand terawatt hours produced. There was a comment about it in the WNA Nuclear Fuel Report that comes from Lancet in 2007. They said that nuclear is safer than any other form of power. 90 deaths per thousand terawatt hours. I looked to that number and asked where did they get a number that high from. Do you know how much electricity is produced a year by nuclear reactors?

Matthew Gordon: Tell me.

Julian Tapp: About 2,500 terawatt hours. If you’re getting 90 deaths per thousand. Where all these deaths are coming from? Sometimes it’s because they included Chernobyl in the numbers. But I went and found that Lancet article, found out where they got their data from. Traced it all back to a French report in 1991 that assumed that very low levels of radiation spread over a large population would kill a small percentage of those people. The science has moved on from there. That’s simply not true.

Matthew Gordon: Let’s not focus on that, because I think that there’s too many reference points required to have a in-depth conversation. So, let’s come back to why is the WNA Fuel Report important for the industry?

Julian Tapp: I think it’s important for the industry, because love it or loathe it, it’s a reference document that everybody has a copy of it. Financial community, utilities, everybody gets it.

Matthew Gordon: But why this year is it more important? Obviously there have been some changes. It’s a little bit more commercial. Is that fair to say? I don’t mean in the sense that it’s commercial telling you what that nuclear industry is going to do but it’s a little bit more commercial in the sense that it’s giving people in the industry more information about what’s going on.

Julian Tapp: And I would say more rigor in the analysis. Don’t get me wrong, when I say it’s a little bit more positive. Nobody sat down and said it needs to be a little bit more positive. The way the forecasts are done are, literally country by country, reactor by reactor. Which ones are going to be built, which ones you don’t think are going to be built. They just all added up. And that’s was the answer.

Matthew Gordon: It’s on everyone’s desk, on fund managers desks, institutional investors desks, all the utilities, everyone who sits on this thing. What’s it going to do for them? Is it going to change behaviour or is it just a kind of the broad sentiment and things are better? We know the macro story. It’s fine. We’ll just park that. I’ve got that. Read the summary and move on.

Julian Tapp: I think there are a number of things in it. The first thing is since the last fuel report, Cameco have closed McArthur River. They’ve also shut in Rabbit Lake. Langer Heinrich is closed so there’s a new category of what’s called’ ‘idle mines’. And you need to pull them out because traditionally when mines idled, they put them in a basket with reserve projects that might come back at some point in the future. You know, the dynamics are very different from an idle mind than they are for a reserve project. They might get to be developed some time in the future. And that the economics around them coming back are very different. Mostly idle mines are owned by producers, that have other producing assets. And roughly 80% of the market is controlled by three companies. And they’re the three companies that have shut production down because market prices are unsustainably low. People say “oh, well, they’ll turn on this mine when the price gets to a certain level” but when the price gets to that level they will have just seen the profit on their existing mine go up a lot and what they don’t want to do is turn back on supply and see the whole thing collapse again. So, they’ve got a completely different way of looking. And I’m not suggesting that they collude in any way, but it’s the nature of economics. You have an oligopoly and there would be a classic description oligopoly. They’re going to look at the other guy and see what he’s doing.

Matthew Gordon: We saw recently with KazAtomProm and Camecos’ announcements, the marketplace is a little bit of jousting and a little bit of kidology, etc. around what they were saying or what they weren’t saying. Early days when I was getting into the uranium space, trying to understand it, because it’s not like mining. It is mining, but it’s not mining. I was intrigued by this potential control of will it be duopolies or oligopolies. And how you use that to your advantage. New entrants can come in and ruin things for everyone. You’ve got a group of juniors who can’t get the money that they need right now. So maybe this is a chance to take out some of the competition and starve the market of the supply. You can start affecting pricing. Those three companies can affect pricing. I’m not saying it’s a good thing to do or that they’re doing it, but they could do that. Why wouldn’t you?

Julian Tapp: I would say to you what the dynamics will be. They will keep these mines shut, until the price gets to a level where they will make the decision as long as the others haven’t broken. Because being oligopolies, they’ll be watching each other.

Matthew Gordon: There are going to be smaller players who are significantly advanced. Vimy potentially is one, where you’re quick to production. It’s potentially two years from pressing go, assuming it’s fully funded, and getting into production. You could get back into the market before some these big boys could de-mothball some of these operations. Surely?

Julian Tapp: Their lead time would be not dissimilar to ours. They can get back into production two years. KazAtomProm much faster than that. They don’t want to because when the price starts to rise, they’d much rather price kept rising than they turned on production and killed the rally. What about the juniors? When they’re looking around, what they do not want to happen is a 10Mlbs or 15Mlbs a year mine to get started.

Matthew Gordon: Well, that’s my next point. We’ve been told by the past couple of days by some other juniors who are quite close production, that are three years to production. So, if you’re saying the big boys can get into production before them, they’ve got no chance. These juniors have got no chance of being funded, have they?

Julian Tapp: Well, I’m not going to throw stones. If you look at Vimy’s DFS, I haven’t changed my mind since I did the economics behind that. My conclusion was these guys will keep their production shuttered till about $60 a pound. And let’s not discuss whether that’s contract or spot price. Just roughly when they think that $60 is like the sustainable price, they’re going to say if it goes any higher, there’s going to be too many entrants into the market. And once they’ve started, they’ll keep going. So, my view was the price would get to $60, but not go any higher.

Matthew Gordon: That’s price manipulation isn’t it?

Julian Tapp: No, it’s not. It’s perfectly rational behaviour.

Matthew Gordon: Sure it is, someone’s controlling it.

Julian Tapp: One would say, I’m prepared to keep supply cut until it gets to a certain point. And it’s perfectly rational for me to say at, look, if it gets to $70, I don’t know. Some big project in Tanzania is go getting to launched. I don’t want that to happen. I’m going to make sure these guys don’t get the signal they want, when it gets to $60 I’m making a handsome margin now. I just don’t want anybody else coming in

Matthew Gordon: That’s my point. If I’m one of these junior companies and I’m trying to raise money. I’m talking to the institutions and they’re cognizance that this could happen. I’m not going to find institutional investors to give me the money I need, because it’s not in my control. The pricing is being controlled at $60 bucks, is what you’re saying.

Julian Tapp: Yes but bear in mind also that for somebody like Vimy, in order to get finance, we have to we have to be writing some contracts. We’re talking about long-term contracts. Once you’ve signed those long-term contracts.

Matthew Gordon: I want to be clear, I wasn’t talking about Vimy. I was talking about some companies that are in a similar position to you but have got a longer lead time, which I think potentially could cause problems. I want understand winners and losers and what the factors are around that.

Julian Tapp: Yes, the longer your lead time, the more problematic. It’s not just because idle production could get in. But when you have a very long lead time, it’s more problematic in being able to write contracts. So, we’re in a position where we want to write contracts with utilities and you’ve got to write the contract and then go into production. The longer that window into production is, the riskier you’re going to be perceived to be to them, and the less willing they’re going to be to write contracts with you.

Matthew Gordon: Vicious circle.

Julian Tapp: Being two years away from production, it’d be much better if we could be one year away. And two years is fine. Because most long-term contracts deliveries aren’t normally for a couple of years. So, we’re in that window now where we know utilities are looking for deliveries, 2021, 2022, sometimes even 2023 for the beginning date.

Matthew Gordon: Let’s come back to the report, because the question I asked was what is the commercial use of that when people buy that, read that. What are they thinking and doing? And what I’m hearing is the sentiment is positive, but it’s not going to give people necessarily the commercial data they need to make a decision and on its own. Do you think the WNA needs to rethink the way that the report is being constructed again? Are you happy with the structure of it?

Julian Tapp: No I am not. I don’t think it’s any surprise to anybody. Everybody would like to see some discussion around price. Price put into the dynamic. So anti-competitive guidelines, nobody wants to sit down and agree what the price is going to be, which is what the guidelines are designed to stop you doing. It doesn’t seem to me sensible that you can’t have a discussion with people about, let’s say, what happens if the price stays at today’s level for forever? It’s how people do it with things, economic forecasts they don’t know. Let’s just assume the exchange rate stays forever. What does it mean? You know what happens? What interest rate can I use? Well, let’s just leave it at that current level and see what the model says going forward. So, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t put a price in, say, today’s price, spot price $25, $30 a pound. Run that out for the next 20 years. What does that do? That shows a really interesting picture. Basically, supply goes over a cliff and never comes back. So I don’t know if there’s a higher price that would be sensible. Maybe $50, maybe $60, run assumption again but you’re still a bit short. And then that’s the message doesn’t really come across at the moment basically that there’s a problem coming.

Matthew Gordon: If I look at people like TradeTech and UXC, you see the data which they gather and they put together and reports that they put out compared to the WNA, it seems a bit more robust, a little bit more goes into it. And they do talk about price. They need to and they do it on a company, country, industry basis. WNA needs to up its game, it seems to me, if it’s it wants to be a kind of commercial venture? So, what I’m hearing and seeing, and it’s not just you, there’s other people I’ve spoken to about this one. This report needs to do more, doesn’t it?

Julian Tapp: I think there’s measures to try to see what extra can be injected into it for next time round. I mean, this was an improvement on last time. I think there are various people who would like to see some pricing brought into it some way. If you be smart, you don’t have to sit and agree what you think the price is going to be. I said to you, you could use different price decks to show the impact. And to get better understanding. So, what you got now in the forecast is this unspecified supply, and nobody makes a judgment on who’s going to come into it, because you can’t without some sort of price assumption. Some of those are sitting at $80 a pound.

Matthew Gordon: Well, let’s how it’s going to be received. We’ll know in the next couple of weeks what people what people are thinking and we can get that feedback. Just to finish off on Vimy, you’re working there with Mike. Things are going well?

Julian Tapp: Very well.

Matthew Gordon: Confident?

Julian Tapp: Well when the price gets up.

Matthew Gordon: Do you think there’s anything your company can affect to help with share price? Or do we just wait for the price?

Julian Tapp. Look, there’s not much more we can do with the Mulga Rock project that can affect the share price. So, we’re going through the final stages of getting all the secondary approvals ready. That’s not regarded as a job stopper so when we’ve got them I’m not expecting a big uplift. Oh, you’ve got secondary approvals. So, in Angelaly, Northern Territory stuff we found a big haystack. Bigger than we thought it was the haystack. We think there are some valuable needles in there, we’ll continue to look for them.

Matthew Gordon: Thank you for your time, sir. Really appreciate that insight into the WNA Fuel Report. Fascinating what’s happening in the industry at the moment. And I like speaking to an economist. You look at it differently from everyone else which really helps.


