Luminex Resources (TSXv: LR) – Gold Miner with a Tight Shareholding Structure & Access to Cash (Transcript)

Interview with Marshall Koval, CEO of Luminex Resources, a Gold Explorer and Developer in Ecuador. Part of Ross Beaty’s Lumina Group, Luminex Resources has a very experienced management team with a track record of delivering returns to shareholders. They have quickly established deals with BHP, Anglo American and First Quantum. We discuss all of this and address retail investors’ needs in detail in this interview.

Interview Highlights:

  • Lumina Group Track Record and Highlights
  • Strategy, Model and Thinking for building a large Gold & Copper Producer in South America
  • Assets and JV’s: Breakdown and Commitments
  • Share price: Changes and Causes
  • Mining in Ecuador
  • Enhancing Liquidity: How are they Promoting this Gold Company?
  • Company Financials and Remuneration

Click here to watch the interview.


Marshall Koval: Luminex Resources was the company we spun out in 2018 and we’ve got a large portfolio of assets, earlier stage exploration in Ecuador.  A bit different than the Lumina Gold story which is a development project, but we’ve got large scale exploration properties for copper and gold as well, and then we’ve got some world class partners that we JV’d with to do some of the exploration and we’re doing a bit of work ourselves on our Condor project.

Matthew Gordon: So you’re referring of course to the Lumina Group.  Why don’t you tell us a bit about that?  There’s a bit of a track record. You’ve been making money for people.  I think you’ve raised – you told me last time – $175M and returned $1.5Bn to shareholders. 

Marshall Koval: Lumina Group was founded in 2003 by Ross Beaty who took a view on copper.  So went out and acquired a lot of world class assets and it was sort of an option play originally.  And as time went on, you control these projects, you have work commitments and basically the long and short was raised about $175 million, like you mentioned, and returned $1.5Bn to shareholders.

Matthew Gordon: Obviously with Ross Beaty’s involvement that gives you access to capital and reputation as well, plus you obviously have delivered as a management team.  With Luminex Resources, it’s a relatively small market cap right now.  It’s early days.  You’re also involved in Lumina Gold. Where are you spending most of your time?

Marshall Koval: Right now it’s been about a 50:50 split for me.  We’re advancing the Lumina Gold Cangrejos projects towards pre-feasibility studies.  So there’s a lot of technical, engineering work, fieldwork, so I’ve been working on that, but also I’ve been front and centre on all these deals with BHP, Anglo American, First Quantum, that we have joint ventures within Ecuador.  The combined amount of those deals is about $140M committed to copper exploration.  So we’ve been running 2018 and 2025.

Matthew Gordon:  Why have you spun out Luminex Resources from Luminex Gold?  They’re both gold companies.

Marshall Koval:  Basically, our philosophy is we’re an exploration development group.  We tend to try to acquire large scale projects like the Cangrejos project in Lumina Gold, and basically the idea is to add value, derisk these and move these on to somebody that would build the projects.  It’s basically the same model as Lumina Copper.

So what we had is when Ecuador opened up their concession system and granted new concessions, we acquired – even though we’re a gold company – quite a few copper early stage exploration projects.  So by spinning Luminex out, we have a core asset in the Condor project which has about 1.4Moz of gold in Indicated and 2.5Moz in Inferred.  But we also had these early stage copper exploration projects, so rather than going to the market and deluding our shareholders, we went and did JVs with three major companies to explore these copper assets.

Matthew Gordon: Let’s get into that because I can see Condor, Tarqui, Pegasus, and Orquideas.  Do you want to break those down?  I think what our audience is really interested in is what you’re thinking, what your strategy is.  What are your plans for these? 

Marshall Koval: So these copper assets. We’re pretty opportunistic.  We had a lot of information in Ecuador and when the concession system option came up, we acquired all these projects – Tarqui, Pegasus, Orquideas and Cascas.  And then we did initial work ourselves.  We have a team of over geologists in Ecuador, so we did a lot of the basic exploration work beyond what was already known about these projects.  And we advanced them to the point where we actually didn’t go out and solicit companies to do deals.  This was all inbound. 

The first deal we did was with First Quantum on Orquideas and Cascas.  Right now First Quantum is in the field.  We’re the operator in he project but working closely with First Quantum.  We’ve got five drill holes in and about 1500 metres of drilling, so far.  So that deal with First Quantum we had to spend $38.5M over five years to earn 51% and they can earn an additional 19% if there’s a discovery and they carry us to a production decision.

Matthew Gordon: So they can earn up to 70% subject to them paying up for that and obviously getting through to construction.  But what’s in it for you?  You’ll get 30% of what?

Marshall Koval: There are two deposits – the Orquideas which is being drilled out and that’s to the north and then the Cascas to the south.  These are large copper anomalies we’ve identified with geocam and geophysics and they’re about 5km x 2km / 3km wide – both of them.

So basically if there’s a major discovery – and these are straight copper projects, no gold.  Then we’ve got with Ross’ involvement in our group, if there’s a major discovery we can participate in the 30% if it gets to construction, or we have the option to sell out that portion.  There’s a lot of groups – a lot of them are Japanese companies like Sumitomo for instance, that would look at buying a 30% interest in a major copper mine. So it gives us leverage to the upside, is basically the idea with all these.

Matthew Gordon: So explain those numbers.  So First Quantum put in $38.5 Mover the next five years.  They get 51%.  Are you putting in any additional cash?

Marshall Koval: It’s a straight earn in JVs, so after they spend the $38.5M they earn the 51% in the JV company, and then if they advance it through pre-feas, feasibility study and construction, we’ll carry it for the 19%.  And then when you get to 70%, that’s where we would have to put our pro rata in.

Matthew Gordon: So that’s great optionality for you on that deal.  That was the first deal.  Let’s go to the second deal.

Marshall Koval: So Anglo American is a bit different approach.  So on the First Quantum deal it was two specific deposits that had been identified.  Anglo took a broader scale.  So the Pegasus A and B is our largest land position in Ecuador.  Let me just say this – we’re the second largest concession holder in Ecuador and the Pegasus A and B is the largest concession that we have.  So we have about 135,000 hectares of mineral concessions and Pegasus is about 65,000 hectares. 

So Anglo’s view is a bit different.  They’re looking at a broader regional district sort of scale.  There’s upper porphyry and some gold showings that we’ve identified in the area.  So Anglo’s approach is more systematic, broader regional scale exploration.  So the deal we have with Anglo is they have to spend $57.3M over seven years, earn 60%.  And they can earn an additional 10% if they carry us to a construction decision. So right now they’re in the process of a lot of field geochemical work, they’re getting ready to fly a geophysical over the entire land package to look at perspective terrain.  And so that’s basically the Anglo deal. We’re really excited to have both these – and BHP too as part of.

Matthew Gordon: One, access to capital, but two, these are names that people trust as well.   It lends some level of comfort to investors. So that’s a slightly earlier stage project but again because we’re talking about seven years for this earning period and then you’ve got BHP.

Marshall Koval: So BHP is a deal we just closed in the last month.  Basically BHP… So let me back up.  Anglo is the operator on the Anglo deal.  First Quantum , Luminex is the operator and on the Tarqui project, BHP is the operator.  Tarqu’s on the area of Mirador, which is a copper mine that’s in construction right now.  So it’s in that ugly prospective copper mill, and this is a small land package compared to the other ones.  We made a discovery out there and it looks pretty promising.  It’s some of the best copper terrain that we’ve found in Ecuador through the work that we’ve done. 

So the deal with BHP is they have to spend $42M over six years to earn 60% and after that they can earn an additional 10% by spending another $40M, and that should take you roughly through a feasibility study if there’s some discovery there.  So basically that’s the idea.  These are large targets, large anomalous areas that we found in the field.  They were putting off risk to these first class partners to advance these projects.

These leads us – our primary focus after these three partnerships is our Condor project.  Most of these assets are in south eastern Ecuador.  The only one that’s stuck in the central area is Anglo American.  You can see all of our holdings on Slide No 5.  You can see where these different properties are in the country. 

Let me just go back to Luminex.  We just announced high grade discovery at Condor.  And Condor’s interesting because it’s a large land package, the northern part of the property is a thermal gold deposit and the southern part is gold, copper porphyry and we just made a high grade discovery at the camp zone and we’ve drilled four holes into it now.  So that’s pretty exciting.  We put a couple of press releases out in the last month or two, and we can get some details on that lately.  Right now we have one drill at Condor and we’re drilling at Condor, but we think we made a significant discovery beyond the known resources that have been reported to date there.

Matthew Gordon: So these are all relatively early stage projects in the scheme of things, hence the market cap.  Your market cap is quite low.  I guess the BHP explains the bump in the share price this month.  You went from $0.70 to $0.90.  I think $0.92 today.  So these partnerships that you’ve created, how long did they take to actually come into fruition?

Marshall Koval: These are big companies and these are complicated deals because basically you’re structuring the earning agreement, royalty agreements, KV agreement, assuming that you have a producing property.  So there’s a lot of paper and there’s a lot of negotiations involved, but generally they’ve taken nine months to 12 months to go from initial interest to negotiation closing of properties.

I want to add one thing on the… It isn’t just these deals that have moved the share price recently.  I think the discovery we made at Condor at the camp zone has also helped move the share price as well.

Matthew Gordon: Being what? 

Marshall Koval: So basically what we announced were three drill holes in the camp zone area and to give you an idea – these are near surface out crops.  Then we drilled down to 200 / 300m.  To give an example, in the first drill hole we drilled we had a true width inter hole of 30m that was 4.77 per ounce per tonne gold.  The second hole we drilled was a similar sort of thing.  25m at 2.49 g/t and within that there was inter hole of 9.6m of 6g/t gold.  So if you look at the mineralisation there, it’s pretty wide zones and it’s got some similar aspects to mineralisation that we see up at Fruta del Norte.

We just announced a third hole and that had 25 metre true width of 4.5/tg gold.  So these are structures that out crop at the surface and we’ve been able to define them down to a depth of 200m / 300m.  So right now we’re drilling those and I think that this discovery has a lot of momentum that can potentially move the share price if we continue to have success there.

Matthew Gordon: How much of your market cap would you attribute to the deals you’ve done with First Quantum, Anglo and BHP versus your own project?  How do you break that down?

Marshall Koval: Obviously there’s optionality to the resources that we have.  We have rightly four million ounces of gold at Condor.  Again, it’s exploration stage, sort of advanced exploration, not development.  But I think it’s really hard to break it down, but I think if you look at – when we first announced a deal with BHP, the share price moved up to about 85 cents and then the market settled back down.  I think most of the run – the $0.70 to $0.92 – had more to do with the camp zone.  Maybe we’re seeing about half of our value from the Condor asset and maybe the other half from these JVs.  It’s a hard thing to pin down but that would be my guess.

Matthew Gordon: And any more deals coming through?

Marshall Koval: We need to get inbound interest and it’s kind of interesting.  I think what’s happened in Ecuador is – as we all know it’s …

Matthew Gordon: Tell us about Ecuador because it’s a relatively new mining jurisdiction.  It’s mostly agriculture.  So how have you been getting on?

Marshall Koval: There’s been some historical mining, primarily for gold in areas like Zaruma and other parts of the country, but basically the country had a moratorium on new concessions being offered in 2008.  Basically they had punitive fiscal regimes, so that kind of shut the industry down and I think it hit the bottom basically in 2014 when Kinross decided to back out of the Fruta del Norte deal.  That was a world class gold project. 

I think what the government had was some budget of about $100 a barrel oil.  They’d primarily been oil producer with most of the economy besides agriculture.  And when that happened, when oil went down to $40M, $50M, in that range, it really blasted the economy of the country.  And Correa was the President of the time and he was actually the guy that shut down mining, and he realised that he needed to open mining back up because they needed foreign breadth investment, and that was the best opportunity to give it.

So if you fast forward, this was sort of 2014, things started opening up.  We were in the country around 2013 thinking things were going to get better, look at a lot of stuff, work with the government to tell them that they needed to improve their fiscal regime.  And so after the Kinross deal collapsed, Lundin Gold acquired Fruta del Norte and Lundin and several other companies pushed on the government to get a better fiscal regime.  So as we sit today, the fiscal regime is workable.

Matthew Gordon: What does that mean in terms of tax, royalties, etc?

Marshall Koval: Basically if you look at the effective tax rate in the region, a country like Chile has got the best fiscal regime and it’s 38% to 40% of the rents, if you like to call it that, of a project going to the government.  If you go up to Peru, it’s 45, in that range, and Ecuador’s up around the 50%.  So basically that change from… windfall tax is 70 per cent and a lot of other issues that Ecuador had, Ecuador was probably up in the mid-60s.  The fiscal changes that have been made, sort of made it so that major mining companies – guys like BHP, First Quantum, Anglo American, a lot of New Crest, a lot of other players, have come into the country and are comfortable enough with the fiscal regime to invest. 

Matthew Gordon: Can we just talk about shareholders, please?  I know you’ve mentioned Ross Beaty.  Obviously you’ve been working with him a long time, you guys have made a lot of money for yourselves, but also shareholders.  What’s the breakdown here for Luminex?  Who’s in it?

Marshall Koval: If you look at Page 6, that kind of gives you the stock info.

Matthew Gordon: Sure, but it doesn’t tell me who. 

Marshall Koval: If you look at management and insiders, we have about 24% of the company.  Ross has 15.4% himself.  I’ve got about 4% and the balance is the rest of the management team.  But also we have some institutions that have come into our last financing. 

Matthew Gordon: Who are they?

Marshall Koval: Mainly at the end of the US and also there were some in Dubai.  But basically what we have is a group of friends and family that have followed Ross in the group for quite a while.  So if you look at it from that perspective we pretty much know where probably about 50% of the stock is, is pretty close to the group.

Matthew Gordon: But the rest of it’s Canadian retail?

Marshall Koval: Canadian retail and US.  We just recently listed on the OTC.

Matthew Gordon: Has that made a difference?

Marshall Koval: We see a lot more activity in the US. The US has always been important.  Two of the funds that have come in pretty substantial ways in both Lumina Gold and Luminex are California based.  So that’s an important aspect for us. 

