Author Archives: Mohamed Eliwah

Hunting for rough in a storied diamond field

By James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities

North Arrow Minerals is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsors and Lucara Diamond and North Arrow are portfolio companies.

Canada punches above its weight in the world of diamonds – way above. Consider: the country is home to about 36 million people, or less than half of one percent of the world’s population. Yet in 2017, Canada produced 14% of the world’s diamonds by value, behind only Russia and Botswana.

The epicenter of Canadian diamond production lies in the frozen tundra of Canada’s North – the “Barren Lands,” in author Kevin Krajick’s words. Specifically, the Lac de Gras region, 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, the Northwest Territories’ capital city. That’s where prospectors Chuck Fipke and Stu Blusson discovered the kimberlite indicator minerals that let to Dia Met’s 1991 diamond discovery. When Ekati went into production in 1998, it marked the birth of what has become an important northern industry.

The discovery of the Diavik diamond mine by Gren Thomas’s Aber Resources in 1994 established that the Ekati find was no fluke. Diavik went into production in 2003 and quickly became one of the world’s richest diamond mines. The discovery of diamonds in this inhospitable corner of the world, surrounded by only frozen lakes and tundra, is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of Canada’s diamond pioneers.

Two decades later, the Ekati and Diavik diamond mines are still churning out carats – and cash. More than $20 billion worth of diamonds has been mined at the two operations. The prized profit centers didn’t escape the notice of the Washington Group, a private conglomerate founded by US billionaire Dennis Washington. Last year the Washington Group paid about US$1.2 billion to snap up Dominion Diamond Corp., owner of a controlling 90% interest in Ekati and a 40% stake in Diavik (operator Rio Tinto owns 60%).

Aerial photo of the Diavik diamond mine, 60% owned by operator Rio Tinto and 40% owned by Dominion Diamonds.


And the Lac de Gras region remains a hub of activity for diamond production and exploration, well beyond Ekati and Diavik. The newest mine is Gahcho Kue, which began commercial production in March 2017 and is 51% owned by De Beers and 49% by Mountain Province Diamonds (MPV-T).

North Arrow Minerals (NAR-V), Canada’s most active diamond exploreco, is also zeroing in on Lac de Gras. The company has two projects in the region and both of them will see drilling this spring. The Loki project covers 8,600 hectares and is close to both Ekati (33 km away) and Diavik (24 km). North Arrow will drill about 1,000 metres on up to six targets in March.

Loki is a good example of a junior company benefiting from millions of dollars spent by a major while big money flowed into exploration. One of the six Loki targets is EG05, a diamondiferous kimberlite that Rio Tinto (Kennecott) discovered but never followed up on. The other targets were identified through airborne geophysics and electromagnetic surveys. At each target, pyrope garnets and other kimberlite indicator minerals have been recovered, but no source has been found.

At Dominion’s Lac de Gras (LDG) joint venture with North Arrow, operator Dominion is ramping up for 2018 exploration, including spring drilling. Dominion has an approximate 67% interest in LDG, with North Arrow retaining 33%. The LDG JV covers a vast 125,000-hectare property to the south of the Ekati and Diavik mines and immediately east of Loki.

The “privatization” of Dominion Diamond Corp. translates into fewer eyes on the company, particularly its exploration initiatives. But Patrick Evans, Dominion’s CEO – appointed after the takeover – is well-known in the diamond world. Evans is the former president and CEO of both producer Mountain Province Diamonds (MPV-T) and explorer Kennady Diamonds (which was recently taken over by Mountain Province for $176 million).


Evans’ exploration background – and his assertion that new diamond discoveries are critical to the viability of the Canadian diamond industry – will likely ensure that exploration remains a key focus for Dominion. In a 2016 talk at the annual Roundup Mineral Exploration conference in Vancouver, Evans lamented the “paltry” amount being spent on diamond exploration in Canada. The dearth of exploration threatens Canada’s No. 3 position as a world diamond player, Evans said at the time.

Loki and the LDG joint venture represent North Arrow’s most imminent potential catalysts. But North Arrow continues to advance its flagship Naujaat coloured diamond project in Nunavut, which has a population of rare, valuable fancy yellow diamonds.