Company page: https://www.vimyresources.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.

Australian Vanadium (ASX:AVL) – Hitting Milestones and Moving Towards Supplying 5% of the Market

We spoke with Vincent Algar, Managing Director of Australian Vanadium (ASX: AVL) whilst he was in London.

Highlights of the Interview:

  • Company Financials, Investors and G&A
  • Priorities and Focus
  • Value Creation for a Junior Company
  • Vanadium: the Market & Promotion

Matthew Gordon: What are you doing here in London?

Vincent Algar: I decided to come over to London to make some introductory meetings to some funds with a corporate advisory company we working with out of Singapore. So just getting to meet people, following up from our 121 meetings.

Matthew Gordon: And the purpose of that being what?

Vincent Algar: Twofold really. 1. To open ourselves to a new group of investors, primarily an institutional base, PE and family office space. But also to investigate coming here with a potential listing, probably which now looks like around March next year, if it goes ahead in that timeframe.

Matthew Gordon: We should come back to that another time perhaps. For people who are new to your story, why don’t you give us that 2 minute summary and we will pick up some questions.

Vincent Algar: Australia Vanadium is a company that’s been listed for over 10 years. Our main focus is our project South of Meekatharra, which is in the central part of Western Australia. Active mining region and we are developing a project that’ll be about 5% of global Vanadium production out of a magnetite deposit. Very similar in style and geology to that being mined by Bushveld and by Largo.

Matthew Gordon: And that’s a nice summary. So I want to start off and talk about junior miners first of all. So give us a rundown of the finances with regards to the company in terms of market cap share price etc.

Vincent Algar: Currently 1.7Bn shares on issue, which is a lot. The company’s been around for 10 years. We know that, that’s what it is. We’ve got 670,000 shareholders, which is also quite a large number for a company of our size. Market cap currently around $29M-$30M, depending on how it went this week. If we had a good week which is always good in the first part of financial new year in Australia. Sitting with about $4.5M in cash working our way through and deep in the process of doing a pilot study as part of a Feasibility Study.

Matthew Gordon: And you mentioned are you’re working towards the DFS as well.

Vincent Algar: Yes. That is definitely part of the DFS work is to do that part and we’ll spare I’ll spend a bit of time in saying why that’s important that we doing that in a particular way.

Matthew Gordon: So you’ve got $4.5M left. That takes you through to when?

Vincent Algar: Probably take us through to the end of the year. On the run rate that we are going. We are a very small team focused both in our consulting team and internally. And they were focused really on getting that work done in the best possible timeframe.

Matthew Gordon: And are you seeing any pressure from retail investors, institutional investors in terms of managing that G&A a little bit further out? Or that’s what you need to get to and you’re going to have to raise at the end of this year no matter what?

Vincent Algar: Look I think everyone looks at the capital. They look at what needs to be done and everyone will know that we have to do something to make sure that we keep on our time lines to get to the end. There’s two ways to do this. We sit on our hands and go slow, and we know where that goes. That it doesn’t get the project done. Or we push our sleeves up and get on with the work. And that will require us to have the money we need to get it done. Which is one of the reasons why I’m here as well. To make sure we understand the capital markets around what we need going forward.

Matthew Gordon: Because you used the phrase with me when we spoke. And we did this on line but previously. So the thing that can affect dilution most is not being able to raise capital.

Vincent Algar: Running out of money is the worst form of dilution the shareholder can have. That’s a very relevant thing in a junior resource company. Knowing what you’re spending. How you spending it. So being very tight on a budgetary level. Have a budget which is often quite an anathema to some people. But knowing what your budget constraints are. Knowing that you are well ahead of time how you’re going to be spending that money and where it’s going to be going. And what deliverables it’s giving you.

Matthew Gordon: You going to be raising how much do you think? You got a sense of that? It’s a long time between then and now.

Vincent Algar: We could We could finish the work we need to do down to the end of the feed study with between $5M-$10M. So that’s a additional amount of money that at some point we’ll have to put in the bank. And that’s what we were working towards, to either saving our cash to get to that point and then putting that in. But we need to deliver some deliverables to add some value along the way.

Matthew Gordon: And what do your institutional shareholders think of this process?

Vincent Algar: We don’t have a lot of institution al shareholders. One of the reasons I’m here again. We have on our register a couple of people around 2.5%-3% mark. We have people that we may think are institutional shareholders sitting behind nominee companies in that top five.  But there’s quite a lot of high net worth money in our company. And that’s become come in through my Director Les Ingraham who’s nursed the company until I joined in 2014, where he was strongly supported by people around him. He kept the company going and kept the company on its feet. A lot of his own money in and his high net worth friends’ money. That’s where we got to today. That shift of bringing the project to a new level is one of the changes we were looking to make in share register.

Matthew Gordon: I’m going to come back to overhead again, because the conversations I’m with a lot of juniors at the moment, is there are a lot of disgruntled investors. They’re looking at the salaries. They’re looking at the overheads. The way that money is spent. It’s all public information but very few people look at it. But when they do they’re stunned. Mining executives are extremely well remunerated.

Vincent Algar: I certainly can look at what we do, and I don’t turn up on the top 200 lists so I’m okay. But I think junior resource company CEOs. We’re doing something that other people are not doing. We are having a crack at something that is almost impossible to do. You’re trying to find something that is unfindable. You’re trying to then turn that into a resource; 1:100, 1:1,000 will make it to that next level. You’re trying to turn that Resource into proper Feasibility Study. We’re out there on the risk margin taking chances and when we pull that off our shareholders often benefit significantly.

Matthew Gordon: You’re taking these chances with some else’s money and they expect you to behave a certain way. When people are taking not a lot of that risk on their own shoulders. And by that, I mean taking big salary, not necessarily aligning themselves with shareholders and taking a smaller salary with more equity or shares. I can see why that stick in the throat.

Vincent Algar: No of course I can see that as well. But there’s a balance in there for everybody. I think that the best way that I see that in junior company sector is for there not to be so pointy at the CEO end. I think a lot of junior companies are CEO heavy. And they would be far better service by having a technical team at the top. Where those top players are equally remunerated and they all focused on the core objectives of the company. So for example, we just put Todd Richardson on our executive team and COO. He’s come in with a very specific objective of delivering that project and the approvals that go with it at the technical level with his team in budget and on time. My role is to make sure that he has the funds to achieve that. So that’s my role. We’re equals in every other way. And that’s really important part of our structure. I don’t feel that if I go out of the office like I am now that the ship’s listing at the back. It’s very much under control and the projects definitely working.

Matthew Gordon: But in terms of how you remunerate yourselves, are you more incentivise against deliverables, against share price, against those sorts of things or is it all front loaded?

Vincent Algar: Todd got some shares when he came in. I got some performance shares given to me on the way in when we delivered some of our Resources. We have now reached a point at the end of the PFS where we have to lock in some new remuneration for us on the incentive side. But at the same time you got that shareholder view that you don’t want to do that too early for the wrong reasons either. So it’s definitely on our cards to do so. We haven’t locked it in. You want to do that with the blessing of the shareholders and in the Australian market in any market probably other public company you do have to go to shareholders with those direct remuneration opportunities. And they have to approve. I don’t think that in our company where we’re over the top. I’ve definitely seen a lot worse. But I think the most important thing about that is that the executive team is has got a load that I can deliver in the projects. And that is strategically split across key members. I think we’ve got a very good structure in place now in our company.

Matthew Gordon: Generally, I always advise people to take a look at this prospectus and actually understand what they’re getting into to. And if the management team look like they’re keen to get as much money out as possible, as soon as possible then it’s something that you should think about twice.

Vincent Algar: I’d say it’s a good lesson for anybody from a due diligence point of view. Investors should read the accounts. Read the notes. That’s what I was taught. Therefore, you make an investment, look at everything and then form your opinion from there.

Matthew Gordon: Let’s get onto the money side of things. You’re here in London having a few meetings with some institutions and family offices as well.

Vincent Algar: And interviews as well.

Matthew Gordon: So what are you telling them? Because when we spoke last I was impressed by a lot of what you said. You seem to know what you need to do. That’s a big list. So what I’d like to understand is what you think your 3, 4, 5 priorities are? And tell me how you’re going to actually deliver those. Because we’re going to raise money, you need to be clear about that story with people. So what do you think your focus is?

Vincent Algar: But so just take you through a typical scenario when you’re meeting with one of these guys. It either focuses on the on the market. Sometimes quite heavily and what the market is like, because we’ve got a commodity here that when you look at the vanadium price chart, it’s not a pretty thing to behold. It’s very spiky. If people don’t know the commodity, why would you believe that that the price over the next 10 years would be any different than it is now. So a lot of time understanding what the market behaviour is and what we see the forward growth is. And we have to have a view on the forward growth, not only on the price but also on the market demand before you can even entertain looking at the project at all. So that’s part of the conversation. The second point is what have you been doing to get you to this point. What if what have you really achieved in terms of the milestones?

Matthew Gordon: So what are they?

Vincent Algar: I joined four years ago. We’ve taken the company through drilling it out, and pushing the resource up to 90Mt in terms of our target horizon, and getting that through the PFS which allowed us to declare that maiden reserve of 18Mt. Which looks like a first pass mine life of 18 years. If you take that from the total remaining inferred resource that gives you another 2 times that life if you like. Another 30 odd years of life after that, which really is something that people want to see. Is it a long-life project? Yes. Does it have the grade? Yes. Then we talk about the technical side. We’ve found this great Vanadium deposit. Is it special in grade? Is it special in thickness? Those are the things they want to hear. What is it like? Who’s done the same thing?

Matthew Gordon: Is it economic is where you want to get to.

Vincent Algar: Exactly. The PFS indicated that at the price ranges we gave. It’s economic. Is it’s fantastic at today’s price, which is when we look at and go, ‘well it can be a lot better’. What are we going to do to stay in business when we’re in business? And then last thing where are we going to get the capital.

Matthew Gordon: All great questions. Let’s answer a few of them.

Vincent Algar: The project itself from a metric point of view is very comparable to the Largo and Bushveld Projects in terms of the geology. So we know we’ve got tonnages. We’ve got concentrate grades, we’ve developed from our test work and we’ll be confirming in our pilot work, are in line with delivering a high-quality concentrate. Not the best concentrate in the world, not a 3% or 2% like Bushveld has, but certainly at that 1.4%, comfortably for the life of the project. So that’s a really important cornerstone of our delivery. The silica grade needs to be in a very tight space, very low. And that has implications for operating costs so you need to keep it down. We’re very comfortable with what we’ve done so far. We’ve continued to deliver far more work and again the pilot study will confirm that we can get good value at that.