Matthew Gordon: You’ve got to move it up.  You need more volume, you need more liquidity, need more trading, hence OTC I guess, but what else are you doing to get this promoted?  I know when we spoke last about Lumina Gold, you were starting a process.  How are you doing that Luminex?

Marshall Koval: So Luminex, given that there’s about 50% that we know of that’s long-term investors with the group in the story, that doesn’t leave a lot of free float out in the market.  So one of the things we’re doing quite a bit is we’re marketing in Europe, the US and Canada and we’re targeting the retail investors.  I think that’s going to be an important aspect going forward.

Also we’ve seen some funds that we’re buying in the market.  We just completed a financing, and right now we have about $7.5M in cash on hand, so we’ve cash up pretty good to move things forwards.  We’re not out marketing, looking to raise money but we’re continuously… Scott Hicks and myself are continuously working with investors.  We have a large focus on retail investors now, so…

Matthew Gordon: When you say you’ve got a large focus on retail… What does that mean to you?  What are you doing?

Marshall Koval: Doing a lot of town halls. It’s kind of interesting and it’s mainly focused on retail investors.  We’ve got a pretty broad reach.  It’s not just the US, Canada, but we’re seeing investors in Europe participate in these.  We’ve had over a hundred people at a time, and so we’re reaching out continuously like that, we’re going to conferences.  We’re at the spot conference in Vancouver next week and we have a Blue Fair.  We’re really trying to get the story out as broadly as we can because I think we’re still in the early stages here.  Obviously every CEO you’re going to talk to is going to tell you that his stock’s undervalued but I think there’s real… even with the move up into the 90 cent range, we still have a $47M, $48M market in cap, and any one of these projects we have significant success on, will see a substantial move from this point.

Matthew Gordon: Where do you see the value coming in?  You’ve got some big names associated, they’re spending nearest down at $140M on some projects for you.  You’ll still be left with a reasonable chunk of the companies or the projects after that, but how much of this is Ross’ company and how much is the Board actually doing to making decisions?

I look at Anfield Gold.  Obviously that’s gone into Equinox along with a couple of other projects to create a super project, $800M market cap for Ross there and Equinox.  Lumina Gold is sitting at around $170M, $180M market cap today.  Luminex $35M, $40M. Okay.  So is it a case of you take these things through following a plan or, because of the nature of your business, explorer, developer, you’re a little bit more free flowing in that?  It’s a case of are there opportunities to maximise… How do you think about that?

Marshall Koval: I think the value drivers for us in Luminex is going to be exploration success, adding resources and making discoveries.  A good example of that would be the discovery of the camp zone.  It was never drilled. It’s right underneath our camp at Condor.  Geologists from several companies – I mean this project’s been around since the 80s – sampled over the area and we had one of our geologists see some interesting rocks in a road cut and started to focus on doing work.  He did sampling and trenching work.  So it was a brand new discovery.  The drilling was –  also I mentioned to you earlier – we have a discovery in there. Now given the size of it, you could have a potential for a million / two million ounce deposit.

Matthew Gordon: So it does create value, but I’m more interested in the decision making.  So Ross Beaty, big name and reputation.  He’s got access to capital, all that good stuff.  With Anfield, rather than grow it yourself, it was a question of “Well, we could or I can roll it into something over here.”  What do the shareholders of Anfield get out of the Equinox deal?”

Marshall Koval: I’m on the Board of Equinox with Ross and several other Board members.  That was the deal where we had the Curinga deposit and we had some other assets, and at the end of the day Curinga turned out to be a small project that will be a mine some day. But, you know, there’s a management issue.  It takes as much effort to manage a small operation like that as it does a big project.  So the idea there was Anfield was going to be the vehicle we used to build the gold production company.  That’s what Ross wanted to do.  But at the end of the day Ross put a deal together to form Equinox and we had about $50M in Anfield.  The idea there was to take the assets, the Arizona mine which was a brownfield site in Brazil and the Casa Mountain project in California, and advance those.  So Equinox became the vehicle instead of Anfield.  Today we’ve got two producing mines in Equinox.  We’ve got a third mine, Casa Mountain that’s going to be put into production soon. 

So that was the idea and that was the producing story. So if you go back to your question about the Board – we have a pretty sophisticated Board.  Myself and John Wright handle a lot of the technical aspects and John’s the ex-President of Pan American Silver.  He’s a technical guy.  He’s on the Board of Silver Crest and Aero Copper.  And Dave Farrell, for instance, he’s the capital markets guy.  He’s on the Board of Fortuna.  Don Shumka is on the Board.  He’s experienced audit committee guy.  He’s been on the Board of several large mining companies, and then we have Lyle Braaten who’s our attorney and he’s involved in government. 

So basically the mandate of the Board is ‘Let’s try to maximise the value that we have in these assets.  Let’s go out and explore.  Let’s find projects.  Let’s advance those projects.’  That’s measured, advancing these projects by derisking them and moving them along towards the development chain. 

So, if you look at the Condor project, for instance, with this recent discovery we’re planning on drilling 2300 metres here.  We’re having a second drill rig come to site and if that starts to pan out, then we start to look at this thing as a development project and put it on the path towards PEA.  So that’s where value will be created besides just outright discovery.

So then if you look at the copper portfolio, the BHP, the Anglo American and the First Quantum deals, that’s going to be large scale upper porphyry deposit discovery and given the prospective terrains, we think out of those deals you’ll see some sort of major discovery.  At least that’s what we’re hoping for.

Matthew Gordon: So how do you guys pay yourselves?  How do you remunerate yourselves? Incentivise yourselves?  You’ve only got 52 million shares here, so how does that work?

Marshall Koval: So when you look at it, the Board doesn’t get paid.  We get options.  The option grants are pretty modest.

Matthew Gordon: No salary?

Marshall Koval: Not for the Board, no.  Myself and the management team that run the company day to day get a salary, but if you look on Page 6 there, for instance, issued in outstanding shares, we’ve got 52 million after this last financing.  If you look at it on a fully diluted basis, it’s 55 million, and we don’t do warrants.  We’ll do a discount to market financing, so basically there’s not a lot of dilution and like I say we’re tied on options.  So really the upside in these financing… most of the management team participate in the financings and they have all the way through the various ones we’ve done – both in Lumina Gold…

Matthew Gordon: At market?

Marshall Koval: At market along with the other investors. 

Matthew Gordon: This is what fascinates me about some companies.  They just get it right. You don’t have many shares out.  What you’re saying is the cost of your money is cheaper than… You don’t need to do warrants, so you don’t do warrants.  You’ve got contacts. You’re talking to money from Dubai, talking to money from California.  You’ve got the institutions.  They all know Ross Beaty. They know your management team, so you’re not paying more than you need to.  This is really important for funding a company.

Marshall Koval: Let me take that to the next level because we have an anti-dilutive mine set and obviously when you’re an exploration group and you don’t have income from operations, you rely on the capital markets to finance it as you go.  But this last financing, we were over subscribed by more than $1.5M and we didn’t want to go there, so we cut it back.  Our philosophy is don’t go out to the markets and raise any more money that you need.  Given the success of the group and obviously with Ross’s leadership there, we have the ability to finance when we need to.  So we try to minimise shareholder dilution and, like I said earlier, management and Board members often take the financing and Ross is usually the lead order when we do financing. So that’s a pretty strong message to the market.  

Matthew Gordon: It’s a strong message to the market, and then top of that the types of deals that you’ve recently done with obviously First Quantum, Anglo and BHP in terms of funding projects and leaving yourself with a meaningful position at the end of it, that’s also great news for investors in terms of optionality. 

Fantastic on the money and the remuneration side of things.  You’ve talked to us about Ecuador and mining in Ecuador.  Do you think that the retail market understands the Ecuador story?  Most people don’t know it and if I’m looking at the chat rooms, forums, various social media, there’s not a lot of talk about you.  Why do you think that is?

Marshall Koval: So if you look at the Lumina copper story.  Ross took a view back in 2003 that copper at the time was $0.85.  It was going to go to two bucks, so he went out and he acquired ten really solid assets in mining friendly jurisdictions.  So in the initial days it was pretty quiet and they went on and acquired these projects.  We were in a building stage with both Lumina Gold and then we spun Luminex out, so we’ve grown in the investor market at  a bit under the radar as we consolidated things. 

Now we’ve consolidated our land position in Ecuador, the majors have come in and they have to do deals with groups like ourselves because all of the highly prospective properties in the country are in some junior ownership.  So basically what you have is a lot of these companies have to come to us.  So basically we’ve been quiet because we’ve been in the building stage.  Now the story’s changed.  We’ve got our position.  We’ve got the prospects.  We’ve got funding in place.  We put off a lot of exploration risk up in these major companies that are really good technically.  They can move our projects forward.  We can focus on Condor. 

We also have three other projects that are copper plays that we’re continuing to do primary stage exploration work.  We’re in a really good position to move forward and not dilute the shareholders.  If all these JVs go through and $140M is spent on these projects and there’s discoveries, we would have diluted the hell out of our company to raise that kind of company to do it ourselves.

Matthew Gordon: I think its smart.  Obviously mining copper, mining gold have similar skill sets.  You’ve got all the relevant skills set you need in house.  Can you give investors and retail investors, new investors, reasons that Ecuador is a good place to be and why you think the way that you’ve structured these deals is going to work?

Marshall Koval: Ecuador is the last unexplored, geologically significant terrain in Latin America and probably the world.  There hasn’t been a lot of systematic exploration in Ecuador because basically when the moratorium that happened in 2008, Ecuador set up the majority of the super cycle that we went through and basically it was shut down for business.  Now it’s open for business, from a political risk perspective I think the best indication that it’s a viable jurisdiction is that all these major mining companies have started to come into the country. 

There’s two mines that will put into production by the end of this year – Fruta Del Norte is one and then Mirador is the other.  Mirador is owned by Tongling Mining as the operator and a partner.  Mirador is a large copper porphyry deposit and Fruta Del Norte that Lundin Gold has is a large underground gold deposit.  The prospective nature of Ecuador has come to fruition with these projects being built and there’s a significant pipeline of discoveries in the country. The Cangrejos work that we’re doing has a real good project and there’s a lot of interest. 

So Ecuador is now a mining jurisdiction and there’s growing pains that go with it.  Both the government’s learning, communities, dealing with the communities.  We’re educating communities along the way. So that’s part of the story. But geologically it’s great exploration.  I’m an explorationist by training and I haven’t seen as much prospective ground anywhere else in the world that hasn’t been systematically explored. 

So then if you go for the reasons that it makes sense for Luminex within the country – we’ve got $140 million of non-diluted financing coming from our partners and we have four million ounces of gold on the books already at Condor, and we’ve made a major discovery at the camp zone.  And then like you were talking out before, we’ve got a management team that’s been there, done this before.  Our business strategy is to add value to these assets, not be the producer, move them onto somebody to put them into production and then exit. 

So if you look at the Lumina copper story, that’s what shareholders did really well when we exited these companies excessively.  So we’ve got the ability to finance.  We’ve got the technical team.  We’ve got a really strong in country team in Ecuador, so I think we’ll be successful in advancing these projects, and I’m really excited about the prospects in Ecuador.

Matthew Gordon: You need liquidity in the business.  You need a bit more turnover to drive this price up.  What type of investor are you looking for?

Marshall Koval: I think we’re looking for the investors that understand the high-risk nature in Luminex exploration.  I think they understand being patient, that discoveries will reward shareholders.  So I think we’re starting to see a positive goal move recently.  When we went into the country a lot, we’re looking at $1,100 or $1,200 goal.  We’re up in the $1,400 range now.  We haven’t seen junior equities like ourselves move up as much as the gold price recently as a general rule.  So I think we’re still at an early investment stage, but if a shareholder comes in and as we derisks these projects makes more discoveries, we should see upward movement in a positive build it price environment. Plus also we have the optionality on copper.

Matthew Gordon: Do you think liquidity and volume correlate with long term holders?

Marshall Koval:  If you look at the float at the stock, we do have a lot of long-term holders and that’s why you don’t see large volumes.  If we get three hundred thousand shares trading in a day, that’s pretty good.  So the liquidity issue is definitely something that puts a bit of a lid on the upward movement right now.  But positive news, we’re moving the stock and the more we reach out and get the story out to the broader retail base institutions, we should see things improve.

Matthew Gordon: You may have to consider issuing more stocks sooner?

Marshall Koval:  That’s the issue that we’re talking about earlier, that non-diluted mind set, but you’re right.


Company page: https://luminexresources.com/

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GoviEx Uranium (TSX-V: GXU) – Are Uranium Stocks Correlated to the Stock Market or to the Energy Market? (Transcript)

In the aftermath of the Trump Section 232 Petition announcement, the Uranium market continues to be in a period of uncertainty. Utilities still cannot plan for Uranium contracts. In the meantime, Uranium stocks dwindle to previously unseen levels.

We talk to Daniel Major, CEO of GoviEx Uranium, about his thoughts on the 90 Working Group, put together by Donald Trump. Is it just kicking the can down the road? Will the US Uranium companies benefit from this review. Have the experts been calling this wrong for 3 years or have they just got in early? Could investors have been investing in other things for the last 3 years and walked back into the Uranium market today?

Interview Highlights:

  • Section 232 and the Expected Result vs What Happened
  • Remit of the 90 day Working Group and the Likely Outcome
  • Investment Hacks: Uranium Companies Fall Under the General Rules of Mining
  • GoviEx Uranium and What They’ve Been Doing
  • Reporting and Managing Mine-able Ore for the Market
  • The Uranium Market, the Uncertainty Within it & the Stock Markets

Click here to watch the full interview


Matthew Gordon: Okay, 232, you are going to tell me you expected that result, are you?

Daniel Major: I wouldn’t say I’m that smart, but I’ve always tried to set out both sides of the camp here, and explain why I thought it would not succeed, that there was a bigger issue here.  I think ultimately that’s what’s played through.