On Wednesday the company announced it had recovered 64.25 carats from a 209.8-tonne mini bulk sample collected last year from three phases of the large Q1-4 kimberlite. The proportion of the more valuable yellow diamonds was consistent with an earlier bulk sample – 10.7% of the total by stone count and 21.2% by carat weight.

“It’s encouraging, because it confirms the yellow diamond population exists in different phases of the kimberlite,” said North Arrow CEO Ken Armstrong, noting that the results merit further work. “The size of the prize is large.”

The next step, Armstrong says, is a large bulk sample at Naujaat – perhaps as large as 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes. A sample of that size would answer remaining questions about the value of the diamonds and size-frequency distribution of the yellow stones, he said. It would also carry a large price tag: perhaps between $20 million and $30 million. Securing a joint venture partner would allow North Arrow to undertake the bulk sample without blowing out the share structure, Armstrong pointed out.

Fancy yellows and orangey-yellow diamonds from an earlier sample at North Arrow’s Naujaat.

The diamond sector has faced some ups and downs in recent years, but mostly downs. One of the main issues has been large inventories held by industry heavyweights Alrosa and De Beers, which has suppressed rough diamond prices. There have been some high-profile scandals in the sector, too – Indian diamond magnate Nirav Modi fled India earlier this year and is currently being investigated for alleged bank fraud and money laundering.

However, the macro picture is improving, according to New York diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky. Inventory levels for both De Beers and Alrosa are at estimated three-year lows and demand remains healthy, according to Zimnisky’s latest State of the Diamond Market report. On the supply side, no new mines are coming onstream in 2018 and Alrosa’s production is forecast to decrease this year.

For a sector that has struggled – and been bypassed by many retail investors – there’s a lot going on. The takeover of Dominion Diamond by a private group was a surprise to many; less so the purchase of Kennady Diamonds by Mountain Province, which had earlier spun out the exploreco. There are new and rejuvenated exploration plays, including Bruce Counts’s newly listed Lithoquest Diamonds (LDI-V) with its North Kimberley project in Australia. In the Northwest Territories, GGL Resources (GGL-V) has revamped with the appointment of 25-year diamond veteran David Kelsch as CEO and an injection of capital from project generator Strategic Metals.


But for diamond sector investors, perhaps the most interesting moves were made by Lucara Diamond Corp. (LUC-T) on February 25. Diamond veteran Eira Thomas was named Lucara’s CEO and the Vancouver-based company announced a blockchain initiative that could improve transparency and efficiencies in the sale of diamonds in the one to 15-carat range, and eventually for smaller stones as well. Blockchain will not be used to sell the larger diamonds that have established Lucara’s reputation and bolstered its treasury – stones such as the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona and 813-carat Constellation.

Eira’s most recent CEO gig was with Kaminak Gold, which was sold for $520 million to Goldcorp in 2016. Before that, Eira – the daughter of North Arrow chairman Gren Thomas – cofounded Stornoway Diamond Corp. (SWY-T) and Lucara. Her partner on both initiatives was Catherine McLeod-Seltzer, who is joining Lucara’s board of directors. The appointments mark a kind of reunion for Lucara’s three co-founders – Thomas, McLeod-Seltzer and Lukas Lundin.

Lucara Diamond CEO and North Arrow advisor Eira Thomas

But before Stornoway, Lucara or Kaminak was Aber Resources. Hired as an Aber field geologist straight out of university, Eira was thrust into a lead role when a senior geologist left for another company. In the spring of 1994, the geologist and her exploration team raced the spring melt and drilled one final hole from a floating ice platform. The core had a 2-carat diamond embedded in it, and the rest is history. She later became VP Exploration for Aber, Dominion Diamond’s predecessor company.

