Sierra Metals (TSX: SMT) – Good Fundamentals, Main Shareholder Restricting Stock (Transcript)

Interview with Igor Gonzales, President and CEO of Sierra Metals (TSX:SMT).

The fundamentals of Sierra Metals are good and the company is effective, safe and robust. However their share price has been negatively affected by a significant shareholder, Arias Resources Capital, needing to off-load up to 30% of the shares. Arias controls 52% of the shares so liquidity was an issue previously. The market knows this and despite successful operations on the ground, the price is being held back. We try to find out how the company is resolving this issue. Let us know what you think about their response to this in the comments below.

Sierra Metals is a South America brownfield and greenfield focussed Silver, Copper, Lead and Zinc miner. $290M, NPV c. $500M. They have paid back a $34M of debt and $15M revolving credit back by restructuring their debt, currently at $59M. Revenues are $52M with $13M of operating cashflow, to fund their capital requirements and operating costs. 2019 is a year of heavily capital costs as they will be investing $83M.

Sierra Metals is one for new investors. Existing long-term shareholders should also feel that the share price will eventually be resolved with Arias. Short-term holders and traders may be be less satisfied, but they always are. We view this as an opportunity to get in cheap.

There is a new 43-101 due by end of the year and another in Q2/20. Lots of infill drilling. Brownfield and greenfield exploration is the foundation for their strategy going forward. A good track record of delivering improvements in operations and they are generating cash. Operating in two countries with good mining codes and taxes with a good infrastructure and in the right mining jurisdiction. There is a lot to like on the mining side.

Interview Highlights:

  • Overview of the Company
  • Projects in Peru & Mexico
  • Company Financials: Arias Resource Capital, a 52% Shareholder – How Quickly Do They Intend to Sell and Are There Any Regrets?
  • Why Invest in Sierra Metals? What’s in it For Investors?
  • Strategy & Risk Mitigation

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: We spoke back in May when you told us your story. We want to catch up and see how things are going. So, why don’t you kick off for people who’ve not heard this before with a one-minute summary and then we’ll get into some questions.

Igor Gonzales: Sierra Metals is a poly-metallic producer that operates in two jurisdictions, Mexico and Peru. We have two operations in Mexico, the Bolivar mine, which is a copper and gold Silver play, and the Cusi mine, which is a Silver play. It’s our smallest mine. And then in Peru, we have the Yauricocha mine, which produces all fine metals. We are now in a process of expanding our company.

Matthew Gordon: Tell us what’s going on in Peru?

Igor Gonzales: In Peru, given the fact that we have an older mine that has been operating for 70 years, we need to keep on top of the infrastructure upgrades. And therefore, we have five ongoing projects now in Yauricocha. The main project is the shaft upgrade, the Yauricocha shaft. This is a brand-new shaft that we’re building from scratch and we’re in the third year of construction and we have 1.5 years to go. However, we’re going to be implementing portions of the project as they become available. Then, we just completed the Yauricocha tunnel, which connects all the entire mine facilities with the processing facility, that’s now up and running and operating. Then we have all the ventilation upgrades that we’re doing, and that work is continuing as we speak. We also have the tailings dam, phase five upgrade. We obtained the permits and now we’re in full construction mode, which should finish the main dam for phase five sometime in September of this year. And then we also have a new mess hall and camp refurbishing project which is ongoing and will finish in the second quarter of next year.

Matthew Gordon: What’s happening in Mexico?

Igor Gonzales: We completed two expansion projects. One in the Bolivar mine, which initially was conceptualized to go from 3,000tpd to 3,600tpd. We then added some additional capital spend and now we have completed all the construction of that expansion and we are in the final phases of the ramp up, both the mine and the plant. And I’m happy to report that as of Q2 we have on average 3,700tpd per day, which is above the initial target and we continue to ramp up those 4,000t in Q3. We would like to take that ramp up to 4,250tpd in in the Q4 of this year. So that ramp up is going well. We achieved the intended initial capacity and then we continue to ramp as we go. Then on our next mine, the Cusi mine in Chihuahua. We increased its capacity from 600tpd to 1,200tpd. 100% increase in capacity. We have completed most of the construction. We still have a few things that we’re finishing up. But we’ve had struggled with the ramp up both at the mine and at the plant. However, we will continue to increase the throughput. We’re now approaching 1,000tpd so we’re getting closer to the 1,200tpd and we’re trying to get to 1,200tpd by the end of Q3 of this year so those are our two expansion programs.