The way it was announced – the Working Group, to me – there’s two ways of looking at this.  Is this just purely a can kicking exercise?  You know, couldn’t make a decision on 232.  Let’s kick the can down the road, but we dealt with 232, per se the documentation but we just kick the can down the road for 90 days.  I’ve got another 90 days to think about it and worry about it in the future. 

That isn’t my concern to a degree, that that’s effectively… That goes both ways. That could be, I’m kicking the can down so the miners feel they’re loved, but at the end of the day I’m going to dump half of it anyway – or, I’m kicking the can down because I wasn’t ready to make that decision.  I’m slightly surprised by the rounding argument that was put there because when 232 started, there was application by the miners but they very quickly turned it into a review of the nuclear sector.  So what he’s asking for is effectively what they did at the beginning anyway.  I think the Working Group, to me, is politics.

Matthew Gordon:  So do you think the formation of the Working Group has removed any uncertainty in the market? 

Daniel Major: No. 

Matthew Gordon: No? 

Daniel Major: Because you’ve still got 90 days to think about it.

Matthew Gordon: But if you look at the way it’s been positioned by some groups…

Daniel Major: Yes. Oh, they definitely have their views

(Check out our recent interview with Uranium fund manager Mike Alkin).

Matthew Gordon: Everyone’s right.  My interest is in what the 232 set out to do because it was a conversation around national security.  I think it’s been re-engineered to be a conversation around, “Well, we’ve started a negotiation or discussion around the nuclear industry, from which we (Uranium equities companies) will benefit in the US. So it’s a win-win.”  Are you a buyer?

Daniel Major: No.

Matthew Gordon: It seems to me there’s multiple conversations that could spin out of this. 

Daniel Major:  I think it’s slightly a can-kicking exercise because when you looked at the depositions that originally went in, they came from everywhere.  The nuclear industry, the mining industry, everybody had an opportunity because they expanded it away from just the production of Uranium, and they made it a bigger issue.  So from that point of view I do think it’s, “I need 90 days to think about this.” 

The way it was worded coming out, you could look at it and say, “Quotas are off the floor.  That’s already been taken away. The defensive side has been removed because that’s what he said.  That’s the one categorical element that came out, which is “We don’t see a security issue here.  Let’s get this away.”  Where that ends up at the end of this, I don’t think anyone has any context yet of what this Working Group’s going to throw up or why.  What you might see is trying to make it easier for the miners to go into production – and I’m not talking about price. I’m thinking permitting rules, those kind of things.  That might be where they go and say, “Things have got to be commercial still, but let’s make it easier for BPO filing, that kind of stuff.”

Matthew Gordon: Do you think it was clear what the remit of the Working Group was? 

Daniel Major: I haven’t seen one other than the Working Group which will be formed to relook at the nuclear industry and the supply of material to it. 

Matthew Gordon: So you think it could have been handled better?

Daniel Major:  Not knowing the detail of what they’re trying to achieve, very difficult.

Matthew Gordon: Does anyone? 

Daniel Major: I don’t think so. The US Uranium miners will welcome the Working Group. Not many other people are rushing to welcome the Working Group because no one else has an opinion on it.

Matthew Gordon: I disagree.  I think everyone’s got an opinion on it.  The problem is, is it speculative, is it hopeful, is it a matter of pride?

Daniel Major: I think it’s all speculative at the moment, to be honest, and that’s the way I’m looking at it.  Until I see some clearer direction coming from wherever it’s going to come from to tell us what’s going on, I think the only thing that I’m reading into the decision-making process is this concept of direct quotas for security is probably off the table. That seems to be the only thing that… I could even be wrong there, but that seems to be the only thing I can see at the moment that has a degree of uncertainty – which is that’s gone. 

Matthew Gordon: Trying to work out what a likely outcome could be is impossible because you don’t know what the remit is.  We don’t know the extent of this and there was a dialogue going on before 232 which seemed to omit quite a few pertinent factors like where the utilities companies sat in all this.  There was a lot of conversation around they need certainty, but no one talked about opposition to the 232 petition.

Daniel Major:  They all had to put documentation in.  So there were utilities putting in documentation to state their positioning on it, and they were one of the ones that were very ‘we don’t have an issue, guys.  We buy from Canada more than we buy from the Soviet States.  It’s not a big problem for us and there’s so many places we can buy Uranium from.’

People have always said, “it’s only four per cent of energy costs for nuclear or six per cent.’  But when you’re not making a lot of money, anything is a lot.  You’re squeezing your margins now.  You’ve already taken everything into account.

Utah now sign off their clean energy bill.  You cannot be providing financial support on the one side and then up the input costs on the other side.  It just doesn’t make any sense, and I think ultimately that was figured out. There’s not a lot more we can say on this.

Matthew Gordon:  It’s guesswork?

Daniel Major: Speculation all over the place.  We just watch.  All I hope is that it doesn’t drag out this problem, and particularly Cameco who said they were not going to be going to the market to buy their material until Section 232 was out of the way.  Well, it’s out of the way, but I’m not sure we’re seeing a lot of Cameco buying yet.  So maybe what this has done has also pushed them out further. 

Matthew Gordon: We’ve spoken to one utility and a couple of other players in the market who have said that this thing could go on for as long as 18 months. The Uranium space has got some unusual characteristics to it and there’s a lot of moving parts.  More so than any other commodity, so let’s hope we find out.

The fundamentals of mining still apply, and Uranium buyers, equities buyers, seem to forget that in conversations – it’s relatively convenient to talk about the macro picture, but there are going to be good companies and not so good companies, and that’s important to say.  Why don’t we talk about that? 

We call this investment hacking for our investor community.  With your investor hat on, I want you to describe the sorts of things that you look for in a company if you’re going to invest in the Uranium space right now.

Daniel Major: On your question, there’s nothing different to Uranium mining as there is to copper mining or gold mining, or any form of mining.  Mining is mining.  The only difference is our operators have to wear dose meters and they don’t.  And it’s a real pain to ass to do paperwork.  So I’ve even done pulp and paper in my life.  It’s the same as mining.  You crush a tree down.  You bleach it out and you produce a paper from it.  What’s the difference to putting gold in a mill, putting cyanide on it and producing a gold bar?  The process is the same.  At the end of the day, it comes down to the same things that we always have – what is the quality of the asset?  What is the jurisdiction?  What is the management and the cost?  Nothing is different when you look at companies.  I think the only things that you’re looking at is timeframes here. 

Nobody will dispute the Canadian projects that are currently sitting out there are probably the three best mining projects that are out there.  You can’t dispute Denisa who’s got 19 per cent grade in their deposit, that that is not a good deposit.  I mean, flipping hell!  But this comes down to timing and cash flow.  It’s a great deposit, but as I said, you keep the Ferrari parked in the garage for ten years, it’s a bit boring.  You want to get to the shops, you’ll take out the Ford Mondeo because you can use it to run around in. 

 Someone like ourselves we’ve got a great project, but it’s permitted and you can get going.  And that comes back to jurisdiction and understanding jurisdiction.  Canada is a safe place. 

Matthew Gordon: It is a safe place and I think even with Athabasca there are projects which are better than others.

Daniel Major: Yes.

Matthew Gordon: In terms of they’re shallower or deeper, etc…

Daniel Major: High-grade or whatever they are.

Matthew Gordon:  High-grade or they’re earlier stage, the stock is at a price which may lift more.  If you’re one of the big producers perhaps you don’t see those uplifts anymore.  So as an investor you need to pick what your investment thresholds are and make that decision.   I agree with you.  I think the ASIC is really, really important.  The management team’s ability to deliver is really important.  Encourage Uranium investors to look at the mining fundamentals before they leap in.  Not all comapnies are born equal.

 So with regards to that, are you saying because you’re permitted, you’re the best out of the rest outside of the Athabasca? 

Daniel Major: We have that one big advantage sitting there.  If I was looking at myself compared to everybody else, what is the one thing that has standing out against the rest is I’ve got a permitted project.  It’s ready to roll.  All it needs is an improved price. 

Matthew Gordon: But what are your grades?  It’s not just about permitted, it’s permitted, low-grade, low margin…

Daniel Major: You look at your project.  You go, “There’s my key factor that I’ve got.  Why has this project got real potential?”  And so therefore you go, “Well, I can do absolutely nothing and just hope for a really high Uranium price, but by the time I get a really high Uranium price, time has gone and everybody else… I’m losing my angle.  My advantage is being eked away.”

It’s a bit like IP.  IP lasts you for five years and then if you haven’t made your money it’s gone.

Matthew Gordon: Are you just saying that you’re so far down the track. You’ve got your DFS, you’re permitted. That gives you an advantage, but if that’s your only advantage….

Daniel Major:  That’s where I was going to. So, what we have to do and what GoviEx is completely fixated on. I’m completely fixated on, which is… Well, you either wait for this price or you do your damnedest to drop your cost and optimise your project, so you actually only need this price.  That is what you’ve got to do which is, “I have a first mover advantage,  I need to make sure that this company is turbo-charged to take that advantage when it happens.”

Matthew Gordon: So what have you done?

Daniel Major: So, we had continue… First thing I did when I started the FS, people say, “What are you starting?” was actually to take that opportunity and not bring in a cast of thousands, but to put a small team together that basically said “Look guys, there’s your PFS -what can we do to this project that substantially changes its costing?”  Firstly, let’s forget about 21 years of my life, because we know it’s there and it’s probably actually going to go for 50 years in the end. But this thing has got to pay for itself – it must pay its debt down within five years.  How do you change this project to pay its debt down in five years? 

So that’s why it was important to get Merriam in, the other part of Merriam that was missing – the six million pounds that are there in measured and indicated, because that meant the open pit was now longer than the debt period.  So the debt guys could do that.  So that basically simplifies the project that the only bit we look at is an open pit.

Matthew Gordon: So just simplify it for people – open pit means cheaper, right?

Daniel Major:  It’s cheaper, it’s simpler.  Banks understand it, it’s literally digging a hole in the ground.

Matthew Gordon: It’s less risk because it’s pretty much all at surface, because as soon as you go underground there’s uncertainty about where things are and the cost of actually getting at it.

Daniel Major:  It’s a more complex mining methodology, ramping up… digging with a truck and a shovel, pretty basic.

Matthew Gordon: Right, so that’s the first great thing which has happened, where you with other things?

Daniel Major:  So now we’re looking at contract mining, because I can cut out about $25 million of capital if I can get a contract miner in.  What we’re doing is trying to find that balance between operating costs and capital costs, because you’ve got to get a better or same return out of your project.  Because the contract miner’s going to want a higher operating cost, because he’s got to consider his profit margin and his amortisation of his mining equipment. So you’ve got to deal with that. 

So we’re out talking to, and getting quotes from, almost a dozen contract miners around.  That’s the big difference from when we did the PFS, because there was nobody who wanted to do contract mining in Niger.  Now there’s lots of people  more than comfortable to do it because Niger as a jurisdiction is becoming more and more appealing.

The other thing…and things like the plant was designed to be on top of the underground because that was the biggest mass, but we have to truck to it every time.  We’ve got to go 25 kilometres to get to the plant from the open pit, so why not just move it next to the open pit and start there?  There’s some longer-term benefits to that, and I won’t go into detail on that now, because we could talk for hours on that. 

The other big thing was to look at the plant and just say “Look guys, 50% of our costs, from an operating cost, and two-thirds of our capital are in the process plant”.  If we’re going to make savings on capital, it’s going to have to come out of the process plant, just by scale – that’s where it all sits – operating costs.  Very hard to change the mining costs a lot because, you know, it’s pretty basic.  Can you do anything really radical to the process costs to change it? 

Our biggest issues were new technology we were applying anyway, and we wanted to make sure it worked, or change it to get rid of it, to de-risk.  And we were using a fairly aggressive costing approach on Uranium recovery using solvent extraction.  It’s still built into a $24 cash cost, but it was still an aggressive way of doing it.  So, we basically sat down and broke that out and said: “what can we do to radically change that? What’s new, what haven’t we spotted before?” and that is what we’re doing.  So we’re now looking at gravity.

And some of these things come because of a result of what you’ve done before – you learn.  And you go “Well, we did this and this, and that changed, so now we have a better understanding of how material operates.”

Matthew Gordon: You did a “what if” exercise?

Daniel Major: Yeah, so as you go through, you go, “Well if that didn’t work, but we realised what the parameter was that was causing the reaction.  However, if we now apply that somewhere else, we get a radical change.”  So, we’re looking at a process where we’ll still do radiometric shorting because it’s good at clearing out.  We’ve got a big test going on in South Africa in the next month to just check that. 

Then we’ve looked at ablation which we were using before but, because ablation shrinks everything down to a small size, we did some dry ablation work.  We got dry ablation to work, but unfortunately it wasn’t scalable – we had too many little bits of equipment.  So, you need 14 rigs to make the thing work.

Matthew Gordon: Did things go wrong?

Daniel Major: But what we did realise is that gravity works.  I mean like there’s a massive SG, specific gravity, difference between the background material and the Uranium and that works.  So we tested that.  It has a benefit because we’re getting massive scale…we’re getting really small mass pull, so we’re coming down to less than … These are initial tests and we’ve got to prove them up, but the initial tests were showing only 20% of our material would be going through with 99.7% of the Uranium.  But the key was almost no Calcite.  And Calcite eats up acid, and acid is 10% of our operating costs.

Matthew Gordon:  Wow!  I didn’t appreciate that.

Daniel Major: So I can cut my acid costs down a lot, I’m going to save a lot on operating costs.  The other important thing is it looks like it simplifies the back-end of our plants as well to a much lower cost back-end, and smaller.  So, these are the things we’re kind of looking at to say “what can we do to radically change the project?”  Think outside the box, test it for low cost and then gradually scale it through. 

There’s another side to this, to my brain thinking, as well, which is – if I simplify the process, the piloting becomes easier as well.  So I’m trying to avoid some of my piloting because, if I can revert completely to industry standard, I can do things on very small batches and therefore save the amount of money I need to complete the FS.  So I’m trying to save not just on the project, but how much money do I need to complete the bankable?  

Matthew Gordon: I saw the press release, last week. There were some  very important people there.