Eira’s appointment as Lucara CEO strengthens already solid connections between Lucara and North Arrow. She remains a North Arrow advisor and large shareholder, and was critical in landing $2-million investments from both Ross Beaty and the Electrum Strategic Opportunities Fund L.P., which is funding North Arrow’s current programs. There’s a brother connection between the two companies, too – North Arrow CEO Ken Armstrong’s brother John is Lucara’s vice-president, mineral resources. His specialty is the assessment and analysis of diamond size and value distribution as well as deposit modelling. John Armstrong’s partner Allison Rippin Armstrong, a corporate social responsibility specialist, is an advisor to North Arrow.

As for Eira, her association to North Arrow’s flagship Naujaat project runs deep. It was Thomas who secured the Naujaat project (formerly called Qilalugaq) from Stornoway Diamonds and brought it to North Arrow, after stepping down as Stornoway’s executive chairman. The Naujaat, Pikoo and Timiskaming projects were optioned from Stornoway on a JV basis, with North Arrow subsequently buying out Stornoway’s stakes to secure 100% interests in Naujaat and Pikoo.

Collecting the mini-bulk sample at North Arrow’s Naujaat project in Nunavut.

Assays are pending for 2,440 metres of kimberlite core drilled at Naujaat last fall. Further drilling later this spring will conclude the program at the 12.5-hectare kimberlite, the largest in the Eastern Arctic. Naujaat has an Inferred mineral resource of 26.1 million carats from 48.8 million tonnes grading 53.6 carats per hundred tonnes, from surface to 205 metres depth. Fall drilling established that Q1-4 remains open at depth and has a surface area of at least five hectares 305 metres below surface.

Further north, there are also drill plans at Mel, North Arrow’s second grassroots discovery of a diamondiferous kimberlite field in Canada (Pikoo was the first). In October, North Arrow announced the recovery of 23 diamonds larger than the .106-mm sieve size from a 62.1-kilogram sample at the ML-8 kimberlite. The diamond body was discovered through the systematic tracking of a kimberlite indicator mineral (KIM) train to its up-ice termination. North Arrow has subsequently increased its Mel land position to 56,000 hectares through staking. Driling will focus on ML-8 as well as other targets at the heads of three well-defined KIM trains.

Disclosure: North Arrow Minerals is one of three company sponsors of Resource Opportunities and James Kwantes owns North Arrow and Lucara shares, which makes him biased. Readers are advised that this article is solely for information purposes. Readers are encouraged to always conduct their own research and due diligence, and/or obtain professional investment advice. Dollar and $ refer to Canadian dollars, unless otherwise stated.

Strategic Metals: Building long-term value in a cash-burning sector

By James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities

Every junior resource speculator, whether consciously or not, balances risk and reward. The potential for lucrative gains lures investors into this small and notoriously volatile corner of the investment world – the promise of 10-baggers and more. But risk is the admission price for entry. And it comes at a cost, even if the stock is cheap.

Unfortunately, the drill plays that offer the greatest upside potential also carry the most risk. Take too many foolish or reckless risks along the way and you won’t have money left to invest. And today’s high flyer can quickly turn into tomorrow’s pooch. That makes capital preservation a key consideration for junior resource speculators – even though the emphasis is usually on the reward side of the equation. Describing it as the lottery ticket approach to investing is not much of an exaggeration.

Enter project generators, which can allow investors to manage risk while keeping upside exposure in a sector with often binary outcomes. Project generators build value by optioning out properties – and risk – to exploration companies, typically in exchange for cash and shares. The downside is protected by cash, land and proprietary databases, while the shares of optionee companies offer upside. The business method also allows the company to dodge share dilution – a fatal bullet for many juniors.

The business model has been successfully demonstrated by Strategic Metals (SMD-V) in the Yukon. Strategic refocused to adopt the generative model in December 2005, starting out with working capital (cash + shares) of 7 cents and the stock at 21 cents. As of Feb. 14, SMD had working capital of 36 cents per share (now 37 cents) and a share price of 48 cents (now 45 cents). There have also been distributions/spinouts of 24 cents a share along the way, including Silver Range Resources (SNG-V) and most recently, Trifecta Gold (TG-V).