Matthew Gordon: You’re looking for the $4.15.

Vincent Algar: Anywhere South of $4 is good. I think is good. Let’s say you’re looking at an operating margin of $4 on a price it’s $8.60 even if you say in the worst scenario for. So it’s the key thing in operation for us. We want to show in our study work that our operating cost can be comfortably and safely below $4 or at $4. And we’ve shown it in our PFS and we’ll continue to show that in the work we’re doing in the DFS. That is our goal because without that we’re not an option for people going forward.

Matthew Gordon: Okay.

Vincent Algar: The pilot study is about confirming everything and de-risking everything around the process route, to give people a comfort, whether it’s a bank or a small investor or institution, that the work is being done well, it’s being done properly and it reflects the feed that’ll go into the mine.

Matthew Gordon: And presumably a strategic partner? And institutions for sure on the money side, but that’s not necessarily going to come from banks or institutions. Are you having conversations with strategic investors?

Vincent Algar: So now you get to the point of the capital. So the operating cost is part of the study work. But the key thing is then we’ve got a capital number that has scared some people to be honest. And people look and go, ‘Oh it’s a big number’. You look at big projects around the world and it’s not a big number, compared to other projects. But people still look at and go. How are you going to get that money? You’ve got a $30-$40M market cap. You need to raise somewhere along the line you need to raise this to $350M. Now what we are doing in the DFS, is looking at all the options you’ve got to reduce that capital. So by taking things or not taking them away but engineering them out, they don’t have to be there. That’s the first thing. And that’ll allow us to a optimise the capital that we need to get from a strategic investor. They will also help us with de-risking the project as well significance.

Matthew Gordon: I mean that’s not a new model. Tried and tested done before. It’s a question of who you partner with and what they think of the asset that you’ve got. You’re doing something with the pilot plant. I can understand why they would find that particularly interesting because it gives them a better sense of what the economics and how hard this is going to be. So with those conversations, do you then step back let them come in on a project level and take over. Are you incubating this? Or do you think that actually, no I want to bring this into production. I’ll just take the money.

Vincent Algar: So you asked earlier about the key partners. We’ve got a target space that is cross that’s both incoming and outgoing if you like in terms of targeting people who are in the vanadium space, either as converters or as producers, across the world. We obviously we’ve got one MOU in place already. They are a converter. A converter being someone who either makes Ferro from vanadium or who makes VCN and from vanadium. So those are those are the converts space. They’re a very interesting market because they have got money, but they don’t have feed. Then you’ve got the smaller steel mills in China who are probably more likely to be ones that are going to be looking at it.

Matthew Gordon: Those conversations haven’t started yet? You know where to go?

Vincent Algar: There are conversations that we have ongoing. Conversations under CA (Confidentiality Agreement) mainly. Those are not at the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) level. They’re at the data review level. So we have an active data room.

Matthew Gordon: Those people may have been talking to lots of people. You’re one of them, if they like what they see, they may take it up.

Vincent Algar: It’s more pointed than that. It’s one-on-one MOU review of data. We have a data room. It’s very active. We have a full financial model which is at close to or at banking level.

Matthew Gordon: What I think is interesting is that a $30M market cap company has got this full data room available, because it knows now is the time to be having those conversations. Which means that your market cap is it going up the chance to grow or how does it grow? Where’s the value come from with a small company like this, where someone’s going to come in and take a sizeable piece of the action.

Vincent Algar: Well if someone comes in and takes a portion of the project say the project. Let’s just say hypothetically a corporate comes in. They like this for whatever reason they decide and then they want to make is that the proposal for a project level in. That earn amount and their ability to go through will be at the project level, not at the shareholder level. And that’ll reflect the value that we’ve put in the company. We would say in our presentations, in our model that this is where we think the projects worth. By them coming in validates that whole project for us.

Matthew Gordon: But others I’m trying to get at. I’m trying to understand your strategy. Your model. You’ve got an asset. You’ve only got one asset. Someone going to come in with cash, a strategic., It’s not coming in at the Australian vanadium PLC or Ltd state. They are coming in on the project level, so it doesn’t affect your share price, but it doesn’t leave much room for equity growth there unless you go and do something with either the cash you may receive for their portion, if there is any. You don’t have any other assets. How do you continue the growth component to your story?

Vincent Algar: Well you asked earlier to follow up one of your other questions. Do we want to stay there and do that. So our team is ideally equipped to actually build this thing. So the value creation really sits in the team sticking around and making it happen.

Matthew Gordon: So that will be the type of conversation you want to have.

Vincent Algar: That’s the conversation. We’re saying listen guys, ‘you want to come in and do, but we know that you will not be able to find a better Vanadium team with experience than you’ll find here’, both from a consulting point of view and an internal team point of view. We know what to do here, and we know you know what we what to do here. So we’re going to go and do that. So you come in and we’ll help you do it. At some point that goes past them wanting to do it but we’re then part of the team. So it’s adding value on our side, along the way while they help us do it. So that strategic investor will soften the blow of that funding requirement. It will allow the company to grow the valuation. We just have to look at the valuations of Largo and Bushveld today. A billion dollars and half a billion pounds. That’s where you can head to. So if those valuations are even partially reflected in the share price with those partners in play.

Matthew Gordon: You’ve got to do peer analysis at this level. It’s nice to say, ‘we’re like Bushveld’, but you are where you are.

Vincent Algar: We want to be like Bushveld.

Matthew Gordon: You want to be like Bushveld. But we’ve got to talk about where you are today. And what I’m trying to get out of you is, how do you move from $30M market cap. To $100M to $300M. What are those steps that you’re going to take, apart from the vanadium price going through the roof?

Vincent Algar: No of course. I’m not relying on that because that’s not a thing you can or should rely on. You’ve got to believe that the demand is there. So then when you’re in production you can sell it in to the market.

Matthew Gordon: Give me those steps then?

Vincent Algar: So we’re right at the point where our workflow really is cut out for us over the next six months.

Matthew Gordon: You know what you are doing. Okay.

Vincent Algar: Each of those workflow items are about value. Convincing everyone around us that we have each of those milestones ticked off and moving towards production.

Matthew Gordon: They are. 1. Get the DFS complete.

Vincent Algar: Absolutely

Matthew Gordon: 2. Get a strategic on board. With the prerequisite cash to do so. Then what?

Vincent Algar: Get our environmental approvals in order. And on the table and done. Decide on how the actual final layout of that plant looks. And then start to work on who our vendors are and how we’re going to deliver it. So get down to the dirty part of the engineering as soon as possible. But the environmental approval for us is always going to be a critical path. So as much work we do on the technical side. De-risking technically is very key for us. Our pilot study is essential part of our work. It precedes the DFS engineering component and the FEED study component. It’s something we’re doing now. We’re doing it in a quite an aggressive big way. Just to touch on that point. That will be the thing that defines what the circuit looks like and what the engineering will be. How much it’s going to cost us to build it. So we have to do it properly and do it well. So that is a body of work. But the environmental approval running alongside it is a time critical issue. You might have seen we put out an announcement last week. We signed an MOU with the neighbours West Gold. They’re pretty big fishing in our area, in terms of Gold production. They’re sitting with a lot of water in their pits. Us being able to access their water for our mining operation for the duration, significantly de-risks our water supply. And also it significant risks our environmental approval process, because we’re not risking any access to a deep aquifer. And all the Australian issues around these issues and we’re trying to avoid that because that is a red flag to them. And if we don’t have to go there it’s great. So active things like the MOU with West Gold is a really positive step for us. And we have to put those milestones on the table aggressively. But the pilot and the DFS that follow it are really most important. Those are where the value add comes in, because we can do those two things I mentioned earlier. We can lock in, plus or minus 15% of the operating cost that we would expect. And we can lock in our best shot at the capital reduction.

Matthew Gordon: That’s what I wanted to hear. So in a year’s time looking back, you’ll have done all of those things. What else would you have done?

Vincent Algar: By the end of next year? We’ll have moved through the DFS and started what’s called a Feed Study, a front engineering design. That starts to count how many rivets and pop rivets and pipes and everything that you need to have in the project. That’s really an important part because it finalises down to plus or minus. And getting people involved on the on the engineering EPC itself.

Matthew Gordon: So 18mths plus a little bit, you’re in production?

Vincent Algar: That’s right.

Matthew Gordon: So that’s quite exciting people know where they are. Let’s see what happens in the Vanadium market between now and then. Something you mentioned last time, which might smooth out the spikiness of Vanadium as it currently is, and you hope it doesn’t remain spikey, was the Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries. As a market, we know about the steel rebar etc. But this battery market, everyone’s excited about it. But it’s a nascent industry. It’s early days. You’re all learning. Gives us an update about what you’re doing.

Vincent Algar: I’m in London but I’m on my way to France to the International Flow Battery Forum. That’s a collection of Flow Battery scientists and companies that are involved in this space. Obviously because of the development of Vanadium Flow.

Matthew Gordon: Remind people, these are large, long-life storage of energy which is different from lithium, which is a shorter life cycle.

Vincent Algar: They are large scale stationary energy storage battery, not for EV market. But they are ideal for true load shifting. And where they come into their own is when we are applying lots of renewables to a grid, we need to really learn, on a global level, how we’re going to shift our energy that we capture from our renewables and use it at other times of the day. So Flow Battery sweet spot is around 4hrs-8hrs. So that’s a difference from the high punchy energy that we get of lithium ion.

Matthew Gordon: But these things because the electrolytes, it’s kind of liquid, they can build these things larger and larger.

Vincent Algar: They’re infinitely scalable.

Matthew Gordon: Scalable and reusable which is which is very interesting.

Vincent Algar: And they use a lot of Vanadium.

Matthew Gordon: So vanadium companies, you should if you’re watching this, should also consider them as a battery company going forward. But early days. You are all learning. So what’s something at this conference in France?

Vincent Algar: So the Flow Battery forum has been running for about 9yrs, I believe.

Matthew Gordon: Why is only now that people are taking notice of this?

Vincent Algar: I think if you look back to the history of Lithium Ion you would have found that they had probably a few years of conferences. They took off. And as a group of electro-chemical engineers mainly lots of thesis and proposals.