Daniel Major: There were some important people there. We got the President of the country and some fairly big hitters from his Parliament into Arlot. The President hadn’t been there since 1970.  So it pulled him back to his roots.  We had a first stone-laying, which doesn’t mean we’re going to start construction today, and even the Mines Minister said it won’t start straight away, but it was just to really highlight that the Government is really getting on with things and we are. 

What happened in that agreement we did with the Government was we, in exchange for not paying back seven million Euros that we originally owed them from the acquisition, and we disputed about $6.6M of surface right taxes.  We said, “Look they’re not due because of various technical reasons.”  We agreed to convert that into a share in the project with the Government for a 10% stake.  The intention being that in the future we have the right to buy it back again so they get their cash back, because they didn’t want to actually want to put more equity into mining companies.

The other thing that was key to them…and the Government kept talking about one particular item – the President made one point repeatedly, which is he felt Niger had suffered from the injustices of the Uranium pricing in the past. The Government is looking for transparency and is looking for engagement.  And as long as you’re doing those, it wants to work and it wants to actively develop.

Matthew Gordon: Quite often they do love a photo op and it fills the papers and it’s just for the voters, and nothing actually happens.  So why was this significant that they came up and saw you?

Daniel Major:  Why was this significant – because of the agreements we signed with them.  That was the key thing, because it showed we are moving forward.  They could have gone hard on us and said No, pay up your money – you owe us this money, pay it”, and they went “ No, this is much more pragmatic, we want this company to build. Commonack is supposed to be closing, we want a new project, we want to work with you and get you to develop a mine”.  So it was very much….part of it was obviously politics, but part of it was actually stating “we are moving forward” and that is key. 

Matthew Gordon: So you’re keeping busy, you’re doing things – optimising, getting the ministry and the President of the country involved. But things are where they are today.  Things haven’t moved and we talked at the beginning of this interview about uncertainty still with the 90 day Working Group.  I think there will be for some time. How are you fixed in that – how long can this go on for you at this current rate? When do you need to see something move?

Daniel Major: We’ve gone for a long time in this process and it’s bought us time.  I mean, if we’d have had to do this back in 2013 when we did the PFS, that would have been the project we were building.  It’s given me time, ultimately, to get a better project together which will last for a lot longer.  This is the point I made in my speech – this is not just about producing a mine for now, this is one that can go for the next generation.  It’s a 50 year mine plus, and it needs to have the foundations to do that.  So, we can go for quite a lot longer but, getting back to the original comment, I don’t want to be waiting for this price, I want this price.  And at under three million pound per annum, we don’t make a lot of difference to the market.

Matthew Gordon: We’re getting into a discussion about mineable ore.  A lot of companies have put out big numbers, big numbers, but they’re not discussing mineable ore, i.e. what levels can they economically mine at today, next year, the year after? What do the numbers need to look like?

Daniel Major: If you look at today, there aren’t many people who can mine mineable ore today, but you’re looking at trying to pull together a project that one, would only be in production kind of two or three years from now, to start with.  Who knows what the final market will look like in two to three years?  This isn’t a restart, this is a new build.  And we’ve discussed this before – what I’m looking for is that momentum. 

The other thing I’m looking for is to be able to take a much more interesting project…we have a great project, but I want it to be super great because I can then go and start talking to the off takers way more aggressively, because they want certainty of supply.  And if I present now they’re going “Well hey mate, you’re going to need a much higher price so let’s wait”.  When we go in and say “Well, actually I can get away here. This is the contract I want, here’s my nice project – you can provide that greater fiscal security” and the banks.  So nothing really changes, but like everybody else, we need momentum. I mean you can’t move….

Matthew Gordon: You need momentum. The conversation is getting into how miners manage the numbers.  You’re talking about open pit for the first few years of this, get past the debt position and then, guess what, the costs will go up and I think other people take that attitude – let’s get the good stuff out of the ground, pay off the debt, get some cash flowing, you know, and that’s the way that they approach this. 

We’ve been looking at some studies with regards to mineable ore numbers at different levels, and obviously it starts small and builds up as you go up that curve, but at some point there’s an optimal number for the market….you want to sell for as much margin as possible, but there’s an optimal level for the market.  Where do you think that is?

Daniel Major: We talked about this before, when you asked me about…  I think it was in the very first interview we did and it was…. my benchmark for this project was to get below $45 Uranium as an incentive price That was the price.  And my rationale to that was Cameco, when they first closed everything down, said $50 was their number to restart McArthur River.  McArthur River coming back on is 18Mlbs, you know, it’s no small amount arriving and the Kazakhs, we know,  can take their material up. 

So, I think in the short to medium term my rationale has been – Cameco will restart when they’re comfortable that the market is right.  The one thing we haven’t seen is that buying, Cameco just upped the amount they need to buy by the end of the year by 7%.  That’s got to have an effect, no matter what happens this year, Cameco have got to meet those contracts so I think while we’re concerned about the 90Mlbs today, Cameco has got to be saying “well at some point we’ve got to pull the trigger,  we have got to be mining material”.

Matthew Gordon: So they’re the guys who are going to blink first in this process…

Daniel Major: They’ll have to.

Matthew Gordon: …and set off a series of events.  I guess everyone’s hoping that.

Daniel Major: Well, yes and I think they will.  What they didn’t like to be was the only guys in the market, but I think the reality is US utilities now can be a bit more comfortable because, yes there’s a Working Group, but there’s nothing defined – there’s no Section 232 thing going on, there’s a chat going on in the background.  But I think, more importantly, is that Cameco need to buy material to get what they need.

Matthew Gordon: We’ve talked about dealing with the oversupply in the market at the moment, eating that up, but you think it’s being eaten up at a rate which is unsustainable for very much longer.  So, you must therefore be able to put a timeline on this when you think it’s going to…?

Daniel Major: I think by the end of this year we’ll have seen that momentum kick into gear.  I think Cameco’s actions…unless something really aggressively comes out of the US Government, which I don’t expect it to occur.  If they’d have done something super aggressive, I think they would have already done it.  I think that demand pull for Cameco will start to move things.  We’ve seen inventories gradually coming down elsewhere – if you look at UXC’s numbers for US, Europe, they are dropping.  Then if you look from next year onwards, the uncovered contracts issue starts to become a much bigger problem, because at the moment they’re relatively well covered, Europe I think is covered next year, but even the EU came out, because not everybody is in the same place, so some utilities are well covered, some are less well covered, and they are starting to flag “guys – those of you who are less covered should probably start thinking about getting cover in”.  So I think, as you move into next year, that contract market’s going to become a bigger and bigger issue.

Matthew Gordon:  I’ve looked back at videos for the last two to three years – the great and the good in there quoting when it’s going to turn out, how much it’s going to turn by. And you could argue – you just got there early, we’re ahead of the crowd.  Or you could go “you got it wrong guys, for three years you got it wrong”, but we’re now at that point where everything’s there. 

Do you think Uranium is going to become less susceptible to the turns in the market, because of the nature of what it is going to be able to allow people to do with regards to energy?

Daniel Major:  I think it has the potential to do that.  Will it react directly to it? I think given that it has a single big driver behind it, then I would agree with you that it has that potential to do that.  And I think you and I… We all in various ways had all the right pieces, we were just all missing bits and pieces of it, which have had bigger effects than we have expected them to have.  Section 232 has had a far greater impact than anybody ever thought it was ever going to have.

Matthew Gordon:  It was a much bigger organic jigsaw puzzle than we realised and there’s a lot of people with vested interests and influence which had not been taken into account.  Not by the big funds, not by anyone in the market place and it’s kind of a reality check when these moments occur.  But what I’m more excited about is the fact that Uranium is getting to that point, despite the demand gap supply story is there, and the macro story is there, it’s going to get to that point where you can’t do without it, because there’s so much infrastructure being built now that, even say if there was a downturn, I’m not sure Uranium gets affected in perhaps the way it once would have?

Daniel Major:  No I don’t….look – again we’re predicting if you like…

Matthew Gordon: Sure, that’s the fun bit isn’t it?

Daniel Major: Not going to comment, I’ll probably get it completely wrong!  Look, the fundamentals that are all there – the tightness in the market, the fact that you’re going to have existing producing assets fading away.  You’ve got about a two per cent growth in demand going out there; you’re going to have longer protection to the US reactors, I think you’re going to see more life extensions coming through.  The fundamentals are all there for the Uranium market….

Matthew Gordon: At a macro level?

Daniel Major: At a macro level to be completely counter-cyclical if you had a falling market.  What will affect, obviously, was if the market’s going one way and is that having a dampening effect on where it could go? Or is it going to completely ignore that?  That’s going to be be your factor, which is a falling market – does it just put a brake on it?  It will still rise, but it will just rise at a slower right because the market’s not helping it.

Matthew Gordon:  So at a macro level, I think everyone is in violent agreement with each other.  At a micro level, my concern is still in terms of this investment hacking-type advice we’d like to give people is – look at the small stuff – look at the management team, look at the asset, look at the economics, the fundamentals, those things still apply. 

Daniel Major: Correct, absolutely.


Company page: www.goviex.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.

Bannerman Resources (ASX: BMN) – 5 Things You Need to Know About Section 232 (Transcript)

We interviewed Brandon Munro, CEO of Bannerman Resources (ASX: BMN), the Namibian Uranium explorer. He joins us to talk us through his recent article about the implications of Section 232 as well as the WNA Fuel Report and how it is put together.

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: Good morning Brandon, how are you?

Brandon Munro: Very well Matthew. Thanks for having me on again. I really enjoyed chatting.

Matthew Gordon: That was a great conversation I thought, a lot of people got a lot out of it. It’s good to be talking again. So, a few things have happened since we last talked. Why don’t you give us an update on the company? What’s Bannerman been doing?

Brandon Munro: Yeah well as many of your audience would know, Bannerman Resources has the Etango project in Namibia. It’s a very, very large project. 270Mlbs of U3O8. Namibia is a fantastic jurisdiction to be doing business in. Not only is it a great country for getting things done, it’s a lovely part of Africa, and I’ll in fact spend some time there with the family next week which we’re looking forward to. But it’s also a great Uranium mining jurisdiction. We’ve been mining Uranium there for 45 years, all of the infrastructure is in place. Everyone from the society to the government is very comfortable with Uranium. Very grateful for the contribution that Uranium has made to the country and for that reason we’re permitted. And we just don’t have many of the challenges that are particular to the commodity of Uranium, that are experienced in other jurisdictions. And so that’s our project it’s very advanced as you know, we completed the Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) back in 2012. The main activity that’s going on the ground, is engineering, picking off aspects of that original DFS and some of the optimisation work done since then, that could do with a refresh. There’s a lot of technology that we looked at back in 2012 that existed but wasn’t sufficiently proven that we were prepared to affect what is a low risk profile of a project by introducing new things. Now obviously things have changed and things have happened and some of those technologies have fallen by the wayside and some of them are well and truly proven. And examples would be some of the nano technology that we’ve successfully deployed with our program. So we are working on that and because it’s such a massive project, an average of more than 7Mlbs per annum, even relatively small and incremental improvements do make a big difference. And we’re continuing that process until we get closer to a market that enables us to finance, at which point we will just draw all of those pieces together and update the DFS work that we’ve done.

Matthew Gordon: Well that’s a really nice segue actually. The old phrase would be, your shovel ready, ready to go. There’s some optimisation which you can look at in terms of the technologies. But the big elephant in the room that everyone’s been talking about and getting excited about, coming on the 13th or 14th of July this year is the announcement around the Section 232 petition. You have done a lovely ‘five things you need to know about a section 232’. You’ve kindly of agreed to talk us through that. I read and I love the simplicity of the way that you laid it out, but it was very intelligently laid out. So, can we run through those five things you need to know?

Brandon Munro: Yeah. Love too. And I enjoyed writing it so I’m glad you and a few others enjoyed reading it.

Matthew Gordon: It’s been really well received. But for those people who haven’t read it or perhaps not quite aware. So, UR-Energy and Energy Fuels, with some help from a couple of other people, have submitted this petition to the US government. Why don’t you tell us about that just very quickly, then we’ll get into the five key points?

Brandon Munro: So, they submitted a petition back in January 2018. And it took the whole market by surprise, including the utilities and those of us on the production side. And it came at a time when the market was starting to improve. Cameco had just announced a couple of months earlier that they were putting McArthur River on to temporary care and maintenance, and within weeks we saw Kazatomprom announce supply cuts. What we saw was a market that was already showing good solid green shoots of improvement, that was suddenly surprised by this action. And the petition had the effect that a lot of bids were withdrawn from the spot market. Whilst utilities and others, and traders, started to try and make sense of what the implications would be. And for a lot of people they, although they’d been a little bit of activity in Section 232 for Aluminium and Steel and so forth, for many, many people they really had to get on Google and start figuring out what this was all about. And we’d been obviously talking to utilities a lot. I’d been in the room with a bunch of them through WNA only a week before the announcement was made and they were actively preparing procurement strategies and procurement programs. In other words, that’s the key precursor to reigniting long-term contracting, and all of a sudden, they were all iced. No one was prepared to make a move until they knew what the implications were and what it actually meant. So that was a petition. Now the petition isn’t the investigation. The petition is simply a request or a petition that the Department of Commerce picks up the investigation. And it’s a bit unusual. The ones that are well known, Steel, Aluminium, autos; they’ve all been initiated by the Department of Commerce themselves with a bit of insistence from the White House. This one was a little bit different and what followed was another six months of uncertainty whilst we waited to know if the Department of Commerce was going to pick the thing up, ignore it, or do something totally different. And so that broke in July 2018. And at least at that point we knew, well something’s happening, and the statutory timeframes that exist under that Trade Expansion Act started to kick in. Fast forward almost 12 months as you say, the process is coming to the end because the Trump administration now needs to decide on whether they accept the Department of Commerce’s recommendation, that there are trade actions that threaten to impair national security. And if so, what actions if any will be taken. And as you say that’s 13th of July in the US, 14th of July for most of the rest of us.

Matthew Gordon: Why don’t we look at the five points that you’ve identified that people need to think about here. And the first thing is, what’s the likely outcome? That’s a big question.