That works out to a compound annual growth rate of 7.6% for the stock, assuming dividends are reinvested. The growth in working capital per share – from 7 cents to 36 cents – has been even more impressive. Strategic has a volatile 10-year stock chart, but the spikes offer shareholders higher exit points. During the severe dips, Strategic buys back its own shares. Want explosive upside potential? Strategic has been no slouch, as demonstrated by 2010 and 2011 share price action. High-grade gold discoveries at ATAC’s Rackla property – along with gold’s run to US$1,900 an ounce – lifted Strategic shares above $3 for several months in 2011 (ATAC shares hit $9 that year).

Strategic Metals: working capital vs. market capitalization


With gold approaching 2016 and 2017 highs, Strategic is well-positioned to capitalize. The company’s dominant position in the Yukon positioned it ahead of the herd, allowing it to secure key land positions around all the projects that subsequently saw investment by majors including Barrick, Newmont and Agnico Eagle. In a sector where companies burn through capital, think of Strategic as a business that steadily grows shareholder value with a long-term outlook. As Strategic Metals CEO Doug Eaton puts it, “we don’t have the purity of the exploration plays, but we have leverage to all of them.”

Strategic CEO Doug Eaton checks out samples at Trifecta’s Triple Crown property.

The company’s main edge is the vast geological database of storied Yukon consultancy Archer Cathro, run by Strategic CEO Eaton and his team of geologists and project managers. Strategic’s brain trust has been involved in many of Yukon’s top discoveries and deposits, including Western Copper and Gold’s Casino, Rockhaven’s Klaza and ATAC’s Osiris and Tiger projects. Eaton’s knowledge of the Yukon is encyclopedic and his decades operating in the Northern territory help him snap up neglected and forgotten claims.

Strategic is known as a kind of Yukon-focused investment fund, with extensive shareholdings and a treasury currently at about $13.4 million. But a good argument could be made that the company’s true value is its property portfolio. Strategic has more than 100 fully owned projects available for option, many of them permitted for large-scale drill programs. Among them:

  • Hopper, a large porphyry-style target where Strategic assayed 0.52% copper over 45.7 metres in a trench. Geochemical surveys outlined strong copper, gold and moly soil anomalies covering a 3,600-metre by 2,500-metre area. Similar age as Western’s Casino deposit 190 km to the north-northwest.
  • Meloy, another large porphyry target in the belt that includes Casino. Chip samples graded up to 8.7% copper, 560 g/t silver, 1.06 g/t gold, 1.47% moly and 3.51% tungsten.

Strategic owns a 39.7% stake in Rockhaven Resources (RK-V) and has a 7.3% stake in ATAC Resources (ATC-V), among other shareholdings. After a busy drill season, Rockhaven is prepping a resource update and looking at processing changes at Klaza, the Yukon’s highest-grade gold deposit of more than 1 million ounces. Last year Coeur Mining bought a 9.9% stake. ATAC is advancing its Carlin-type gold deposits at the Rackla property and last year attracted a $63.3-million investment from Barrick, which is earning a 70% interest in the Orion project. There are also significant stakes in exploreco Precipitate Gold (PRG-V) and project generator Silver Range Resources, among many others.

The latest Strategic spinout was Trifecta, which is exploring properties in Yukon’s White Gold country and B.C.’s Golden Triangle. Trifecta shares flew out of the gate after listing at 10 cents, briefly trading above 30 cents. But the stock has since settled back down to the 10-cent level after disappointing drill results at the Squid claims at its Trident property. Speaking about Squid, Trifecta CEO Dylan Wallinger had pledged to “prove it or kill it” – the company has subsequently dropped those claims, optioned from Metals Creek Resources.

In addition to developments at portfolio companies Rockhaven and ATAC, there are new potential catalysts in 2018. One of the more interesting new positions will be a 19.9% stake in Territory Metals, a private company expected to IPO on the TSX Venture later this year. Territory purchased six high-grade gold and silver prospects from Strategic, which retains a 2% royalty on all the properties – and a 10% NSR on any small-scale high-grade production.

The six properties, in central Yukon’s Tombstone belt, are Mt. Hinton, Plata, Lance/Lois, News, Naws and Nels. At least a couple of them could provide fireworks. Placer miners have been pulling out multi-ounce rounded gold nuggets – believed to be near source – from Granite Creek, which drains the Mt. Hinton property. Mt. Hinton is located near Alexco’s ground in the Keno Hill district.