Matthew Gordon: Let’s talk about your finances? When we talked previously you were talking about investing $83MIL into the company. You’ve got a market cap of $290M, NPV $500M. Those are good numbers, but you’ve got some debt as well, and you’re self-funding on the capital expansion program. So, can you run through some numbers for us, please?

Igor Gonzales: I will talk about the debt. We had a loan from a Banco Acredito Peru this year at the end of Q1 for $100M and that allowed us to pay a remaining $30M-$34M in the purchase that we did in Yauricocha, which was another loan that we had outstanding. And we also pay a revolving credit of $50M and we will have $30M of funds for additional expansions or we would like to give it. We have reconfigured our debt profile. Right now, our net debt is about $59M. Now, going to our performance for the Q2. We had revenue of about $52M and about $13M in operating cash flow, that allows us to still fund our capital requirements and all our operating costs. This is a year of heavy capital investment for us. We initially budgeted for $83M. We had a strike Yauricocha that forced us to defer some of the capital into 2020. However, we remain with the same projects. Also, we completed the capital spend in Bolívar and we are completing the capital spending in Cusi. So, it’s going to be a very fruitful year for us once we are done with all the capital investment.

Matthew Gordon: I feel that you know what you’re doing, your team knows what they’re doing. It’s a very well-run, safe and to use a word that you’ve used in your presentation, it’s a very ‘robust’ operation. But I’m not excited by it, and I want to know what am I missing. Because you’re producing cash flow. You’ve got revenue. You’re in production. All the right parts are there. What am I not seeing?

Igor Gonzales: I think we’re not also happy with the current share price, which think we’re undervalued.

Matthew Gordon: Why?

Igor Gonzales: We think that we don’t have enough float in the market, in our share. We have a main shareholder which holds 53%, Arias Resource Fund; he holds in two funds. He’s trying to resolve Fund 1, which he’s committed to do and I think that’s part of the equation here. And so, when this Fund 1 issue gets resolved. I think that the float is going to normal levels and then that’s going to help our share price.

Matthew Gordon: How much does Fund 1 own?

Igor Gonzales: Fund 1 owns roughly 30% and Fund 2 about 23%.

Matthew Gordon: So that’s a lot of shares to come into the marketplace, which is great for potential liquidity, but it’s also a problem for the Fund. How quickly does he need to sell these into the market?

Igor Gonzales: I don’t have that information because we don’t we don’t manage the Fund and Arias Resource Capital has that all that information.

Matthew Gordon: So, they are not are not obliged to tell you how they’re going to manage that into the marketplace?

Igor Gonzales: I know they’re doing some movements to try to resolve that. And they have invited third parties to review our operations and see if they can commit to packages. But that’s as far as I can I can tell.

Matthew Gordon: Because that’s going to be holding the stock back, because people know that’s coming.

Igor Gonzales: They’ve been inviting the parties to look at our operations. We’ve entertained their visits and so forth, so I think it’s a moving process.

Matthew Gordon: It’s a moving process, which is affecting your ability to create shareholder value today. All you can focus on is delivering on the mining side, the production, the announcements.

Igor Gonzales: Exactly. That for us is extremely important not to lose focus of what we are here to do, which is our long-term strategy. We need to continue to add value to our units and to create value for our shareholders, independent of who holds our shares. I think that focus needs to remain and we are doing that, we’re delivering on the expansions. We will do another expansion in Peru. We’re now doing all the permitting work. And so, we continue to drive our strategy forward to grow the company.