Brandon Munro: The point that I’ll make is there is an array of outcomes here. And it’s impossible to say ‘this one’s more likely than that one. And this is the one that I think is going to happen’. And I know that some of my friends will start poking fun at me because I am a lawyer by background. But I promise you I’m not one of those lawyers who is too scared to ever make a prediction as you will remember from the last time I was on, I’m prepared to put myself out there if I believe something. In this case, there are so many outcomes. We’ve got an administration that has benefited in various sorts of negotiations by remaining unpredictable and has a history of approaching these things in a very unconventional way. And also, when you look at the merits of the case, I think you’ve got a very even hand between the utilities who are opposing the investigation and any remedies. And the proposition on which it’s been based, which is the US imports almost all of its Uranium, which opens it up for a potential impairment of national security.

Matthew Gordon: You said something which I think which we haven’t really been discussing with the Uranium companies. You’re saying that the utility companies are opposing the basis of the petition?

Brandon Munro: Yes, very strongly.

Matthew Gordon: And on what basis are they opposing it? What’s the problem that it will cause for them?

Brandon Munro:  The primary argument from the utilities is that any trade action, particularly the quota, and obviously a tariff that will increase their costs. And they obtain some economic analysis that they have on their website and that they’ve filed with the Department of Commerce during the process, which indicates somewhere between a $500M and $800M impost compared with what they can currently buy on the spot. Now there’s a few arguments that you might levy against that. For a start, they aren’t paying what they can currently buy on the spot, they are paying blended prices and that’s quite transparent and significantly above what they can buy on the spot at the moment. But the theories and the concern from them is that a 25% quota would create a marginal cost of at least $70/lbs in order to incentivise enough US production to meet that requirement. Now the argument with the utilities, which I think has been very intelligently and strategically made, is it’s a tipping point argument. So as many of your listeners would know, U3O8 as a component of nuclear fuel, is a very small part of the cost of producing nuclear power. The cost of Uranium is typically about 6% of the cost of producing nuclear power. The vast bulk is capital then followed by things like green tape, compliance; all of the necessary procedural matters that you have to have around it. And then followed by nuclear fuel of which Uranium is, the U3O8, is only a small proportion. So, 6% of the cost of American nuclear power is Uranium, compared with say gas or coal where it’s often up to about 80% of the cost. The cost of nuclear power and this is one of the beauties of it as an energy source, is its relatively price inelastic to the cost of Uranium. The utilities have had to frame up their argument as more of a tipping point argument. They can’t just say ‘oh you increase the cost of Uranium and we’re going to go out of business’. They have to point to vulnerable reactors in the merchant power markets, that are already under pressure largely because of renewable subsidies but also because of cheap gas. Perhaps there are only one or two reactors which make them less economic to run than a large power station with four or six reactors, and they basically said any further pressure might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back here. And President Trump, you will have the responsibility for job losses if we need to close any more plants. So that’s been the strength of the utilities argument and we need to caution Uranium investors that that can be a very strong argument when they are such a big employer.

Matthew Gordon: I can see that. But maybe we should discuss that later because I think it comes up in one of your points when you talk about the different scenarios. But to just finish off on this, the likely outcomes – you don’t think there is one because the unpredictability of Trump seems to be the key driver here. There’s not going to be any single outcome. But who can tell. What happens if there is a delay? What’s the impact of that? This 180-day component which the automotive industry took advantage of.

Brandon Munro: Yes, so there is the possibility of a delay. It could be a temporary delay. Under the Act, the administration has to make a decision by the 13th of July but it can take another 15 days to implement the decision, whatever that means. There is also the possibility that you might see the administration taking a liberal view of the way that the act is drafted. Which means their obligation to report back to Congress is only 30 days after that. So, they might interpret it in such a way where they don’t have to announce their decision for as long as 45 days. As long as they’re implementing in the meantime. I think that’s fairly unlikely but we are dealing with an unpredictable administration here. The other possibility is that the administration says that our solution or our decision here is to engage in trade negotiations, which then gives them up to another six months. And that is as you say what happened in autos. And I note that the senior representative of the Kazakh government was at the White House just during the week. So that might be pure coincidence. It might be lobbying, or delivering some bad news on the part of the White House. But regardless of what it does, what it does do is give something of a preface for saying there will be trade negotiations and therefore we’d like to buy another six months. It is a possibility. Now what that means is it will certainly test the patience of Uranium investors. There’s no doubt about that. It’s been a long time for us waiting as investors for this to be resolved. It will put a lot of pressure on any Uranium companies that need to raise capital. It will be fine for a company like Bannerman. We’ve still got more than $6M in the bank and a very low burn, so we will sail through. We will be fine. It will probably even open up opportunities for us if we see other companies and their assets under distress. But it will test the patience.

Matthew Gordon: Well that’s a topic which I’ve discussed recently with quite a few Uranium companies. And we did bring it up when we spoke, in terms of junior companies have got so much cash. This potential delay or whatever the timeframe is, it is going to cause people to need to go and raise capital. And the thing is, for investors, they’re in this. I can’t see how investors get out of it, go play somewhere else and come back and come back in. Because no one knows when this thing is going to pop. And I think people are frightened of missing the party when it does. But at the same time, it is deeply frustrating. I’m being told by funds, I’m told by the companies that their investors are very frustrated by the whole process. I agree with you. But we know a couple of companies who’ve had to go and raise money and it’s expensive at this point. But you’re okay.

Brandon Munro: Oh, we’re fine. And what it will do in the medium-term, will be essentially positive. And the reason I say this is a three to six-month delay won’t be long enough that utilities need to change their strategy in the meantime. They will simply sit it out. That will further consume inventory, it will tighten things up in the market but it will put additional pressure on the spring, that is Uranium supply and demand. What it means is three years from now, there will be greater upside volatility on the Uranium price. And in the context of very significant pressure being there already because of the imminency of the US long term contracts rolling off and their need to re-contract. It certainly wouldn’t be all bad. It would just be a difficult period for some companies for the next six months.

Matthew Gordon: The whole thing about 232, people just want a decision one way or the other. It’s almost irrelevant what the decision is. Just decide – kind of like Brexit here actually. Give us a decision. We know where we are. We know how to make plans on that basis. Because there are stockpiles of Uranium, no one’s able to give me a number of what that what that looks like. But at some point, that’s running down clearly and there’s going to be, as you say, a gap in production if we’re not careful if this thing does keep going on for very much longer. The money, or cheap money, is not there to enable companies to get going.

Brandon Munro: Yeah. That’s right. And I think while we’re talking about all this we should emphasise, I don’t think a delay is a probable outcome. It’s one of the many outcomes and we’re going to have a much better idea about this in just over a week’s time. So it is well worth investors having it in the back of their mind and probably building their strategies around what happens if there is a delay. But as you say, any decision is positive because it enables the market to get on with it and creates certainty that hasn’t been there for 18 months.

Matthew Gordon: Let’s talk about the second thing that you mentioned in your document. Investors must have a balanced perspective. Now there’s a question I ask everyone. And I asked you, you gave us your opinion and it’s this fervour, America first doctrine on the one side and then it seems to be the rest of the world on the other. Whether people believe it’s a security issue or a commercial proposition, it’s divided the room. What’s your take? Remind everyone of what your take is on this.

Brandon Munro: I think there are sufficient grounds for the administration to find that their importation of nuclear fuel, whether it’s Uranium conversion, enrichment or fabrication; does threaten impair national security. However –

Matthew Gordon: What does that mean? What does national security mean?

Brandon Munro: Well it depends on the administration. If you look back over time since 1962 when this part of the Trade Expansion Act was introduced. There’s been three dozen different investigations of this nature and only a small proportion of those have actually found that the relevant trade practice threatens to impair national security. But we’ve had it in Steel, Aluminium and even autos. It seems the interpretation of that view is somewhat more concerned than what it has been in recent times. I mean if Mercedes Benz and Hyundai can impair national security by delivering pretty good motor cars, then I have no difficulty finding that a reliance on Kazakhstan for the world’s cheapest Uranium can impair the electricity source for one in five households. What it means? I’ve got no idea. But as a lawyer we use precedent the whole time, and I’ve got three very strong precedents to suggest that we have a situation to impair national security here. Now my take on it though, is that that’s not really the issue here. The issue here, as we discussed last time, is that the world’s biggest industrial economy is fast becoming a nobody when it comes to a technology driven power source that still powers more than a tenth of the world’s electricity, and is expected to grow with strong climate change fundamental policies behind it. How can the US even be in that situation? It wasn’t that long ago that they absolutely dominated the nuclear power industry. And they find themselves not producing any Uranium, not having any conversion capacity, having very little enrichment capacity that they can control and virtually building no reactors around the world. They’ve given ground not only to their Western arch rivals the French, and Électricité de France (EDF). But they’ve also given huge ground to Rosatom out of Russia, CNNC and CGN out of China and even South Korea. So they’ve been relegated outside the top five because essentially of government policy and stress on their domestic nuclear fleet for the reasons that we’ve described. So that for me is what needs to be solved here.

Matthew Gordon: A couple of quotes from you. You say that AHUG which is the American, what does it stand for again?

Brandon Munro: Ad Hoc Utilities Group.

Matthew Gordon: Okay. They have, as you say, cleverly positioned themselves as being vulnerable to Uranium prices. But the Uranium sector itself employs currently about 500 jobs. If it comes back, it may create 3000 jobs. It’s not on the register. It’s nothing. That’s just a medium sized company in the States. But the nuclear industry, about 100,000 jobs. If you say ‘I can buy Uranium anywhere in the world’, the nuclear industry jobs are safe. It’s not an issue. 500 jobs, you don’t have many lobbyists for 500 jobs. Is that part of the problem?

Brandon Munro: That’s part of the challenge for the petitioners and for US Uranium producers and developers. It’s a challenge in the context of an administration that’s been very jobs focused and prefers solutions that can be expressed succinctly and in relatively simple terms. So jobs, jobs, jobs, is a much easier argument to make than some of the more nuanced and equally valid arguments that are being made by the petitioners.

Matthew Gordon: Okay. Well I guess that’ll be answered in next couple of weeks. But let’s try and hypothesise what the possible outcomes could be. Because you talk in your document about quotas and tariffs, and I think five different scenarios or possible solutions, not necessarily one but maybe a bit of all five. But let’s start with domestic quotas.

Brandon Munro: The petitioners for your audience requested a 25% domestic quota. Now to put that in context, they would need to move from current production, which is a bit less than a million pounds per annum to between 12Mlbs and 14Mlbs per annum. The Uranium resources are there, but they’re certainly aren’t shovel ready projects that can turn that on quickly. It will take time, it will take an adjustment period. And as I pointed out, there was a leak from the Department of Commerce to Bloomberg that suggested a 5% initial tariff that escalates by 5% per year. Bloomberg didn’t go as far as reporting if it escalates all the way to 25% or not, but one might expect that it would. And that’s consistent with the general view which is that 12Mlbs to 14Mlbs couldn’t possibly come on in less than about five years. Now the thing is that these leaks are very rarely done by accident. It’s usually, and I dare say in this case, in order to test the waters a little bit amongst the key stakeholders. The leak gets out there and the Department of Commerce and the White House sits back and waits for the reaction.

Matthew Gordon: Which was?

Brandon Munro: Well from the point of view of the utilities, think about it. They’ve been hard at this for 18 months now. They’re almost at the end. They’re not going to give up now. They came back with what I understand was a very strong response to that, which served as a warning that ‘no you can’t test the waters with us on this because that won’t make us happy’. It’s a little bit like someone training for a marathon for 18 months, it’s race day, they’re out and they’ve been running hard for three or four hours and they’re 100 meters from the finishing line. That’s not the point to sit down and have a cup of tea. You’ve got a grit up and finish it. And that’s where we’re at with the utilities. I’m confident that that’s the message that’s come back to the Department of Commerce on that. And I think the domestic quota, apart from the time aspect and the capacity to adjust which was foreshadowed in that leak, there’s also a question of to whether it should be 25%, whether it should be 15%, perhaps even 10%. And it’s relevant because the marginal cost or incentive price that would be needed to push from say a 10% to a 25% is quite significant. There’s enough mid-cost assets in the US that could probably produce at a price of $55/lbs to satisfy 10%. But once you start going beyond that you’ve really got to offer a lot more than that to incentivise these smaller US projects. And the analysis that I cite in my article is that you need to get $70/lbs to start bringing on those extra projects.

Matthew Gordon: And we’re a long way from that. I can’t imagine too many people unhappy about that. Apart from the Canadians and Kazakhs who are producing a lot cheaper than that, which I guess we’ll talk about when we get into some geopolitics in a bit. People should go and take a look at this document and look at the diagram, the Red Cloud KS estimates which you referenced earlier. Let’s talk about quota with allies as an option.

Brandon Munro: So that could take two forms. It could be a quota. Call it 25%. That’s both domestic US production but also would allow for example Canada. So there has been some pre-emptive trade negotiations between the Trudeau administration and the Trump administration. There is an agreement that if there are trade actions on Uranium that adversely affect Canada, there will be a stall of the implementation of those while they are discussed. Canada would be a logical candidate for inclusion. There is a chance that Australia would lobby to be included as well as they were with Steel. And if the US objective here is to try and maintain open markets amongst nonaligned friendly nations, which you can read as non-CIS, non-Chinese nations, then it would be very logical to open the door to Africa as well. Namibia is the fourth largest producer of Uranium in the world and Niger is the fifth largest producer of Uranium.

Matthew Gordon: It’s an interesting one because it’s the equivalent of picking a team at school. You’ve got to work out who you want to be friends with and who you don’t. Because there’s a very clear divide between China and Russia making friends in Africa, where you are. The French, they’ve been there a long time. You’ve got 14 countries that speak French in Africa. And the US which tries to have some kind of influence. I think we spoke about this last time, it’s a waning influence in Africa for most things because Russia, China, the French have been putting money in there for a long time and it would be interesting to see how that turns out. Who gets picked for the team?