Matthew Gordon: But almost all of it centred around the benefit rather than any because vanadium is the core of the flow story. We get together but vanity which is a body that ourselves Bushveld and Largo like a belong to, and we have an active promotion effort within Vanitech that is centred around the development of the Flow Battery market. It’s a subcommittee on energy application of vanadium. We promote this to the to the flow battery companies. Principally because they are the ones who will be buying our vanadium to put in their batteries. They’ll require vanadium for their batteries to run. They are our key future customers.

Vincent Algar: And that works a couple of different ways. Okay. So again vanadium companies. Some are going to be fully vertically integrated. Some are not. Depends on capital constraints and skill sets in-house. The reality is for small companies like you. That’s too early to be thinking about but I know you’re spending a lot of time learning about it. Where do you hope that goes? As a collective we would need to create a market. So that’s why as a group, we’ve decided to use the Vanitech marketing platform to promote the use of Vanadium Flow Batteries globally. We do it via aggressive work on Twitter, on social media. By telling people what these batteries are. How they work. Where they go. What they do. And how much vanadium they use. But with the flow battery companies, they need to be educated about us as potential producers. We need to talk to each other and say ‘well what I need to do today?’, that I can produce a product that you can use in your battery. If your battery is different from your friend’s battery. What is the difference in the recipe that I have to give you versus giving him? And do you want to come to me with a long-term agreement to buy vanadium from me. That validates my new market. It is not too early to do that. It validates my reason for incorporating any design. Incorporating in my planning. Incorporating my off-take agreements that I’m trying to get.

Matthew Gordon: Which you hope you’ll get some value tribute to?

Vincent Algar: Absolutely. And we’ve seen it. That’s worked. One of our best early moves in the space was when Cell Cube out of Austria. We signed a sales deal with them while we were their agent in Australia. We’ve probably got $4-$5M on our market cap just for doing that in a few years ago I saw an article about Bushveld the other day and there was a value attribute put on value Bushveld Energy. So that’s a very interesting concept that there is actually a value of this energy component in what we do. We as vanadium companies need to create a market here. And we need to know exactly what that market is. If it’s real. What the requirements are of the products we need to produce for specification for example. So they all need a 99.4% or 99.6% with none of this, none of that. Minor element chemistries are really important. So we have to do some work on that. We can’t just take it out of our plant and there it is. It’s something you have to plan for. But it’s really important because if you have a market like this. It’s worth one or two additional mines at a minimum projection of new production. Again it gives us a differentiation between steel and another market, which at the moment the Vanadium market, spiky as it is, is driven by the steel market. We need to diversify.

Matthew Gordon: That’s the market as a whole. You’re going to follow the crowd. See what happens. Make your mind up some future point. Could you, for me because I think I’ve been maybe describing a company, and I shouldn’t be. How are you describing your company? You’ve got a big asset potentially 5% of the world’s Vanadium market. Depending on what happens now then. How are you positioning yourselves?

Vincent Algar: Some of those words, as you know, because you’ve heard them all before. They’ve been used very often right.

Matthew Gordon: Be honest.

Vincent Algar: So I think you’ve got to look at being able to show is the asset different from other assets. So in this case I do believe it has unique characteristics. It’s not totally unique. But it is a valid asset to take down this path. The only way for me to validate that the best way is to compare it to operating peers. Look at their metrics. Can I match their metrics? And the only way I can do that is match that in my study work. And I believe I can do that. So that’s for me how I validate. We are we good enough basically. Are we good enough to be in production. And the answer to that in my view is yes.

Matthew Gordon: It seems you’ve got the scale. You haven’t got the grades. You’re okay but you’re not 2%-3% as you said earlier. You’ve got to work on the economics in other ways. You talked about innovating and privatisation et cetera. Which was I’m a buyer of. So tell me the second question I ask you. So that’s how you want to characterise your company. How do you characterise your ability to your own investors to deliver in the next six months… the next 18 months?

Vincent Algar: My skill set is being able to sit here and talk to you and get some sort of message across. Being able to work and build a team around the right people to get the job done. So my own experience being resource based and having a corporate history of some sort enables me to be here. But it’s all about building a team that is able to deliver and at any stage I do believe we’ve really got the core of that team in place. With the vanadium experience which is a stand. We mentioned the leadership of a company of the size is really needs to be focused on people doing the job they need to do, and being empowered to do so at the right level. So we think we’ve got a good structure in place. Daniel Harris has got over 40 years of experience in the vanadium space but more importantly as a corporate guy. He’s been in a lot of corporate situations. He’s able to give us the guidance as a mentor, as well as a director that we structure ourselves properly and that the right people are doing the right things at the right time. I’m advancing the cause of funding. Is Todd doing the right thing being back working on the pilot study? Absolutely. He’s advancing the project. Those are the right things to be doing. So it’s about that it is a totally team structure thing. Trying to keep ego out of the structure of a junior company is absolutely essential. And the easiest way to remove ego from the project problem is to share the load at the top. And if you do that you are less likely of having a myopic answer or an egotistical answer which the ore body will always beat you.

Matthew Gordon: Thank you very much for that update. I really enjoyed that.

Pure Gold Mining (TSX-V: PGM) – Funded to Production H2/20, High-Grade, Low AISC

Interview with Darin Labrenz, President & CEO of Gold Developer Pure Gold Mining (TSX-V:PGM). If you want to invest in mining or invest in Gold you need to be sure about the company’s strategy and the management team’s ability to deliver. Pure Gold recently closed a debt financing agreement with Sprott for $90M. This follows closely on from an equity raise in July for $47.5M. This means that they are fully financed through to production by the end of 2020. The company is hoping that their story will mean investors invest in Gold in Canada.

Investing in mining has slowed down in Canada in the last two years. Investing in stocks such as PGM has been slow too, especially compared to its peers. Darin Labrenz explains why now is a good time to look at Pure Gold Mining and mining stocks in general. He tells us why investors should not be nervous about their mine plan following the Feasibility Study. This is a large area play which needs planning and investing in Gold mines is expensive so investors need confidence.

Interview highlights:

  • Overview of the Company
  • Sprott Debt Financing and Company Financials
  • The Market: When is the Share Price Going to Move and Why?
  • Feasibility Study, Resource Risk & Assets: What are They Focusing On?
  • Why Should You Invest in Pure Gold?
  • Entry into the LSE, Share Price and Shareholders

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: We spoke at the end of April. A lot of good things have happened since then. So why don’t we kick off, just give people new to this story, one-minute summary and then we’ll get into some of these exciting developments. 

Darin Labrenz: We are Pure Gold Mining. Our flagship asset is the Madison Red Lake Mine, located in Northwest Ontario. In February of this year we completed a Feasibility Study that outlines an 800tpd underground mine with 1Moz Reserves at 9g/t, which makes it today the highest-grade development projects in Canada. Recently we announced a $90M a debt project finance package, which puts us in a position today where we’re fully funded for construction and anticipate for pour by the end of 2020. 

Matthew Gordon: Well, let’s kick off with one of those things you just mentioned. I think it’s the big news of the days, the Sprott debt financing. Can you tell us a little bit about how that breaks down? In fact, how did it come about because you listed on the LSE recently. You were going to talk to both markets about raising some capital. However, Sprott has come along and are giving everything you want. 

Darin Labrenz: We listed in London in May, looking to satisfy the equity component of our project financing ideally with a raise that was going to be supported by both the UK audience and the North American audience. In the end, Sprott did come along with the Bought Deal proposal and the lead investor in that was Eric Sprott himself. So Eric took down $20M of the $47.5M that we raised, putting them as a 10.2% shareholder of the company. We were able to draw in some UK participation. It wasn’t as much as we obviously had hoped for, but certainly did see some support from UK as well. Our listing in UK is still part of a broader plan to increase liquidity exposure for the company. So $47.5M raised in equity. And then we followed that up with a $90M financing package, which is broken down to $65M debt facility and a $25M US Callable Gold stream. 

Matthew Gordon: That’s a lot of moving parts. You’re fully funded now. Is that correct?

Darin Labrenz: We’re fully funded. In fact, when you look at our initial capital requirement for the mine, it’s a $71M. We raised $90M in our facility, plus the $47.5M equity raise and so the fantastic thing is we’re sitting in a position right now where we’re set to pour first gold in the end of next year, but we’re still continuing to drill and continue to pursue growth strategy for the company and in the financing that we’ve done is enabled us to be able to pursue that. 

Matthew Gordon: Why $47.5M equity? Why not less? It would be less dilutive? Is that because you didn’t know at the time. Were you engaged with Sprott at the time with regards to this debt facility?

Darin Labrenz: We were well down a path, with respect to a project finance facility, but at the end of the day, we didn’t really know what the final outcome would be in terms of the quantum that we would raise, the breakdown of how it would be raised. And so the $47.5M gives us the most flexibility moving forward. One of the things we want to be able to do and will be able to with this is, as I mentioned, to pursue a fairly aggressive growth strategy. And so we do continue to drill on the property and we’ll do so through the balance that you’re looking to increase Resources and areas, our new discoveries, that weren’t incorporated in the feasibility plan, we’re looking to ultimately incorporate them. The other thing is with this financing as it gives us a lot of flexibility moving forward with respect to the project build. No need for cost overrun facility, given that we have a fair bit of room in there with respect to the equity and debt components of the project finance package.

Matthew Gordon: If I look at the share chart it makes for a kind of sober reading. As I said when we spoke last time, you guys had got some great numbers in there, but the market didn’t really care and you are up from, I think we when we spoke at $0.55, but at $0.62 today, but it’s not a lot of movement. Obviously, you’ve had a bit of dilution recently, but do you think that this has just been about timing in terms of the equity raise, the way the market was going. Obviously in the last two months, Gold has moved considerably. We’ll see where it goes. If this had happened 3 months later where it clearly would have been better for you? How do you assess what’s gone on in the last three months re. around the financing?

Darin Labrenz: We can’t really predict what direction the markets are going to go. We were happy to receive a proposal from Sprott that included the equity investment by Eric Sprott. I see this as another sign of validation. When you look at the company, we have 4 cornerstone investors. You’ve got AngloGold Ashanti, which participated in equity financing, maintaining their pro-rata position so they’re a 14% shareholder. You’ve got Eric Sprott now at 10%, I’ve got Rob McEwen at 5%, and you’ve got Newmont Gold Corp in there. So a strong validation from two senior producers and two mining Titans. I can say when you look at Sprott and you look at Rob McEwen, they didn’t buy Pure Gold to come in for the mine that we’re trying to build. They bought with the anticipation that it could be much larger. And that’s certainly our view. You look at some of the opportunities that those two gentlemen have been an integral part of Gold Corp.  Rob McEwan, founder of Goldcorp, that company was launched really by the discovery of the high-grade zone, deeper down in the Red Lake Mine. And similarly, when you look at Kirkland Lake, which has been highly successful, led by Eric Sprott, the Fosterville mine has really rekindled itself with deeper down, high-grade discoveries. We think that that same potential exists at Madison and the financing we raised allows us to pursue a plan to demonstrate that. 