Matthew Gorodon: It must be like trying to do your job with one hand tied behind your back, because you’ve got a significant shareholder restricting your ability to create value for shareholders in the marketplace. So, you are having to focus on mining, which is which is good is what you’re good at. And I fully trust that you get at it from what I see. Do you regret doing that deal with Arias?

Igor Gonzales: No. Arias had the ownership of the shares for quite some time now. I entered the company after all the shares were in place, so I have to focus is on trying to grow the company myself and not be side tracked by the activities of the shareholders.

Matthew Gordon: It’s a kind of salutary lesson in terms of how share structures are set up and ownership structures are set up, because it can restrict a company’s ability to perform as it should. I would argue that on your fundamental numbers, your shares shouldn’t have done what they’ve done in the last year. They should be heading the opposite direction. So, what’s your message to shareholders on this topic?

Igor Gonzales: I think our main message to shareholders is we’re staying the course. We’re creating value. We’re showing the numbers, we’re reducing our costs, we’re increasing our production throughput and recoveries. And so, we have all the main elements that create value in a company and they are in place. So, we will continue to do that and remain focused on that aspect of this.

Matthew Gordon: What I’m about to say, I don’t think is of any comfort to your existing shareholders, but for new shareholders coming in, this is a very interesting proposition. And I don’t expect you to comment on that, you’ll get yourself into trouble.

Igor Gonzales: Once the metal prices recover, the potential for our shares to improve are quite significant.

Matthew Gordon: So, it’s a question of time? When Arias sorts out Fund 1 or one of their two funds, and gets these block sales away, then your arm will no longer be tied behind your back. You feel that the market should recognise what you have been doing, is that what you’re saying?

Igor Gonzales: Ibelieve so. I believe that once we have the right float then the market will start recognizing the value for Sierra as they should.

Matthew Gordon: Do you mind if we just talk about strategy? What’s your thinking in terms of building this business? I know you could say you’re mitigating jurisdictional risk because you’re in two countries. You’re underground mining. That’s what you know, that’s what you’re good at. And you’re obviously in production, which is all good. But what is it that you’ve set out to build? And what will this company look like in 12-24 months’ time?

Igor Gonzales: A fundamental element of our strategy is exploration, brownfield exploration for one. And then the second phase is greenfield exploration. We have been putting important Resources in both areas. We’ve been growing the Resource of all our three mines steadily over the last three years and we continue to do so. As a matter of fact, we will have two new 43-101’s for Bolivar and Yauricocha by year end in 2019. And another 43-101 in the second quarter of 2024 at the Cusi Mine. We continue to do brownfield infill drilling also, in all three mines, but in Bolivar and Yauricocha, besides the brownfield, we’re also doing some greenfield exploration close by the operation. In Yauricocha, we have high value targets for this year. We’re already drilling with two platforms and in Bolivar we’re also doing some near mine exploration, but these are brand new targets and we continue to expand our Resource. So, I think that’s one of the key elements for our growth is to find additional Resources, then turn those Resources into a reportable Resource, via 43-101’s and then conduct the expansions that we require accordingly. So, exploration for us is the fundamental foundation of our strategy.

Matthew Gordon: So those are things that you’re going to do. Build up the Resource and reportable Resource, but to what end? What’s the strategy? Not what’s the deliverables? You are going to drill holes to build a company of a Resource of what size and for what purpose? Are you going to mine it yourself?  Are you going to sell it? What’s the game here? What do investors need to know?

Igor Gonzales: Well, it will be hard for me to tell right now what we are going to find via the exploration. However, we’re open in doing joint ventures or bringing new partners if our exploration results deliver significant results. So, I think we keep ourselves so open. We keep analysing other properties, other projects that come by and we were open to growing the company also via that avenue which is associated with other enterprises.

Matthew Gordon: But you can’t say to what end? If someone said “What is Sierra Metals? What are they trying to be?” What what’s your answer?

Igor Gonzales: We would like to be a second quartile producer in terms of volume of production. And right now we’re in the third quartile and our target would be to be in the top of the second quartile and the top of the second quartile of production with all the other Silver producers.