Brandon Munro: Well absolutely. Team Niger is very much dominated by France. The production is dominated by France of course, the mines majority owned by France. But also, as a sovereign nation, France is responsible for providing an enormous amount of bilateral support and security to enable those mines to carry on in Niger. And Uranium is important to a country like Namibia. But it is absolutely vital to a country like Niger. There are some companies that you’ve spoken to who are doing great work in Niger, but it’s not as open as a place like Namibia for example, which has Russian investment and has Chinese investment, it has Indian investment, it has Australian, Canadian, US, South African investment as well. So that’s the team that everyone wants to be on I’d like to say. But it’s certainly the team that you don’t want to pick a fight with in school because you could find yourself being squeezed right out, and that’s the conundrum that the US would face if it does start picking friends. You can either go up to Namibia and say come and play with us or it can punch Namibia in the nose and have them run off to the Chinese and the Russians.

Matthew Gordon: To keep the analogy going, it’s playground politics. There’s a lot more to it than just Uranium. There are other things at play here. So again, maybe one to look at. The next thing you talk about is tariffs. We’ve seen a lot of talk about tariffs in the market, obviously with Trump and China recently, North Korea et cetera. What’s your take on this as a possible option?

Brandon Munro: I think it’s possible. It doesn’t make much sense because the Kazakh production is so competitive compared to US production that it would need to be an enormous tariff to actually try and create some level of economic parity. But it’s easy.

Matthew Gordon: You quote a huge number in here. You say the tariff would need to be somewhere in excess of 200% to make economic sense. And clearly that’s insane.

Brandon Munro: If you look at the cost of Kazakh production compared to the marginal cost of US production, it is in the range of somewhere between 100% and 300% to start Making sense. A 20% tariff is not going to make Kazakh production uncompetitive at all. But it will irritate the utilities and it will irritate the miners as well. But a tariff is simple. It can be implemented quickly, it can be withdrawn quickly. And there’s another variation which is halfway between the quota and the tariff and that is a limitation. Much as what we have with the Russian suspension agreement on Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and potentially Chinese production. So rather than saying these are the school boys and girls that I want on my team, it would be more saying ‘we can’t allow those people onto the playground’. That or ‘you’re not allowed to pick all of the best players in the one team, you can only have one good player on each team’. And so that would be the alternative which would be more constructive and it has got precedent. As I say, there’s the Russian suspension agreement, but also Youratom has quotas effectively, or has limitations on how much of the Youratom state member, the utilities in Europe, can import from any one supply source. And so that would be a constructive way of resolving the national security limitations although it wouldn’t actually help the petitioners as much as they get from a quota.

Matthew Gordon: I think that’s a particularly complicated solution. Again, let’s see what comes up. You talk next about a no trade action. Is that a reality?

Brandon Munro: I think it is. What I mean by that is no protectionist measures, but the opportunity to improve the health of either the nuclear power industry or the Uranium miners, through exercising the Section 232 powers in other ways. It could be as simple as cutting some of the green tape that exists. It might be creating a subsidies regime for nuclear power beyond the ZEC or Zero Emission Credits that are implemented in a number of states. It could be fixing some of the distortions in the renewable’s subsidy regime that particularly and unfairly hurts nuclear power. There’s a bunch of different things that could be done here and I sometimes wonder if at the heart of the utility’s strategy, it’s about drawing attention to this tipping point argument as a way to get the attention of the administration to some of their other grievances which are entirely appropriate grievances to air. And it would be great to see the administration actually tackle those. It would be very constructive for the industry and also it would be good for the health of the US nuclear power industry.

Matthew Gordon: It would but I guess there’s a lot of other things fighting for share of voice going on out there and no one really wants to get into this level of admin. That’s the difficulty here. Again, one to watch but it seems unlikely given the rhetoric at the moment but we’ll see. You talk about the Department of Defence procurement because clearly the heart of this, the emotional heart of this is the nuclear fleet and is there a bifurcation of the market necessary to deal with that.

Brandon Munro: Well this would be an extremely constructive outcome. It would address the concerns for national security in a very direct way. And if the Department of Defence was to sign a contract, over say 10 years for 4Mlbs, 5Mlbs or 6Mlbs per annum, it would top up its reserves of Uranium in a very appropriate way. It would draw out all of the concerns that the petition has happened at that level there would be enough to go around to the other immediate producers as well. It would keep the utilities happy because there’d be no trade action that levied against them. And most importantly, it would be a great thing for the Uranium sector because not only would we have certainty in a way that doesn’t create admin for other players, but also it creates a new demand source. There’s been a lot of talk that the Department of Defence is well provision for Uranium. But there are a few things that are happening at the moment that would see those stocks drawn down a lot faster. One of the ones that I point to in the article is the demand or request for HALEU (High-Assay Low Enriched Uranium) which is basically 20% Uranium rather than the 3% to 5% Uranium that is put into nuclear power plants. This Uranium is used for some of the new technology. Some of the Generation 4 technologies that Bill Gates is pushing and that has a lot of bipartisan support within the US Congress. I think that’s something we will see. We’ll see it develop, we’ll see the Department of Defence and the US government enabling their technology ventures to produce this new technology through that. And that brings forward quite rapidly the depletion date for these Department of Defence reserves. I’m still hopeful. Again, it’s not probable or likely but I’m hopeful that we would see action from the Department of Defence, and we do know that they’re engaged in the process.

Matthew Gordon: Well that’s interesting and probably one for another day, which is the technological advance in the space with people like Bill Gates putting his money where his mouth is and others. I think people putting a lot of store in that as part of the solution going forward as well. The final component to this is the quota for US controlled Uranium. What do you mean by that? Because again that feels like pick a team but we’re going to have a little bit more control.

Brandon Munro: I said this one’s probably a lot less likely. Partly because it hasn’t been mooted so far and partly because it’s very much in the nuanced range of outcomes here. But if I was President Trump, what I would do here is I would use this opportunity to expand the US influence around the world in direct competition with China, Russia, Middle East and other sovereign nations that have a big appetite for Uranium. And it goes back to the earlier comments that the US is losing its relevance in the nuclear power industry at a time when the playbook that Russia has been very successful with, and China is trying to compete with in the Belt and Road Initiative is to build nuclear power reactors on a build-own operate model. If you look at Turkey or Bangladesh for example, Rosatom goes in there and all that Bangladesh needs to provide is a site and the domestic country approvals. Rosatom finances, they build, they operate, they train the Bangladesh employees over time but very importantly what they do is they provide the nuclear fuel and take the waste away at the end. They just need an off-take and a site to be able to do that. It’s a tremendously valuable and persuasive method of building nuclear reactors, particularly amongst the developing world which is obviously China’s focus on Belt and Road. They’ve got an appetite for Uranium well beyond their own domestic borders and that is where the US could get completely squeezed out. They could become totally dependent on Kazakhstan and a small handful of commercial operators in Australia and Canada, if they don’t address this in some way. And the most powerful way that America addresses these types of things is using capitalism to its advantage. So if the administration was for example to say ‘we will create a quota, we will give privileged access to the world’s biggest nuclear fleet in the US but the way it works is it has to be American controlled Uranium, whether it comes from inside the borders of America or elsewhere’; that would enable public companies to have an additional competitive advantage which means they can go and compete with various Uranium assets versus the Chinese and the Russians, the Middle East and the Indians.

Matthew Gordon: So how does the US deal with this? Because that whole PPP model has been used by the Chinese, now by Russians and now French, for a long time. I’ve worked in Africa for a long time and you saw huge infrastructure projects being paid by these countries, in exchange for mineral rights, obviously, and now with Uranium being highly topical at the moment and say a very emotive topic at that. How did the US use their financial might, their financial control; the U.S. dollar, to affect that decision making because if they can’t supply alternative energy solutions, why shouldn’t Bangladesh, why shouldn’t the UAE, why shouldn’t these countries take up the offer of this zero-carbon energy source paid for, built by, run by competitors of the of the US?

Brandon Munro: Well clearly from their perspective they should and they are. Rosatom, the Russians are building in almost a dozen jurisdictions around the world at the moment and they’re in advanced negotiations with another 10 countries. Everywhere from Bangladesh and Turkey through to Egypt and Kenya for example. It has been a very successful model particularly given the capital costs involved in nuclear. And it’s very attractive to Russia and China because it creates a bilateral umbilical cord that lasts over many, many decades. From the US point of view, my personal opinion is that the horse is well and truly bolted here, and it’s probably bolted for all of the West. Maybe with the exception of South Korea if they can sort out their own domestic quandary on nuclear power. But the US still has an opportunity with Gen 4 reactors and new technologies, small modular reactors for example, and that’s where the Bill Gates push with various reactor designs such as new scale. There’s still an opportunity there and also the US still has to protect a large nuclear fleet. The issue here is maintaining relevance on the one hand but also ensuring it doesn’t get totally squeezed out from the success of the Russian and Chinese reactor programs.

Matthew Gordon: But what are the levers that the US can pull here? Because typically it’s been using the US dollar. That that’s been a big lever, I’ve seen it work in South Sudan and other places across Africa where it’s a hard-hearted approach to it, but they get what they want as a result, the implied threat et cetera. But that’s not working anymore. Do they need to just say that’s a battle we can’t win? Security issue at home, that’s another topic but how do we remain relevant in Africa, the Middle East, the West with regards to energy? Do they need to go and own renewables or other forms of renewable? What do they need to do? What do you think these levers are?

Brandon Munro: Well there’s no easy answer at the moment for the US and as you know, we both really enjoy a good geopolitical discussion and your point about the US dollar is quite right. Whether it’s influence from crypto-currencies eroding their monopoly that the US dollar has had on cross-border financing. Or whether it’s the resilience that countries like Iran are needing to show, in order to get on with life when they’re deprived of US dollars and all of the financial centre around them. So over time we do see that mechanism decrease. The US still has a defence capability, the dominant defence capability in the world. At a time, whilst we are seeing China implement more assertive measures in South China Sea and so on, China doesn’t appear to be trying to challenge particularly the Navy but also the other defence capability of the US in a direct way.  One would expect that that is the US’ main avenue for trying to deploy energy influence. In which case it needs to do it amongst its direct allies. And that’s quite contradictory to a lot of the policy that we’re seeing from the Trump administration.

Matthew Gordon: But that’s tantamount to gunboat policy which the British employed in Hong Kong. Surely that is not a reasonable form of commercial economic expansion any more.

Brandon Munro: I would agree. So then where do they go and I guess that’s the point that you’re raising. One of the potential answers there is through technology ascendancy. As you know there’s a lot of commentators who believe that that’s really what’s behind the Trump position on the trade war with China, that they need to arrest the erosion of technology ascendancy. And that then does bring us back to the next generation nuclear power technologies, and the US still has a competitive advantage on the technology front although it’s losing a lot of that competitive advantage to Russia and China because of a regulatory perspective. They are bogged down and they need to accelerate that regulatory approval process and commercialisation before they lose that technology ascendancy.

Matthew Gordon: I agree with that. And for anyone listening to this has got some views on that one. Post them to the YouTube channel or on Twitter. We’re delighted to hear what people think about that. Fourth point, you’re talking about all outcomes strengthening the Uranium market. Now I think you and I are going to disagree here. Tell me your view.

Brandon Munro: My view, simply and then please challenge me on it, my view in simple terms is I’ve had a deep dive on all of the potential outcomes here and I can’t find one that doesn’t lead to a strengthening of the Uranium market. Even the outcomes that are neutral, possibly even negative on the face of it for the Uranium price, they’re totally overwhelmed by the resumption of certainty and the resumption of market activity as the nuclear power cycle. The nuclear fuel cycle can just get on with life after 18 months of uncertainty. So that’s the premise.

Matthew Gordon: The bit I agree about is I think it’s good for the market, clearly, as a whole. But you say in here that it’s a common perception that there will be winners and losers. You say well, actually there’s going to be no bad outcome for Uranium investors. At the end of the day, mining is mining. The market is the market. Things go wrong and people still need…that quote that People throw out you know ‘high tide raises all boats’. It’s true to a point but there are going to be companies who are better equipped than others. Investors still need to remember the basics or the fundamentals of investing. You’ve got to trust the team. You’ve got to believe that the asset is fundamentally a good one. Can it be economically mined and does it have a route to market and the people to know how to get into the market, because Uranium is a more complex commodity than Gold, than Copper, than Nickel because of the predominant buying cycles of contract. I think, Uranium more than others, people need to think who they put their money with. We’ve talked with some companies and I go ‘Oh we’re in the right postcode, it’s all fine’ for ‘we’ve done this before. It’ll be fine. And it’s never fine, there’s a lot of hard work you know mining is a tough business. I think my point is, investors please remember the fundamentals here and don’t get swept away by the euphoria of this this huge wave of enthusiasm for the Uranium space. So that’s why my answer slightly differs from you.

Brandon Munro: And I don’t think we’re disagreeing with each other here. My point is that from a Uranium market point of view the commodity market, it’s all positive. Now from an equities point of view, there’ll be differing effects on some of the players. Some of the players are already trading at a premium pricing in some of the expectation from 232. There are disappointing outcomes for those companies. Even as the Uranium price goes up, some companies will outperform others and they’ll see a flow of capital towards that performance which will impact other companies. And as you say, in any industry including Uranium they are pretenders out there and those pretenders will be found out as more people start to analyse the sector and as sentiment improves. I agree with everything that you just said. Perhaps I should have been a bit clearer that I’m talking about the commodity market. I can’t see a scenario where the commodity market doesn’t benefit. So if you are already positioned as an investor in a quality Uranium story and I would certainly advocate Bannerman as being one of those, if you position in a quality Uranium story, well things are about to get better as long as we see a decision and as long as it’s a clear decision that can be interpreted and understood.

Matthew Gordon: I had an interesting conversation with someone yesterday, a Uranium company and they were talking about ‘we’re in the right post code’ but they’ve just started, they’ve started exploration drilling and I think they will probably do quite well. But as happened in the last cycle, a lot of new companies and a lot of new entrants into the marketplace who didn’t make it. Some had good assets and some didn’t. But it’s a question of timing. You guys have got your DFS. You are shovel ready, ready to go. Just waiting on this uncertainty in the market. Let’s talk about your last point, which is the enduring legacy of the 232 petition. What do you think people will have learnt from this process and how can we use this positively going forward?