Matthew Gordon: But coming at it from the perspective of a retail investors, high net worth’s, family office investors, we’re looking at where the shares have been doing. You’ve been busy.  You’ve got a great grades, great project, it’s cheap in terms of the cap backs component to this, but the market just hasn’t reacted in the way that you’d hoped. With Eric Sprott coming in now and Sprott themselves coming into this, do you think that’s good for the institutional players or do you think there’s room for retail to actually do well as well? When’s the share price going to move, and why? 

Darin Labrenz: We clearly think that we’re undervalued. I have no doubt that there was a bit of an overhang with respect to project finance. So when you look at that typical mining investment curve, often companies will stall as they go into a period of project finance, into a construction period and ultimately start to generate cashflow where you tend to rerate. We think we’re really unique in this scenario in that our project build is very short. And so we made it a decision to construct last week and we’ve got a 13 month project build and anticipate pouring Gold by the second half next year. And we see this as the best of both worlds because not only are we moving towards the cashflow positive, but we have sufficient financing and funds in the treasury today to continue to drill in team to generate that growth interest. 

Matthew Gordon: Let’s talk about the Feasibility Study. Because if I look at chat rooms and forums, people are nervous about the plan, can you tell them why they shouldn’t be in terms of the deep watering access, rehabilitation…those sorts of things? Why should they not be nervous about the plan that you guys have laid out here? Because if I look back, a lot of Gold companies, their prices have popped. Gold at over $1,500. Yours has moved a little bit, but not a lot. Do think there’s this nervousness in the market about your plan?

Darin Labrenz:  Let’s talk about the Resource first and Resource risk. When you look at our project, we’ve got more than 1M meters of drilling that has gone into defining the Resource. In fact, the average spacing between drill holes within the feasibility reserve is 6.5m which is absolutely incredible. I mean, I’ve never worked on a project with that kind of density of drilling. So from that standpoint the Resource itself is very well-informed. This is a brand new mine that we’re building, all of the development is new. So when you look at the initial capital requirement $95M million. We’ve got about $31M going into preproduction underground development that’s putting in new openings to access the ore body. With respect to de-watering well that’s a natural phenomenon that every underground mine has to go through and I don’t see any particular risks associated with that. At the end of the day, we’ve got a very high-grade reserve, 9g/t, 1Moz in what I would call the starter mine and a huge opportunity here for additional Resource and reserve development as we push forward. 

Matthew Gordon: But what is the plan? This is a very big area you’re dealing with here. This isn’t one small asset, you know where everything is because you’ve done a lot of drilling. You’ve got a plan for a development of a whole entire area. What are you focusing on? 

Darin Labrenz: I mean it is a big area, but we’re talking about a mine that’s going to last for 12 years, in the base case. So we’ve got new discoveries near surface that we think have the potential to impact the mine as we move forward and we continue to drill in those areas. Ultimately, we’re looking at establishing all of the access required to develop the min. We’ll start with the existing ramp, which goes down 150 meters and we’re going to push that ramp downwards. We’ll eventually start moving into access development for the first stoping areas that’ll form the first part of our mine plan. And then in year three, we’re going to incorporate the shaft. And so what you ultimately see here is meta-materials accessing the mine via a brand-new ramp system and then all of the ore will be hoisted out of the shaft, which gives you a real operational benefit. So this is a reasonable size area but it’s an area that’s going to be developed over the course of 12 years and we think has potential to go for much longer than that. 

Matthew Gordon: So the plan will evolve over time the more data you gather. And so do you feel for right now, you’re fully funded. You’ve got enough margin in there for error to make sure that this thing gets into production towards the end of next year, you’re good?

Darin Labrenz: That’s right. And let’s not forget that our project has a history. It operated successfully for 36 years, generated 2.6Moz Gold over that period at a grade of 10g/t. So we have the benefit of a successful mining history and we also conducted a test mining program last year were also achieve plus 10g/t in test mining.  Within the two areas that we had planned in mine. Reconciliation was fantastic. We were within 1% on our expected tons. We overachieved our grade and at the end of the day we realised 13% more ounces out of those two areas. But one of the things that test mine showed us, is that with drilling hang wall and foot wall we were able to see better continuity in a lower grade portion of the model and ultimately, we were able to extract another 1,575t out of the area of grade of 8.7g/t, such that we actually achieved better than 50% more ounces than we expect in that area with that additional discovery. So, those all go along when you’re de-risking the existing infrastructure that we have in place. The 1M meters of drilling, very close density of drilling, it’s all brand-new development, fresh rock. This is a newer body that sits well away from any historical mining. And, then we’ve mined ourselves and achieved what we expected. 

Matthew Gordon: And, so remind me again some of the numbers, the IRR is 35%-36% sort of level. What was the AISC on this? 

Darin Labrenz: It’s $787 per ounce. 

Matthew Gordon: A great AISC. So that all the figures that one we typically look at on this project are good. You’ve just been in this rather boring period waiting for project finance to come through. But you think people should start paying attention now, because you’re moving to production and it’s quick production too. Let’s not forget there’s a very small CapEx required for this.

Darin Labrenz: Exactly. And our project obviously is very highly levered to Gold. All of our costs are in Canadian dollars. One of the things that quietly happened last week was when Gold hit $1,500per ounce in Canadian dollar terms across $2,000, which was an all-time record high in Canadian dollars. So when you look at our IRR and after tax NPV of the project, and our base case, which was $1,275 grounds. Our NPV is $250M. Today it’s $400M, so you can see the impact of the rising Gold price., And we think that we’ve got a project here that perfectly timed to deliver into the market. 

Matthew Gordon: Well, you and a lot of other Gold companies at the moment feel that way and we need Gold to sustain. That’s really interesting. Can we just finish off on the entry into the LSE? Obviously, you did that for a purpose to get out there and start talking to and have new investors see the story because the Canadian market was slightly frozen. How’s that gone for you? 

Darin Labrenz: We’re really excited about our secondary listing on the main market of the London Stock Exchange. We’ve got a bit of work ahead of us to continue to broaden the exposure, generate interest and generate liquidity. We’ve traded 500,000 shares on the London market today, which is a new milestone for us and we’re committed to it. We’ll continue to do to try and develop the exposure for Pure Gold and our project.

Matthew Gordon: So that’s great about what’s going on with the LSE? How’s trading overall? 

Darin Labrenz: We’ve been trading a lot of volume here over the last couple of weeks. In fact, we’ve created about 25M shares. So, I think we’ve had a bit of an overhang with respect to the financing, but I think we’re setting a new floor here and we’re really ready to break out. 

Matthew Gordon: You’ve got marketing in Canada and marketing in London, and you’re committed to that?

Darin Labrenz: Absolutely

Matthew Gordon: So, Retail’s important to you?

Darin Labrenz: All of our shareholders are important to us. Retail is a key component of our shareholder base and will continue to be so in the future. 

Matthew Gordon: Thanks very much for today. Really enjoyed that conversation. Thanks for the update. 

Darin Labrenz: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about our project and I appreciate the line of questioning. You’ve taken a lot of character to go in depth and ask questions about our project that might not otherwise be brought to light so I appreciate the opportunity to respond. Thank you. 


Company page: http://puregoldmining.ca/

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.

Exore Resources (ASX: ERX) – Gold Explorer with $10M in cash. Maiden Resource in September

Interview with Justin Tremain, Managing Director of Gold explorer Exore Resources (ASX: ERX).

How does Exore Resources stand out in a busy field of Gold Explorers? The Birimian Greenstone Belt has over 60 +1Moz Gold Resource companies. Which one should investors choose? Exore is in the right region but also leads to a challenge about how to get investors to notice them. We listen to what Justin Tremain has to say on the matter. One of the big plus points is that they have $10M in cash to be able to choose what to do next. We find out how Exore intends to spend their money to create actual shareholder value. What’s the exit?

They are looking to deliver a maiden Resource in the next few weeks. Hoping to deliver 400,000-5000,000 oz. What is Exore doing about promoting their company to retails and what are they saying? We want to find out how they are differentiating themselves in front of institutional shareholders. All licences and permits in place for now and hitting comparable grades for the region if not slightly higher.

Interview Highlights:

  • The Overview of the Company
  • Mining in West Africa and Companies of Côte d’Ivoire
  • Promotion: How Do You Stand Out From the Rest?
  • Cash is King and They’ve Got It
  • Strategy of the company: Why Put Out a Maiden Resource Now?
  • Share Price and Shareholders
  • Assets, Drilling and Permits – Do They Know What They Have?
  • Management Team and Relevant Experience
  • Are the Markets Treating Them Fairly?

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: Could you give us a one-minute a summary of the company and then we could look into some questions after that? 

Justin Tremain:  Exore is a very new company in its current form. It’s only been around for less than one year. We’re a gold exploration company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange with a head office here in Perth in Australia. But our project and our sole focus is on a gold expiration project in the Northern part of Cote d’Ivoire, which we acquired in December last year. So we’ve be aggressively exploring that project over the last 7-8 months, we’ve had a lot of success as our drilling results will show over the last 6 months. 

Matthew Gordon: You’ve been in the current form for less than a year. What was it before? 

Justin Tremain: Before it was just a cash shell, going back some time and had some lithium assets and that’s where the cash came from and then I joined the company. When I joined the company last year it was just a well-funded cash vehicle without a project and looking for a project. We had a $15MIL market cap with $15MIL in the bank.  

Matthew Gordon: Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa, well-known gold producing area, lots of companies in the area. I assume that’s why you decided to go there? How did you get into the project? How did you find it? 

Justin Tremain: It was really the project that attracted us first and foremost. It was a project that I was familiar with, when we looked at the project, we could say that there’d been a lot of early reconnaissance exploration work done by the previous explorer, but not a lot of drilling. And there was a really stellar walk up drill targets, and obviously we had the money to be able to do the project justice. And then when we looked at the country, we really saw a huge opportunity in Cote d’Ivoire. It really is the most stable place in West Africa now. And there’s long been an argument that it’s got the greatest opportunity because it has a very large percentage of the Birimian greenstone belts situated in Cote d’Ivoire, but it just hasn’t had the same exploration focus of the neighbouring countries. Yet it is that now over the last five or six years, the more stable countries now. So, it was really a project that got us that interested first. But then when we looked at the country, we could really see a lot of activity and a lot of interest building in Cote d’Ivoire of the next couple of years. 