Matthew Gordon: I think the fundamentals of your company are good, but I’m struggling to understand why I should be investing in your business. You talk about track record, robust performances, strong capitalization, low net leverage, robust liquidity. What do all these things mean? Why should I invest in your company and not the 50 other South American businesses doing the same thing?

Igor Gonzales: I think what we’ve got is a business that is generating cash. We’re operating in two countries that are very supportive to mining. We have all the Resources available to do our jobs in terms of contractors, people, services and legislation and tax stability. We also would like to point out that the potential of our properties is very significant given their location within the countries where we operate. In the case of the Yauricocha mine, it’s located in a major fault system where North and South you have very large deposits and so the likelihood of finding significant additional Resources is important. Likewise, in Mexico, in the Bolivar mine, we’re in a location where it’s a mining jurisdiction with a huge potential for growth. So that’s another part that is very appealing to our story. We’re not just in one mine and trying to develop one mine, and that’s it. I think we can grow these mines into something much bigger. We don’t have the results yet, but they all the geological information that we have to date indicates that we are in a very fertile zone. Our track record, if you analyse Sierra at 5 years ago and Sierra today, we increased our throughput and our production, our cash flow generation tremendously. 5 years ago, we were probably in Yauricocha around 2,000tpd. In Mexico, at 800tpd and today we’re at 4,000tpd. So, we’ve improved our capacity to generate cash via production in a significant way. So that’s our track record of creating value for our investors via the improvement. In the meantime, we also have generated the cash flow. We’ve been trying to manage our debt. We have a solid financial position. We have $40M cash as we speak. We have a $59M in debt. And as soon as we finish our expansion projects, our ability to generate cash is going to be even greater than what it is today. But the most important element of our business is the people. We have been able to attract talented and experienced people into our team. And we operate with three mines and the mines have their individual staff. But we also have a senior team at the corporate office that provides technical support to our operations in projects, in managing, in planning, and very soon in maintenance and asset management. So, with that oversight and support to our operations, we bring the experience at the head office that can be utilised in the different operations without interfering with their work, but reviewing their plans, improving our plans. I think that part of the business has been reinforced in such a way that we brought in very talented individuals in to our company.

Matthew Gordon: I buy a lot of that. These are good mining jurisdictions. We’ll see what the drilling reveals. Having $40M in the bank is fantastic. Having free cash flow is fantastic. But you’re still paralysed in a way, in that shareholders make money when your shares increase. Don’t you think that you need to get involved in a conversation with Arias Resources Capital. Rather than them just sending people through to diligence your mine. Shouldn’t you understand what is the process by which you are going to release this pressure on us, because it is pressure on your share price. At what point do you get involved and say we need to be part of the solution?

Igor Gonzales: We review this situation with the board on a regular basis, and we have a share buyback program, for one. We had an ATM in place or another. Arias Resource Capital is moving is trying to deliver on Fund 1 and they are trying to resolve that issue. And we’re all aware of that. In the meantime, we have to stay focused on what we’re doing. But we don’t have control of what Arias Resource Fund does with the shares.

Matthew Gordon: I appreciate you don’t run their fund, but I’m saying that they should, as a matter of courtesy and expediency, work with you to agree and resolve the way forward if they are to exit quickly.

Igor Gonzales: And we’re are co-operating, they’re bringing parties for review, etc. and we are cooperating with that. We have an active data room where they can go and see our company and they can analyse the potentiality of our business.

Matthew Gordon: I think that you’ve got a great company. I think you’ve got a great team. I really like the way you talk about your business. But I think there’s this pressure with Arias Resources Capital which needs to go away. But when it does, I would like to think that your shares will be given the chance to breathe again and maybe start moving in the right direction. Igor, thank you very much for your time today and your explanation. You’ve been very honest, as always. So, thank you.

Igor Gonzales: Thank you, Matthew.


Company page: https://www.sierrametals.com/home/default.aspx

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