Brandon Munro: The first thing that’s happened on the positive front is it has created a lot of attention for the Uranium sector particularly in the US. It’s had people thinking about Uranium that probably haven’t given it any thought since the heady days of 2007. And we’re seeing that at a time when there is a lot more commentary on the sector. We’ve had people who are in a public sense quite new to it, yourself being a great example, putting a lot of effort and a lot of intellect and a lot of thought and analysis into the sector. And that’s been largely helped along by 232. In terms of a more enduring legacy, I think we’re seeing far more attention being put on geopolitical risk and geopolitical issues. I’ve said for a long time and I used to start some of my presentations with a Venn diagram that had supply demand and geopolitics, and that is a very particular and important aspect of the Uranium sector. You can’t just simply look at supply and demand. You have to look at geopolitics to be able to interpret not only the sector at a macro level, but also different stocks and different opportunities and different assets. You always need to pass a geopolitical filter over a Uranium asset and a Uranium company, to be able to value their prospects going forward. It’s been a helpful reminder for investors of that fact. I think it’s likely to ramp up the geopolitical stakes even further. And I’m of the view that we have a greater level of geopolitical tension in the world than we’ve had since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The difference back then was the major geopolitical event had a dampening effect on Uranium because it led to a flood of downed-blended Soviet era warheads through the Megatons to Megawatts program. Here we’ve got the opposite happening. We’ve got very high levels of geopolitical tension across a number of world stages, that will have the effect of ramping up supply uncertainties in supply risk to the nuclear power industry. And we’re only at the very beginning of understanding the implications of that. One of the points that I make in my article is it’s very easy to simply ignore those risks when prices are cheap. You can look past them, you can figure well this is perhaps just for the next few years, we just won’t worry about who are buying our Uranium for or how concentrated our book has become because ‘well at sub $30 this is just such a bargain’, in the same way that our suppose some shoppers will overlook quality if they’re buying something at a third of the price that they normally do, that’ll change. And as it changes, not only the utilities will become more focused on that but the sovereigns will become more focused on that. Uranium investors will become more focused on that. And all of those things that some of us in the sector have been saying for a number of years in terms of geopolitical positioning, will come to be. Investors with anything more than the very shortest of timeframes with an investment decision, really need to be looking at that because it will create winners and losers as this geopolitical risk plays out.

Matthew Gordon: Absolutely. You finish off with a line which says ‘will the US be a catalyst or a bystander in the next two weeks’. What’s your bet?

Brandon Munro: I do think catalyst. We’ve got an administration that has proved to be fearless on these issues. Happy to be unconventional. Happier to be unconventional you might say. And certainly, willing to enable chaos. Either deliberately or accidentally as an outcome from its decisions. And chaos is an outcome that we could well see from this. Chaos in itself will become a catalyst. The outcomes that might relegate the US to being a bystander are less likely than the ones that will either show leadership from the US and some of the reasons we’ve described or be some other form catalyst because the market gets thrown into relative chaos.

Matthew Gordon: Well it will be interesting to see who the winners are. Whether the US is a leader or whether they’re going to have to come up with an alternative plan. Let’s wait and see. Just to finish off, you’re involved with the WNA. You’re on one of the groups there. I think you are co-chair of the fuel report. Is that right?

Brandon Munro: Yeah that’s right. I’m co-chair of the demand group. I also sit on the Uranium supply group and I also sit on the secondary supply group. I’m involved in three committees, but my involvement is much greater in the nuclear demand group. For your listeners that’s a working group established in the WNA consisting of a bunch of utilities, some Uranium producers and other market participants including traders and so on, that is responsible for forecasting in articulating three demand scenarios for nuclear power and therefore Uranium. Between now and 2040.

Matthew Gordon: The WNA have got a symposium in London in September, they’re going to release the Biannual Fuel Report. Some people are seeing that, or I guess, hoping that that is yet another catalyst on top of the 232 announcement. So just gives us the outline of what is contained in the fuel report.

Brandon Munro: Yeah so last year’s report looks like this, it’s quite a thick document.

Matthew Gordon: Sorry does it come out annually or biannually?

Brandon Munro: Every second year. And it has chapters that deal with demand of course and various aspects of that. Secondary supply, primary Uranium supply, conversion, enrichment, fabrication and of course conclusions. It’s a very rigorous process. There’s a detailed model behind all of this. If there’s been a criticism that’s levied against the process, it’s because the restrictions on cartels and so forth mean that when a bunch of Uranium producers get in the same room and a bunch of utilities get in the same room, they can’t talk price. And in past years I think the industry is falling into the trap of stepping back too far from that line. And the whole concept of economics has fallen out of this report. So last year the conclusion was there’s plenty of Uranium. Sure, there is plenty of Uranium at $100/lbs but there is bugger all at $20/lbs as the price was when the report was released and I think that affected the credibility of it, particularly for the audiences that were more financially literate. This has been my first report that I’m sharing that committee and I think what we will see in the next report is a lot more focus on economics. It still won’t talk about price and it can’t talk about price. But there will be a lot more focus on economic paradigms. We’ve introduced for example, different supply scenarios. So not only demand scenarios but supply scenarios, so investors and others can look at it and say well, ‘if we don’t see a new economic paradigm with a recovering price, this is what we’re going to see’. And I think it’s just become a lot more relevant particularly to financial investors. It tended to be a bit more for policymakers and a bit more for industry participants and so on. But someone like yourself and your colleagues will be able to look at the next version and get a good sense of some of the burning issues such as secondary supply, where the demand is coming from. And I think it’ll be an enabler and it will be a slow burn catalyst for that reason.

Matthew Gordon: It sounds like it’s evolving. For someone like me, putting the price in there would be… I can understand why you haven’t, but putting the price in there or at least having a flexible model where you can look at the effects would be much more useful and that’s something that we would have to put in using your assumptions. You’re painting a picture of this Uranium arena in which we play. The demand side I kind of get, that information I imagine is very, very robust in the sense of how many reactors are there, how many are coming on, how many are being built, how many are going to come online, and all of the associated components there. It’s the supply side which makes me wonder about the detail here because you’re getting that from producers, developers, explorers and you’re forecasting these numbers. Certainly, for the public companies, they have to paint a rosy picture. Are the numbers accurate? How do you ensure the numbers are accurate? And clearly for them it does matter what the price is, so how do they give you those numbers without talking about price?

Brandon Munro: Well it will always require additional interpretation and you’re quite right, the demand numbers are fairly robust. Obviously as we get out plus $20 – $30, more judgment needs to be exercised and there is a natural conservatism in anybody but particularly amongst the types of players that we’ve got here. So even the upper scenario, I think it’s got a lot of room for out-performance. If we see policy changes and if we see China continuing in the way that I think it has to. But essentially, they’re reliable numbers, they’re robust. The methodology is very robust and very detailed behind it. You’re quite right when it comes to Uranium supply. The requirement for the report is to rely on either public information or to rely on the response from questionnaires that are sent to the different asset finders.

Matthew Gordon: That’s a good point you make. The reliance on public information, the age of that information and well quite frankly the efficacy of that information. Where has it come from? Are the sources robust? Who’s done it? Are they reliable? Do they know what they’re talking about? Etc. etc. So how do you validate all of this? There’s a lot of moving parts.

Brandon Munro: Essentially you can’t validate that when you’re in the position of the WNA because you can’t go out there and say we think that that asset is run by a bunch of scallywag promoters and we’re just not going to take their numbers. You and I know that that is the case with some companies, but it’s not the WNA’s position to do that. And equally there’s a lot of reasons why companies would fail to update certain information. It might not be in their interests to let the world know that they’ve got a technical challenge with something. There is a baseline robustness because most of the Uranium producers are publicly listed companies. If we take some of the outliers out, there is that credibility there are, the rigour of the JORC process and the NI 43-101 and so forth. You get a pretty good level of information. But when it comes to timing, when it comes to ability to produce in certain economic outcomes and prospects of getting approvals and so on, that’s where you’d certainly as the audience need to use your own judgment. The way that the report has quite appropriately considered all of this is they have basically said, ‘right we’re going to take all of this public information and put it into the one bucket. So here is the theoretical amount of production that could possibly come on. And then we’re going to make some assumptions about how much of that will realistically come on’. And they have concepts like reserve projects and concepts like unidentified supply. And I think given the constraints, that’s as well as you could possibly do and then it’ll be in a number of these debates where we sit around and we argue whether 65% is realistic in an upper-supply scenario, or whether it should be 45%, and what sort of delay should be allocated. There’s been a lot, and this is a new model and it’s a new way of doing things and a new methodology, that I think creates some level of realism to the whole picture. And then it’s also disclosed quite well so you could read it and you could say well ‘I’m looking at this array of different projects and I think 65% is still too optimistic’ or whatever your approach might be.

Matthew Gordon: It sounds like it’s evolved. A lot of moving parts and we’re going to have to say ‘well thanks for making us aware of all of these components, treat each one individually and make your own assumptions on each of those variables’ to come up with your own number. I suppose fund managers are going to find that a lot easier than a retail investor because they’ve got the necessary skills and ability to do that. And retail may not necessarily. It would be interesting to see what comes out. We should we shouldn’t prejudge. There was another report but UXC Forecast. Have you seen that?

Brandon Munro: I don’t subscribe to UXC but people tell me about their stuff quite often.

Matthew Gordon: Do they? What’s your take on what they’re producing versus what you’re producing.

Brandon Munro: As Bannerman or as WNA?

Matthew Gordon: Sorry, with your WNA hat on.

It’s different. So UXC is designed to provide price forecasts, which we don’t go near as WNA. They provide trade information. They have an agenda over time which is to represent the interests of utilities and that has become more generalised in recent years. But I believe that it’s still there, whereas the World Nuclear Association is designed to represent the entire fuel industry – the nuclear industry including the fuel industry, so buyers, producers, developers et cetera, et cetera. You get a very different type of information. The WNA information tends to be a lot more global and a lot more macro because it’s often drawn upon by policymakers. Whereas UXC information tends to be a lot more micro, because its individual utilities make decisions on their procurement processes for example.

Matthew Gordon: For utilities, they’re going to look at UXC for guidance. Do you think they’re going to find your report useful?

Brandon Munro: Most definitely. And I think the other point is even for investors, you might know everything that’s in the fuel report. I actually don’t think that will be common because it’s still very interesting. But you might know the bulk if you’re very well-informed and have your own views. But what you can do is you can read it and get an idea of what the industry thinks, and that’s so important with Uranium because sentiment still plays such a big role. It plays such a big role in the timing and intensity of utilities procurement decisions, it plays such big role in the downstream part of the industry. And you mentioned the symposium in September. I’m going to be there with a lot of interest following exactly that point. What does the industry think? What I think is relevant for our internal strategy, but it’s not so relevant for the development of the next 6 to 12 months. I want to see what everyone else is talking about, what they’ve been told. There’s been a huge amount of positive news in the nuclear industry, the nuclear power industry. And in many cases the people in the downstream part of the nuclear power industry. They’ve got very complicated jobs, they’re very clever people. They’ve got to concentrate really hard on that and they only pop their head up and talk to the broader industry once or twice a year. I think that will be a crucial point for everyone to start getting bombarded with all of these very positive news and be able to take stock and say, ‘gee, it’s been pretty hard since 2011 but we finally turned a corner’. That will be relevant because for the utilities, they won’t be so accepting of the UXC view of the world, which is this low price is just going to continue forever and demand curves will be flat and nuclear is a dying industry and all of these things that might be quite helpful in a price negotiation with the producer, but actually doesn’t help the overall health of the industry.

Matthew Gordon: That’s a great answer. Well let’s wrap it up there. I appreciate your time. Insightful as ever. For those watching, do have a look at Bannerman. It’s one of the better utility stories out there. Brandon, thanks again for your time. I look forward to seeing you in September hopefully, if we don’t speak before and go grab that beer, hopefully in the sunshine.

Brandon Munro: Yeah, yeah. September tends to be good. I enjoy the Indian Summers that you can manage to put on most years in London. Always great to chat. And always great to get such probing questions.


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RNC Minerals (TSX: RNX) – 390% Increase in M&I Resource. News Release 27th June 2019 (Transcript)

CRUX investor sat down once again with Mark Selby, CEO of RNC Minerals (TSX: RNX). We ask Mark Selby about the latest drill results, Zone A, exploration, mining plans, resource update timing, Higginsville Mill plans, GDXJ Index, Dumont conversations, share price and the news of the recent Cobalt 27 acquisition by Pala Investments.

Click here to watch the interview.


Matthew Gordon: We will be speaking in a second to Mark Selby. He’s the CEO of RNC Minerals. We spoke to him a month ago and he’s going to give us an update as to what’s been going on since then. They had a press release out this morning about their drill results in the Western Flanks of their Beta Hunt project. But we’re also going to be asking about Zone A, exploration drilling, his mining program, the resource update due in Q3. Higginsville, the GDXJ listing, Dumont and his opinion about the recent Cobalt 27 acquisition. So Mark, hi how are you?

Mark Selby: Great sir. How are you?

Matthew Gordon: Not too bad. Now you’re doing the rounds in Toronto. I know you were in New York also recently.

Mark Selby: Obviously with today’s release, it’s getting lots of attention and lots of investor enquiry. So it’s been a good day.

Matthew Gordon: Well that’s why we called. So obviously we’ve been through the press release. Do you want to give us the highlights in your own words?

Mark Selby: The key thing there is when we bought this asset two years ago, we wanted to drill out the Resource, get a mill in place. And today’s Resource is a vindication of what we saw as the massive Resource potential for the mine itself. So what we announced today is just for Western Flanks. 710,000oz M&I Resource and another 250,000oz of Inferred. Almost a 1Moz combined. At a discovery cost of less than $5/oz. And Western Flanks remains open up along strike and at depth as well. And again we think these structures can continue for many hundred metres, so we’re very happy with the results today. And now we’re entering a phase the exploration we’re going to start to step out… Now we’ve proven what the potential of one of these shears looks like, we’re going to step out and start to highlight where the Gold that we think exists is in some of the other shears on the property.