Matthew Gordon: I noticed a very interesting chart at the back of your power point, ranking for terrorist activity. I see Cote d’Ivoire is actually below the UK and the US which I thought it was quite amusing. 

Justin Tremain:  It’s a very topical issue for West Africa and really for the world. But in West Africa, in some of the Northern countries, it’s becoming a major issue and it becomes very difficult to take exploration when you have those security issues. And unfortunately, Cote d’Ivoire did have one incident a number of years ago, but it hasn’t had any recent experiences. 

Matthew Gordon: You must get that question a lot with regards to safety. I think there are some countries slightly further North of you that perhaps do have that consideration. Cote de ’Ivoire, great country, I’ve worked there, nice people as well. So, if we look at the Birimian greenstone, it is prolific. In your PowerPoint you say there are over 60  +1Moz businesses there already so it is prolific. But isn’t that part of the problem? It’s all it’s very attractive but isn’t that part of your problem too in that you are one of many gold explorers in the region and you’re trying to stand out. Do you agree that’s a problem? And if so, what are you doing about it? 

Justin Tremain: I don’t really see it as a problem. At the end of the day, large gold discoveries are going to get interest from the market. The issue is getting a land position in the country because all of West Africa is highly sought after. But the ground we have managed to put our foot on, it’s very difficult to get a position like that. We have over 1,000km2 under tenure now and we’re very fortunate that the exploration company prior to us spent 4 years in putting together that package and spent 4 years before they could get on the ground and do any exploration, which obviously becomes a very frustrating and costly period. And when it was done we were able to step in and get started straight away with our exploration. So, the challenge there is more just getting that ground position and we’re able to do that in one transaction. 

Matthew Gordon: That’s a factor of getting land and being able to do mining. But your team also needs to worry about financing, share price…. You have a lot of cash in the bank, and we’ll come onto that in a second, because that’s your plus point. But in terms of promoting the company, is it not a concern of yours that you’ve got lots of people going around telling pretty much the same story and they’re sitting with Resource as well? 

Justin Tremain: For us it’s all about just adding value to the project and undertaking exploration in a very financially prudent and efficient manner. And then drilling results, as we’ve being put out over the last 6 months, will ultimately attract the attention of investors. Then obviously as an exploration company you are beholden to your share price. Do you need to raise further funds at some point in the future? And therefore, it’s important to be able to set yourself apart. But ultimately, that’s just in drilling results and then being able to find Resources. So, I think new discoveries, which we think we’re on to 2 such new discoveries, are always going to generate quite a lot of excitement. 

Matthew Gordon: You do have to do those things, but there’s a bunch of other companies doing exactly the same thing and they’re going to be going back to the ASX or AIM  and reporting the same story as you. So how do you stand out? What is the plan going forward? I know you are early stages, but I’m just interested in your think thinking. 

Justin Tremain: It’s a good question. What actually got me interested in Exore as a company before we had a project was its cash position. I mean, most junior exploration companies don’t have the benefit of having $15M in the bank that they can put to work and therefore really are beholden to exploration results and market conditions over the next 6 months. Whereas we were able to not worry about that, well-funded and not having to worry about raising any capital in the future and able to go about our business. 

Matthew Gordon: Let’s talk about the cash position, because I think that the two things in your favour I think, Aussie gold price. 

Justin Tremain: I mean, really, it’s the US gold price that is generating up interest for us with as we’re sort of US dollar environment in Cote de ‘Ivoire.  

Matthew Gordon: And so, cash. You’ve got what, $10M? 

Justin Tremain:  Yeah, that’s right. I’m just under $10M now, right around doing very active exploration programs. 

Matthew Gordon: So how are you going to spend that? When will that last you through to? You’re going to $30M-ish market cap today. You’re going to spend $10M. What do you want to see at the end of that? 

Justin Tremain:  Well, what got us interested in this project is we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t see the potential for a multimillion-ounce gold project ultimately. And for us that’s 2Moz-3Moz plus, which is a standalone project, which you could then take through to feasibility and ultimately development and production. So that’s our goal, where we sit today. It’s been 6 months and we’ve spent about $5M. I believe we’ll come out with a Maiden Resource in the next few weeks. And that should be a stepping stone towards that ultimate goal of a 2Moz-3Moz project. And I think it would be quite a significant stepping stone towards there and we’ve been able to achieve that with about $5M of expenditure. And so hopefully we can continue to continue to grow that Maiden Resource going forward over the next 12 months. And then when we next come back to the market, we’ll be based on a project that has a Resource firstly, and a much more substantial Resource, than what we’ll be putting out in the next few weeks. And a far more advanced project. 

Matthew Gordon: A Maiden Resource. That’s good. And so, you’re expecting what sort of level? 

Justin Tremain: Oh, it’s difficult to say until we put it out as an announcement. But I think, for us to say it is a material milestone, we’d be really looking for an initial position of for 400,000-500,000oz of gold. And that to us would be a pretty significant milestone to achieve in just 6 months of exploration. 

Matthew Gordon: And why did you feel the need to put out a Maiden Resource now? Shouldn’t you just be drilling, drilling and drilling and put out a meaningful Maiden Resource, 1Moz plus, that sort of level? You’ve got the cash. You’re not under any pressure. Why do it? 


Justin Tremain: Once again, that’s a very good question and something of much debate. We are an exploration company. So, going back to what you’re touching on before, what sets us apart is we want to be able to show that we’ve achieved something tangible in the first 6 months rather than just a whole lot of drilling results and be able say, what does this mean? And that sort of leads us to putting a Maiden Resource out, albeit very much an interim position, that then allows the analyst to say, well, they’ve actually achieved what they said they were going to do in the first 6 months and gives people confidence in what we’ll do in the next 6 months. 

Matthew Gordon: But it’s a very conventional response to mining, is to do it the way that you’ve done it. So, there’s nothing wrong with it because it’s conventional. But if we look at companies like Great Bear in Canada, they’re just drilling. There’s no Resource being put out because they’re hitting the grades. They’re drilling, drilling, drilling. But the analysts understand that. Again, coming back to the thinking of management team.

Justin Tremain: Again, I think it’s a slightly different model for TSX listed companies vs. ASX listed companies. TSX listed companies just like to drill, drill, drill until they have a very substantial Resource, a Maiden Resource. Whereas ASX companies tend to try and show a little bit more progression as the project ways forward. Really for us, we started out as a cash shell, no institutional shareholders, no analysts following. And I think just putting a Resource out allows us to attract some more institutions and we’ve been able to do in the last 6 months, but hopefully attract further institutions to our register, on the back of also some analysts picking up coverage of the company going forward. 

Matthew Gordon: You’ve got all this cash, so you’ve got all the optionality. You can decide how you’re going to spend it, how quickly you going to spend it, how many drills you’ve got running at the same time. But you’re conscious of the share price. What are you, $0.07 cents, something like that? 

Justin Tremain: Yeah, we’re trading around 8-8.5 cents. I wouldn’t say we’re too conscious about the share price over the next 6 months. But we are conscious where the share price may be in a years’ time the share price, it doesn’t happen overnight. So, gaining exposure doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process. 

Matthew Gordon: But it’s something that you’re conscious of, that you need to be speaking to institutions and Retail. You’ve got about 50% Retail following, mostly Australian. 

Justin Tremain: Yeah, look I think all expiration companies are conscious of the share price because it is ultimately the way they fund the company going forward. And the most critical thing for an exploration company is to try and minimise dilution for its shareholders going forward and therefore the share prices are always a critical thing for our junior exploration company. 

Matthew Gordon: How are you differentiating yourself with your story to those analysts who’ve seen a lot of gold stories out there, there’s a lot of West African gold stories out there, you’re an explorer, high risk stage of  Exploration.

Justin Tremain:  Well, there’s 2 things the really that differentiate us. One is our cash position and therefore, if therefore people who invest in Exore today they are unlikely to be facing dilution in the short term. And then secondly, and ultimately the most important, is the drilling results that we’ve been able to put out which shows that we’ve made a discovery of what we call the Antoinette area and looks like we’re making a second discovery in emerging discovery at Veronique. And that really differentiates us and the grade of those intercepts. And ultimately that’ll come out in our Maiden Resource, we think we’ll be able to show a modest start in terms of quantum. It should be at a pretty good grade for our Resource, which is sitting at surface. 

Matthew Gordon: Right. If I’m looking at comps, like at Cardinal next door, Ghana. They’re sitting up 5Moz, heading towards 7Moz, market cap $130MIL… They’ve been drilling, but they haven’t got the response in the market that they had hoped for. So, are you nervous about the current strategy delivering for you? Or do you have some degree of confidence? If so, where do that come from? 

Justin Tremain: We have a lot of confidence because what we’re talking about is an initial step, it’s just on one very small area at Antoinette. We’ve been drilling elsewhere, step out on that particular area that we’re looking at putting a Resource around within the broader Antoinette area. But also, at this new discovery, Veronique, which we’re not featuring any Maiden Resource but at some point in the future we hope that that will provide a step change to the project in terms of scale. 

Matthew Gordon: You’ve got all the licenses and permits that you currently need to be doing this drilling and you are drilling without any interference or obstruction. 

Justin Tremain:  Correct, actually, it’s a very important point. So, obviously tenure is always topical in a developing country and in Africa. And so it is part of the acquisition of this project at the end of last year, one of the critical conditions was the government approving the transaction, which they did, but also to renewing the permit which happened in the beginning of December. And that was really the final condition to the application. So, in Cote d’Ivoire, we had our permits renewed as part of the mining code for 3 years. And then we have the right to renew those for a further 2 periods, subject obviously to meeting our work commitments. But given the amount of drilling that we’ve been doing over the last 6 months, there is no question of meeting our work commitments.   

Matthew Gordon: You’re hitting similar grades to lots of companies in that Birimian greenstone belt. They’re good grades. Your focus going forward is about understanding how much of it you’ve got, right? Because at the moment, you don’t quite know what you’ve got. 

Justin Tremain: That’s right. I think the grades we’re hitting are at the upper end of some of the other round operating gold mines and just deposits around us. So, I think the grades is reasonably good, reasonably high-grade for surface mineralization. But you’re absolutely right. It’s all about how much gold we can define and the scale of the soil anomalies that we’re drilling definitely demonstrate that potential for that multimillion-ounce discovery. And the area that we’ve been drilling at Antoinette, represents probably, I think 10-15% soil anomaly within that area there. And as I said, we have a number of other very large-scale soil anomalies and one of which we’ve started to drill and have some success there. 