Matthew Gordon: That’s a great point to bring out. So this was just along 1km of one shear and you’ve got another three shears of aggregate 4km.

Mark Selby: Exactly. So lots of room to go find a lot more ounces.

Matthew Gordon: I’ve got to talk about the cut-off grade. Now that’s shifted from 1.8g/t Au to 1.6g/t Au. You’ve got a grade tonnage curve diagram in the press release, we can see that. But maybe it’s worth just explaining that for people, why you’ve done that. In fact why couldn’t you go lower?

Figure 1: Grade tonnage curve for Western Flanks Resource – Measured and Indicated Resource only (CNW Group/RNC Minerals)

Mark Selby: I think with our own mill and with the mining costs that we think we’ll be incurring on a go forward basis, we think that’s the appropriate cut-off grade. I think you highlighted the grade tonnage curve there, and the point we made in the release is that there’s 450,000oz of that 750,000oz is at 4g/t. So where we’ll end up in a mining plan, which will be out by the end of third quarter, was likely somewhere between that 3 and 4 grams. And it gives us lots of ounces to work with.

Matthew Gordon: And I’ve noticed you are also quite careful in the release to talk about, and focus on, the bulk tonnage and not the High-Grade ‘nuggety’, I think is the word of the day, Coarse Gold. Why was that?

Mark Selby: We can’t put a Resource around it, so it will be bonus ounces and bonus grade on top of whatever we have in the base Resource today. So that’s the way that investors should think about that going forward.

Matthew Gordon: I think it’s quite a well-written press release so perhaps people should have a look at and there’s a few diagrams that are definitely worth looking at. You’ve also got a lot going on. And we haven’t spoken for a month so I want to take advantage of you today. There’s a lot going on. There’s obviously Zone A. You may be making an announcement on that. When is that due?

Mark Selby: Yeah. So the way we’ve done it, we’ve got the Western Flanks Resource out first. We’ll get the A Zone out probably sometime in the first half of August. And we’ll, in one technical report file, 45 days from now, we’ll have the report for both of those Resources. So it’s not as big…it’s not as thick as a Resource as Western Flanks. So we’re not going to see the same total ounces. But we should see a good bump in the Resource from what we had in 2017.

Matthew Gordon: And between now and then you continue to drill?

Mark Selby: So we’ve got to the one drill left that’s working on the exploration holes. Again the diagram in the release shows where the Fletcher Zone is. In 2016 we put one hole out there and hit 25m at over 2.5g. Mineralisation looked very similar to what we had a Western Flanks. We have our East Alpha, which is on the other side of the A Zone. And from the historic Nickel drilling, we literally have hundreds, if not thousands, of historical intersections from the Nickel drilling that highlighted where the where the Gold was. So we’ve got lots of targets to go after. And in this phase of the drilling we’ll be able to start to do that.

Figure 2: Long section of the Western Flanks (looking east) Mineral Resource colour-coded for 2019 resource classification and compared to December 31, 2017 mineral resource estimate. Note that all material mined has been depleted from resource. (CNW Group/RNC Minerals)

Matthew Gordon: When we last spoke you made a fabulous announcement in terms of the mining component. You’ve continued to mine. And you continue to make discoveries. When do you expect to be able to talk about that?

Mark Selby: We’ve been mining along that 16 level. So we pulled out initially 1,000oz. We pulled out a little bit more. From there we’ll end up seeing what the final number is once we get that Gold processed in the next week or two. But the key thing there is we’ve gone at the intersection of the set of shears three times, and we’ve hit it three times on the 14 level, 15 level and now the 16 level. We still have all of those stoping blocks left in between. And we’ve been pulling off a 1,000oz to 2,000oz per 5m level. You can do the math to see what the potential High-Grade coarse Gold that we might find once we stope those areas out. And that’s stuff that we’ll be doing between now and the end of this year.

Matthew Gordon: Okay. I think we spoke previously about a Resource update in Q3. That’s still on schedule?

Mark Selby: Yeah. That’s correct. It will be a Reserve update.

Matthew Gordon: A Reserve update.

Mark Selby: So we’ll have the first Reserve for Beta Hunt Gold in the mine’s history.

Matthew Gordon: Which is obviously great news. I think everyone is expecting great things because they have done the maths as you just asked. So the planning for the mine. That continues to evolve at the moment. Have your plans changed in terms of the kind of rigour and planning that you’ve put out so far?

Mark Selby: No. The first step in that was always getting a comprehensive Resource in place which we’ve got for Western Flanks and we’ll have shortly for the A Zone. And using that base we’ll look at the mine plan. Fundamentally, because of the scale, the thickness, Western Flanks that 10 to 40 meters wide. It provides us lots of opportunities to look at different ways to mine it. Potentially a lower cost way to mine it. We’ll see when the mine plan comes out. But we’re quite excited to have this much Resource to work with. Which should deliver a multi-year Reserve for the mine, which is ultimately where we wanted it to get to when we acquired it back in 2016.

Matthew Gordon: Well talking of which, obviously the recent acquisition, and you did touch upon it earlier, Higginsville. That obviously comes with a few ounces in the ground too. I think some people are curious as to what you’ve done in the last month since that deal closed. And do you have any sense of what the mix between Beta Hunt ore and Baloo ore will need to look like or could look like? Or is that still a work in progress?

Mark Selby: So it’s a work in progress. But with Higginsville, whenever you acquire an asset, the key thing is to get the people right. So our team there has been actively managing that integration. That’s gone well. We’ve ran our first batch of ore through. We don’t have the final numbers yet but based on the amount of Gold we’ve poured. We think that the mill performed quite well. We’re doing one of the last third-party tolls from there, and then the remainder of July, August and September is going to be focused on Beta Hunt and Higginsville material. By September we should be having quantities of ore from Baloo to feed the mill. And we’re looking forward to a decent Q3 and then a good Q4. Which hopefully we’ll be ramping back up Beta Hunt to whatever we think the optimal level is from the Reserve. Mine plan and Reserve update, that’ll be done at the end of Q3.

Matthew Gordon: Two questions that come out of again from listeners and viewers, is obviously you continue to do work there. What’s your expectation in terms of the All In Sustaining Cost (AISC). You had a number previously. You’re going to be doing this work to optimise that. What do those savings mean in the new environment we’re in today?

Mark Selby: I think in terms of All In Sustaining Cash Cost, we should come out somewhere in the range of $900oz to $1000oz. We can do better than that. Certainly will. And that assumes the zero High-Grade Gold. So any of that will help increase the denominator and help bring that number down.

Matthew Gordon: You used the word earlier ‘vindicated’. So you feel that this… you’re on the way to vindicating the decision to acquire this. Because you had a few critics at the time. I think the chat rooms would bear out that perhaps people think that’s now quite a smart call of yours, especially with Gold having done what is done in the last couple of weeks.

Mark Selby: With Gold at $2000 an ounce.

Matthew Gordon: Australian dollars.

Mark Selby: $2000 Australian dollars an ounce. Yes. With Australian dollar. With Australian Gold at that level. Having done that mill deal when we did, was very fortuitous because there’s lots of low-grade open pits scattered throughout the Kalgoorlie region. And with Gold at these levels there’s going to be a new surge of ore. Looking for a mill to process it, to take advantage of these high Gold prices. So we are in the position over the next six months here, that as people who are looking for capacity to process, we are one of the few people who have it.

Matthew Gordon: Remind me what the mill capacity is?

Mark Selby: Basically, it’s about 1.2Mt per annum.

Matthew Gordon: And what does that work out a day?

Mark Selby: That’s about 3,500 tons a day.

Matthew Gordon: And you think that’s the limit?

Mark Selby: No I mean there’s potential to expand it further. Westgold Resources was looking at options to make it a larger mill. So for the right opportunity, if someone’s looking for a capacity to mill a sizable Resource, if it makes sense for our shareholders and creates value for shareholders that it’s something we’ll take a look at.

Matthew Gordon: I don’t quite understand the process for optimising or upgrading it, but is that a quick to market process?

Mark Selby: It depends on how much you would want to expand it. Right now we want to focus on filling what we have. But there’s a number of different projects in the area and if there’s an opportunity that makes sense we’ll it will definitely take a look at it.

Matthew Gordon: And you have made a statement previously that you believe that the grades will improve at depth. Do you still feel that’s the case with a new data that you’ve got?

Mark Selby: I think that’s one of the things and we highlighted it in the release, was the final hole of that Western Flank’s campaign, which is sort of the deepest northern most hole. It had a fairly consistent grade across the intersection at over 6g/t. So we’ll see when we continue to drill further north and further down and see what happens. But if the grades continue at those levels then that gets too a pretty exciting grade going forward.

Figure 3: 3D View of Beta Hunt gold resources and Exploration Targets (CNW Group/RNC Minerals)

Matthew Gordon: Okay. Well let’s step back and we’ll wait and see. What is the focus between now and December then for you? You’ve got a lot of moving parts here. And I’m looking at the share price today, hasn’t really moved on what is now reasonably good news. I think maybe a few people taking the chance to cash in. Which is fair enough. Name of the game. But for you, what’s important?

Mark Selby: We’ve been focused on getting a multi-year Reserve mine plan in place for Beta Hunt. And so that remains on track. And we will look to have that in place by the end of the third quarter. Based on that we will then look to ramp up the mine to the level that that mine plans suggests, makes the most sense and creates the most value. At Higginsville, we will be looking to get Baloo into production by September. And then between the optimisation between the Higginsville property and Beta Hunt, in terms of feed for that mill. And then on the Dumont front, we’ll be continuing to resume discussions with a number of people around partnering and financing on the Dumont project.

Matthew Gordon: Well that’s great. That was one of my questions actually, have those conversations started up again or are they about to resume?

Mark Selby:. They’ve been ongoing. One of our team was just in Korea last week, so those discussions continue in earnest.

Matthew Gordon: Also by the way, congratulations on getting on the GDXJ Index. I think people perhaps haven’t given you enough credit for that. I was talking to the CEO of a $700m market cap company who is very keen to get on the Index. You’re obviously a lot smaller than that but you’ve a very enthusiastic following and trading which I think has got you on that. So congratulations.

Mark Selby: Thanks. And that’s the thing too is, liquidity in the stock is something that’s important to join an index. And so that consistently good volume that we’ve shown through September is what allowed us to join it. And obviously we were quite happy with the response post the index listing last week.

Matthew Gordon: I think it’s important to note that, the importance of it. Obviously again, looking back to from September to now, shares 9x higher than they were then. Which is great. But you just turned the corner. So getting back to where you were. Are you feeling confident with the news coming through that people should start reacting to that in the marketplace? And if so is it going to be institutional or retail?

Mark Selby: I think that one of the big things about this Resource update and then the A Zone Resource update to come, and then a Reserve, is I think for some institutional investors relative to the Resource base that we had at the time, valuations look pretty rich. So the fact now that we’re getting some pretty robust Resource and hopefully robust Reserves in place, we will make it a lot easier for them to step into the story and step in a meaningful way. Fundamentally for investors today, yes the share price is up quite dramatically. But my beliefs always been is that we acquired this asset because there’s a 5km ramp system sitting above what we think is 4 shears across +4km. And so once we start demonstrating the Resource potential of those shears, which I think today’s announcement is a major step forward on that, the reality is there’s very few multi-million ounce Resources available in low-risk jurisdictions around the world. You have a bunch of Aussie mid-tiers that are cashed up with well valued paper. You saw some transactions that occurred during the last month. I think over the next 6 to 12 months, if we continue to do what we’re doing, we may start getting a few knocks on the door. Or maybe more than a few knocks on the door.

Matthew Gordon: Well you’d hope. Just to finish off because I know your time is tight, you’re running around the city at the moment. We got into this because we appreciated the rigour and the planning and the thought and the strategy to this, and you’ve always said from the start this is going to be big. Question is how big. You’re now telling that story to the institutional brokers, the Haywood’s, the Cantor Fitzgerald guys. How are they reacting to what’s going on over the last couple of months?

Mark Selby: I think getting the mill, milling solution in place took a big question mark around the asset away. I think it’s one thing for a CEO to say, ‘oh we’ve got a massive Resource potential’. It’s another thing to deliver 700,000oz of incremental Resource at a discovery cost of less than $5oz. I think it ticks the question mark around what the potential could be now that we’ve demonstrated for one shear. This next round of drilling is really going to step out and test some of the other shears. And I think really start to show what the potential of this asset could ultimately be.

Matthew Gordon: And you think technically things are going as expected, as you planned? There haven’t been any hiccups since when we spoke last?

Mark Selby: No. Beta Hunt’s working well. Higginsville, the integration is going well. We’ve got a great team in Australia in place. And with the Dumont update as well, we’re firing on all cylinders on Dumont as well.

Matthew Gordon: Well talking of which. Cobalt 27. They just did quite an enormous deal with Pala Investments. Do you think that’s been a good deal for Cobalt 27? For investors? For Pala?

Mark Selby: Well I think with Cobalt 27, now becoming Nickel 28, I think it highlights what some of the potential is in the Nickel space. I think the portfolio of assets they had, between royalties and mining assets and stuff that is more Nickel and less cobalt, or more Cobalt and less Nickel. It helps to separate the assets and bring some clarity and focus to each of the portfolios. I think they’ve got a very fundamental belief in where Cobalt is going and it’s a transaction they’re paying a premium for.

Matthew Gordon: It’s interesting, I think congratulations due to Anthony. We’re speaking to him shortly actually. And by inference yourself with Dumont. Don’t forget Dumont, it’s a big part of this story. Well congratulations by the way. I just want to say that. It’s been a good month, been good month for shareholders I think. You’ve got to keep it going. The hard work has just begun. But also please pass my congratulations on to Russell Starr, he did a great presentation recently. I think anyone watching this, should maybe look at Russell’s presentation as well that he did. I think last week.

Mark Selby: Yeah. At the conference in the US there.

Matthew Gordon: Yeah, perfect. Okay well I’ve taken enough of your time. I know you were you were rushing off.

Mark Selby: Okay. Thanks Matt. It’s great to catch up and we’ll be catching up again soon. 


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