Matthew Gordon: So, let me just understand it better. You’ve started a process. You’ve got a land package, got the licenses, permits, the grades are at the upper end of the Birimian type usual numbers. But where’s this thing going once you’ve kind of built out some scale to it? Where’s the exit point for you guys? Because all of the mid-tier or the big boys are looking for ounces in the ground. And you must be conscious of that. So, what are you doing about it? How do you stand from the 60 other explorers in that region? 

Justin Tremain: My view is, you take the project forward. We’re at the stage of exploration, which I think is really where the value is created, is discovery and defining a Resource. But once we have the critical mass, which in my view is 2Moz-3Moz of gold Resource, then the company will evolve. The team will evolve. And we take that that Resource and project through Feasibility and ultimately develop. That’s where we’ll go. Now, if there’s interest along the way, so be it. But if we’re not taking the project forward and adding value to the project, then we’re not going to attract any interest in the future. So that that would be our strategy. But also, the area that we’re operating in, there is 2 existing operations in close proximity to us already, which have reasonably limited mine life as well, which when we look to these projects was always a little bit of a fall-back position, that there are 2 operating mills in close proximity, which in the next couple of years we’ll probably need additional mill feet. 

Matthew Gordon: And from what perspective? Go and buy those mills or just offer feedstock? 

Justin Tremain: We’d be way too early to tell at this stage. As I said, that’s very much a fall-back position for us. Our current strategy is to go into line and discover a Resource that has the economies of scale to development as a standalone project. 

Matthew Gordon: Have you seen any examples of companies being taken out with 2Moz-3Moz? Is that a normal scenario in West Africa? 

Justin Tremain: You know, there’s a lot of cases of West Africa companies getting to that 2-3MIL ounces and then being taken out. No question about that. I mean, it was a recent transaction within Cote d’Ivoire a few months ago, it was only 0.5MIL ounce Resource. Not a company, but a project held by the company, Newcrest, which Rosco came in and bought. So, that’s an example of a transaction I think that pays from maybe $20M with another $20M to come for 0.5Moz Resources. So, you can put that sort of that as the benchmark against Exore. 

Matthew Gordon: That’s a good one. I think there’s a lot of data that came with that project as well. So that’s a fair point. So let’s talk about the management team, track record and experience in the region and creating shareholder value ie making people money. Tell us a bit about the team.

Justin Tremain: Yes. So the county is chaired by John Fitzgerald. He’s a very well-known mining financier here in Australia. He sits on the board of Northern Star, which is obviously one of the most successful gold company in Australia over the last 10 years. Then myself, I joined the company 12 months ago really with the mandate to secure a project for the company, to put money to work on a project that offered a lot of upside in terms of our exploration potential. Prior to joining Exore, I founded and ran a company that defined and completed a feasibility study on the first gold mining project in Cambodia, so another developing jurisdiction. That company got taken over in 2016 and that company is now taking that project through development. And I remained at that for 12 months before coming across into Exore. And then on ground we have an Exploration Manager who is highly experienced in West Africa, spent the last 12 years purely in West Africa on a gold projects and has been involved in 2 quite significant gold discoveries in the Burkina Faso and some exposure in Cote d’Ivoire. He saw the potential of our projects and that’s why he was keen to join us on the ground as our exploration manager. 

Matthew Gordon: What’s the shareholding structure look like? There’s a big retail component to this, but how much of the management sitting on? 

Justin Tremain: On a diluted basis it’s just under 10% of the company.. A lot of that has been actual shares bought on market. 

Matthew Gordon: Any significant shareholders or significant parties that we should be aware of?

Justin Tremain: As I touched on before, as a cash shell had no institutions on our register yet, in December last year and now we have a number of institutions on our register which our drilling results have attracted that interest and that sort of set us apart from these companies that you refer to. We’ve been able to attract these institutions on our registry in a market that’s reasonably challenging still for exploration. One of those is a North American institution that’s a very active gold fund. It owns over 6% of the company. Then we have a number of Australian institutions sitting below that 5% disclosure level. 

Matthew Gordon: And do you think the market’s giving you fair value at $30M for what you have? 

Justin Tremain: I don’t think too many managing directors would think that. But look, as I said before, there’s a reasonably recent corporate transaction, where hard cash is being paid for fairly modest size Resources of I think 430,000 ounces at the time, which was a transaction at higher than our current value. But ultimately, we’re well-funded. So the share price is what it is. We just keep going and stepping out and producing the drilling results that we’ve been putting out over the last 6 months, which show these projects grow and grow. And ultimately, I think the share price will react accordingly. 

Matthew Gordon: You’ve got 4 projects – there’s  a great chart on page 16 of your most recent presentation. Antoinette, Veronique, Liberty and Project Wide. So they’re all at different stages. You’ve got to allocate your $10M somehow. So where’s it mostly being focused and directed?

Justin Tremain: Really, we have 2 permit areas, the Northern one we call Bogoe project and then the southern one, the Liberty Project. And whilst we call them different project names, they’re actually only about 35km apart. So if we define Resources, depending on the grade, obviously, on either of those projects, they definitely are complementary to each other. 90% of our focus has been on the Bogoe project which within that sits the Antoinette Prospect and discovery and also about 12km to the South, the Veronique new emerging gold discovery. So that that’s definitely our focus and both those areas are quite large. They’re about 7-8km, by 3-4km in width and we’ve really just touched the tip of the iceberg on both of those areas.

Matthew Gordon: And these are relatively shallow deposits as well. Is that right? 

Justin Tremain: Everything we’re drilling is. Open pittable Resources is what we’re targeting. So really in the top 150m. Everything is mineralization, is outcropping at surface there. And our priority is actually drilling the at the top 100m, which is predominantly where the oxide material is, which has also metallurgical and mining benefits. And that is actually one of the advantages of this part of the well in Northern Cote d’Ivoire, the weathering is very, very deep. So to be talking about 60m or 70m of weathering, which is very deep. 

Matthew Gordon: The other thing that’s an important point for people to understand about the gold in this region in the Birimian, is it does make it easier and cheaper to mine. So you’re expecting reasonably good ASIC numbers when you get to that point of understanding it. There are 60 other explorers and developers there who we can use some of their data to extrapolate from.

Justin Tremain: I would say about Cote d’Ivoire as well, which is surprising, is the infrastructure is very good, which then has some advantages particularly in capital cost. We’re no more than 30 kilometres off Silk Road. There’s high voltage power lines throughout northern Cote d’Ivoire, probably no further than 30 kilometres from a high voltage power line, so they have some cost advantages as well and the ground is all very open and the ground is very flat. So we have all these significant advantages when we get to that point. But ultimately, grade is king and what we are defining is pretty good grade when we compare ourselves to other deposits in the region. 

Matthew Gordon: I think I think that’s fair to say. Justin, thank you very much for your time today. That’s been a wonderful introduction to Exore. Very interesting indeed. That’s a fantastic part of the world. We look forward to hearing more from you as things develop.

Justin Tremain: Thanks for your time today and look forward to chatting further in the future. 


Company page: http://www.exoreresources.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.

Fission 3.0 (TSX-V:FUU) – The Strategy for Uranium Explorer Spin-off from Fission Uranium

Interview with Ross McElroy, Uranium COO and Chief Geologist of Fission 3.0 (TSX-V: FUU). Another small Uranium explorer speaks to us and tells us how they think they can make it. Fission 3.0 are in the Athabasca basin and believe they have picked up some quality assets.

We interrogate them about how long it has taken to get to where they are today and why they think that investors should think about investing on this Uranium exploration play.

Interview Highlights:

  • Overview of the Company & Birth of Fission 3.0
  • Relevant team experience with Uranium exploration.
  • What’s been done in the 5 years the Company’s been running?
  • M&A and their financing options.
  • Their strategy for growth and their model to make it attractive to shareholder.
  • Targeting projects: uranium winners vs picking up scraps in the Athabasca basin.

Click here to watch the video.


Matthew Gordon: So, tell us about Fission 3.0.

Ross McElroy: You know, really it was all about still wanting to be able to be an explorer. Fission Uranium, the big company, is really all about developing the PLS project, RRR deposit. That’s a project that the legs and the ability to go through to, ultimately, a production story, quite different than the exploration arm. Really that’s why Fission 3.0 was set up several years ago, and was spun out of Fission Uranium Corp. Just to be simple about it, what we did is we’ve acquired a lot of grassroots projects, primarily in the Athabasca Basin. Our goal in Fission 3.0 is really to go out and make a new discovery, similar to what we’ve already done several times.

Matthew Gordon: So, let’s say this is a new story to everyone here. Tell us a bit about you. What’s your background? What’s your skill set relative to this exploration play?

Ross McElroy: I’m a geologist. I started working in the industry back in the mid-1980s. Interesting enough and relevant for this story. My first job was with what’s now Cameco. So, I worked with a uranium major. That was my first real job out of school. I’ve spent the good part of my early career in the Athabasca Basin hunting for uranium, looking for those high-grade deposits with Cameco. I ended up working with the French conglomerate as well, currently called Orano, and they were really in the same space and looking for deposits in the Athabasca Basin. So, that’s really where I got started. I spent about 14 years with BHP, mostly in gold exploration – gold and diamonds. So, I’ve been a mining geologist with them. So, I guess you could say my career has really spanned everything from grassroots exploration, through to mining and multiple commodities. But really, uranium is my main focus.

Matthew Gordon: Tell us a little bit about Paul Charlish, what does he do?

Ross McElroy: Paul Charlish is our CFO. He’s been the CFO with Fission Uranium Corp and has the same role with Fission 3.0.

Matthew Gordon: Dev’s the market guy. You’re the technical guy and you’re driving the business, but you’ve been doing this for five years. So what’s happened in five years?

Ross McElroy: What we’ve done and probably I guess the whole history of the company, really, since I got involved working with Dev back in 2007. We’ve been acquiring our own ground. So, we’re kind of set up to do our own staking. Do our own investigating of where we want to be. Staking ground organically. So, we haven’t done any acquisition deals. We like to pick up the ground early because that’s the least expensive, but you have to have the expertise to do it. We’ve got a team that been acquiring good ground that way and we’ve been successful. And ultimately, if we are successful, we’ve been able, at least in the past, we’ve sold projects. We’ve been a project generator. We’ve been able to get other people to invest in our products. And really, that’s been the model that we that we do.

Matthew Gordon: I’m looking through the presentation. There’s a lot going on in there, there’s a lot of ground. What’s the strategy? You’re looking at a lot of optioning or building out a lot of options here. At some point, you’ve got to make decisions because you need to finance this.

Ross McElroy: It is, very much so. You know, first of all, we start with the Athabasca Basin. That’s the premium uranium district in the world. Certainly, the home of the highest-grade deposits. It’s where I spend a good deal of my career looking for deposits. I’ve been very successful at it. What we’ve been able to do is build a team of experts, geochemists, geophysicists, structural geologists looking for these deposits because although the rewards are tremendous, when you find a high-grade uranium deposit probably more valuable than any other commodity. They’re hard to find as well. So, you have to apply the sciences of geochemistry, geophysics. So that’s really what our team is built around. And that’s how we go about starting to explore and make these discoveries.

Matthew Gordon: Not all uranium plays are born equal. Even in the Athabasca Basin. So, what is the process that you’re going through to identify the targets which you’re going to focus on? We’ve spoken to a lot of juniors in the Athabasca Basin and they’re saying because we’re here, it’s a home run, no problem.

Ross McElroy: And that’s not true. I mean, it’s a home run if you make that discovery. But the failure rate has been pretty high among juniors. Even with the majors. If you make a significant discovery in the Athabasca Basin, about 1 in every 5-10 years. That’s sort of when you look at it as a whole. I’ve been fortunate enough when I first started, I was working with Cameco. We made the discovery of McArthur River, which is the world’s largest high-grade uranium deposit. So, that was a pretty good experience. You learn the things that you’re looking for. Because these are deposits that occur below the surface, with no surface exposure. So, you’re really trying to use the science of vectoring in with geochemistry and geophysics. And so, it does take a pretty multidiscipline team in order to be successful at it. And I think that, having spent time with the majors, learning how they do it, I think that’s boded very well for us and that’s why we’ve been successful at what we do. So, there’s nothing easy about it. There’s nothing fast about it. But if you learn how to select the right ground, you’d know the techniques to go through discovery. You sort of know when you’re in the right area. That’s what’s important.

Matthew Gordon: So how many projects have you got at the moment?

Ross McElroy: Fission 3.0 has 16 projects.

Matthew Gordon: That’s a lot of projects. So, you’ve got to know what you’re looking for or else you’re going to spend a lot of money. So, how quickly do you get to the point we can decide and 16 goes down to 10, goes down to 8 etc. How do you play that? How does it actually work?

Ross McElroy: That’s always it’s a bit of an iterative process. You have a land tenure, sort of always in a state of flux. We picked up new ground. We shed other ones. That’s part of the overall strategy. Because you’re right, otherwise you’ll be spending money where you don’t need to. And I think what we try to do is, first of all, we have a pretty good idea where the key areas are. And one of the strategies that we’ve used successfully with other companies in the past, Fission Uranium being a good example, Fission Energy, the predecessor of that, is we pick ground that’s very shallow, where we expect to make a discovery within about 3 or 4 hundred metres of the surface. In the high-grade uranium business, that’s shallow. It decreases your cost., it makes exploration actually somewhat easier and less expensive. And it’s just that the whole process is really about evaluating. Ultimately, you want to get to a drill target, so you do your geophysics, you do some chemistry studies, understand soils etc. If you get to the point where you do a drill target, then you’re really looking for the subtle clues. You’re trying to read the tea leaves that allow you to vector, vector, vector, vector, vector. What we’re always looking for at the beginning is “smoke”. All these high-grade uranium deposits have an aura around them of what we call “smoke”. And we’re really looking for the fire, which is the prize, right in the middle of that is the high-grade uranium. The dimensions of it are probably not big, they never are. Even the biggest, best mines have relatively small deposits, a lot of uranium packed into that. So, you’re really trying to get yourself focused, focused, focused and make that hit.

Matthew Gordon: Obviously, market cap at $14M. It’s not huge. You’ve been going at this for 5 years. How long have you been going at it properly in terms of this, Fission 3.0, proper?

Ross McElroy: Well, we spun Fission 3.0 out of Fission Uranium back in 2014. But at that time really the market in uranium had been very slow. So, one of the things that we did during that period from 2014-2017 is we’ve been quietly getting ground, staking ground, picking areas where nobody’s looking. And a lot of companies have not been all that active, because the uranium market’s been slow. So, it’s given us an opportunity to pick the best the best places. So, we’re picking the best fruit off the tree in the slow times. And then towards the end of 2018 we were starting to raise money into the company that allowed us to get those dollars into exploration, money into the ground. And so very quiet, lean time for the first few years. Now we’re starting to get to work.

Matthew Gordon: People will say “they’ve been going 5 years and they’ve not done anything” but the reality is, it’s only been just over a year. When you raised money, the share price was around $0.30, people got excited. It’s around $0.09-$0.10 cents today. I’m sure you’ll say “undervalued”. But I’m more interested in the stage that you’re at and it really is about these projects and understanding what’s there and vectoring in on which ones are more important to you than others before you the move the company forward to the next stage.

Ross McElroy: Yeah, that’s right. My kind of group are projects, although we’re in the Athabasca Basin, where all of the products are fairly shallow and kind of go around the edge of the Basin, where you would expect the shallowest deposits to be as you move toward the middle of the basin, deposits could be there, but they tend to be pretty deep. So, our ground is around there, but we are focused in areas where you would have historic mining district in the Key Lakes side in the southeast part of the basin, there’s been a lot of discoveries and activities for the last 40 years there. We have property in and around there, using new models to look for uranium that people haven’t really used before. But in a historic area of known uranium. We also have a really good land package up in the Beaver Lodge, Uranium City district in the North West corner of the Basin. And that’s where uranium mining first gets started in the province of Saskatchewan. Everybody forgot about it. That was in the 1950s-60s. And we went chasing stuff around Key Lake and forgot about those areas. So, they’re really under explored by modern exploration techniques. The third area that we focus on is around in the South West part, around our PLS project. This is where the newest, best discoveries in the Basin have been in the last 10 years. In Fission uranium we’ve made the RRR discovery. NexGen made the Arrow discovery. These are big high-grade deposits in a brand-new area. And so, our land package sort of focuses mostly in those key areas.

Matthew Gordon: I’m trying to work out was the timing from where you are today to that point where you’re just creating DFS, BFS? What’s that timeframe? So, do I come in now, get in early? Do I wait? Do something else and come back to you later? What do I do?

Ross McElroy: Well, let me give you some perspective. With Fission Uranium in the PLS project, for example, that was a grassroots play, very similar to the sort of projects we have in Fission 3.0. In 2010, we did our first airborne survey of radium metrics and we found radioactive anomalies. In 2011 we made the discovery to figure out what those were, that was a high-grade boulder. In 2012 we were drilling along the trend and made the discovery. So, it was really a 2-3 year period of starting to look at that project to making that discovery that was an absolute game changer. I think that’s the kind of model that we’re looking at. When we start looking at these projects, to me it’s probably about at least a 2-4 year window for when you start getting something really interesting that you might tag into. It generally never happens in your first pass on a project. I’ve never seen anyone stake ground and make a discovery the first year just started. It doesn’t happen that way.

Matthew Gordon: And you’ve also got something in Peru?

Ross McElroy: We do. It dates back to the predecessor of all of them, Strathmore minerals. That was the first project in the Strathmore in the 1990s. Now, Strathmore was various versions of Fission out of that. That was a first project put into the company back then, the government released ground. Prior to that, you couldn’t stake for uranium as a public company. So, it was government’s held strategic mineral titles. So, they opened it up and we acquired some ground down in that area. There has been an interesting history down in Peru. We’ve focused more on the Athabasca, in our life. But others have made some great advancements down in Peru and the Machu Stanley Plateau Energy

Matthew Gordon: Are you parking that for now?

Ross McElroy: No and the reason we don’t park is it because we’re also a project generator. We’ve been able to attract an investment group that’s interested in advancing properties down there. So, we’re looking for uranium and lithium in a partnership with a private company right there. So that really follows our preferred model of a business that we do in Fission 3.0, which is we acquire the ground, bringing in others to spend money and jointly together we explore and make discoveries.

Matthew Gordon: There will be other starters there. It happened that last cycle. It’s going to happen again. There’ll be more people coming to the party. Do you think that you’ve hit this at the right time? Do you think that people coming in are going to be left with scraps? If you’ve spent five years looking at stuff, surely you and others will have picked up the good stuff. What does it mean for all of these new entrants coming in?

Ross McElroy: Well, you’re absolutely right. We saw that in the last bull run, that started in 2003 & 2004. I remember seeing the entire Athabasca Basin stake dust. Prior to that, the whole eastern side of the Basin was state that had been sold for 30 years and that was mostly Cameco’s holding. You’re right, there wasn’t a whole lot of ground available, but even the big guys dropped ground. The ground that we picked up in the old Fission Energy was a throw away from Cameco called Waterbury Lake. And it’s just part of the process. They hadn’t made a discovery there, they shaved off some ground. You could look at it as scrap. We picked up a significant package in there, made a discovery, right beside where a company called Hathor Uranium had made their discovery. That was part of the same thing. So that deposit crossed the boundary. So, you can still look at these same areas, 40 and 50 year out, exploration and still make a significant discovery. So that does happen. I think the key to everything is not thinking whether you got the scraps or not, but it’s whether you have a technical team capable to look at something in a new way and make a new discovery and have the guts and the capital to be able to go out and explore. I’ve seen that too often. Now, PLS is another example where we just used a brand-new idea, thinking outside the box, doing something that majors hadn’t even done, nobody had really done, which was look for uranium in a new area outside of the Basin and we were successful. So, you know, you can win both ways.

Matthew Gordon: Sounds like you’ve got a great team there. You’re in the right part of the world so it’ll be interesting to see how these projects develop. You’ve got to stay in touch with us and let us know.

Ross McElroy: We’d love to. Where we think that this is just the start of a new uranium market. And now that we do have an established land package, we’re not new to the game. I think that really gives us a leg up on what everybody else is doing. We’ve got the team, we’ve got the land. We know what to do. We know you start bringing people back into the uranium market and it will become a bull market again, once the price of the commodity continues to work its way upwards. I’m not going to get into the supply demand story, but once the price of the commodity moves up and there is every reason to believe it. Well, that does create excitement for exploration companies in the uranium sector. We’re so well positioned to take advantage of that.

Matthew Gordon: We look forward to hearing all about it over the next few months. Appreciate your time, Ross. We’ll speak to you again real soon. Thanks again.

Ross McElroy: Thank you very much. A pleasure.


Company page: https://www.fission3corp.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.