Plata, subject to Strategic’s high-grade NSR, also offers intriguing potential. The ore mined at Plata, which is atop a mountain, was very rich. In the 1980s, miners hand-mined and transported it down by helicopter to an air strip at the bottom of the mountain. The ore was then flown to Ross River and trucked all the way down to smelter at Trail, B.C., 2,600 kilometres away. Helicopters, airplanes and truck transport – yet the mining was still profitable.

Strategic has also made a foray into Canadian diamond exploration through a $1-million financing that gave Strategic a 45% stake in diamond exploreco GGL Resources (GGL-V). GGL has property holdings in the Lac de Gras diamond field in the Northwest Territories and a diamond database with more than $30 million worth of exploration data. In November GGL brought in David Kelsch as president and chief operating officer. Kelsch is a Canadian diamond exploration veteran who worked for Rio Tinto and was involved in the discovery of the Diavik diamond mine.

Diamonds have been generating some buzz of late. Dominion Diamond Corp., owner of Ekati and 40% owner of Rio’s Diavik mine, was recently bought for US$1.2 billion and taken private by the Washington Group. Mountain Province Diamonds, meanwhile, purchased Kennady Diamonds – a former spinco – and its Kelvin and Faraday diamond projects in the Northwest Territories for $176 million. GGL Resources has two royalties on Kennady claims, on trend with the Gahcho Kue diamond mine and Kennady’s Kelvin-Faraday corridor.

Strategic Metals (SMD-V)
Price: 0.45
Cash: $13.4 million
Working capital: $33.3 million (37 cents a share)
Shares outstanding: 89.44 million (96.8 fully diluted)
Market cap: $40.2 million

Disclosure: Strategic Metals is one of three company sponsors of Resource Opportunities and Resource Opportunities editor James Kwantes owns SMD shares, which makes me biased. Readers are advised that the material contained herein is solely for information purposes. Readers are encouraged to always conduct their own research and due diligence, and/or obtain professional advice. Dollar and $ refer to Canadian dollars, unless stated otherwise.

Site visit: Sabina unlocks a high-grade gold vault at Back River

Site visit: Sabina Gold & Silver (SBB-T)
Oct. 4, 2017
By James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities

Canada’s North is a mysterious and forbidding land. There are stories of European explorers disappearing without a trace and place names such as Deadman’s Island. Native legends from the original occupants – not to mention strangely colourful lights that often dance across the night sky – add to the intrigue. I saw the Northern Lights for the first time during the site visit. The scientific explanation does little to diminish their mystique.

Sabina’s Goose camp, Back River, Nunavut

Flying over the barren lands of Northwest Territories and Nunavut gave me a renewed respect for Chuck Fipke and all the other Northern pioneers who identified mineral deposits there. Between Yellowknife and Sabina Gold & Silver’s Goose camp, the plane travelled over hundreds of kilometres of waterlogged tundra with nary an interruption. Then, rather suddenly, an open-pit diamond mine – a mineralized pin prick in a pin cushion measuring millions of square kilometres. The diamond mine was Diavik; Ekati is nearby.

This is about as far from “civilization” as it’s possible to get. For perspective, driving from Billings, Montana to Edmonton, Alberta, a major Canadian northern outpost, takes about 11 hours – roughly akin to driving from Durango, Mexico, to Los Angeles. It takes another 15 hours to drive from Edmonton to Yellowknife — the equivalent of travelling from Los Angeles to Portland. Sabina’s Back River project is a further 520 kilometres beyond Yellowknife, to the northeast.

As for Sabina, the main mystery on the company’s vast Back River property may be just how many high-grade ounces are buried under the Arctic tundra. It’s a puzzle this summer’s drill program should go some way to solving. A single early result from the 10,000-metre summer exploration program was promising. The first drill hole, 17GSE516B – released the morning I flew into Yellowknife en route to the site visit – intercepted 9.48 g/t gold over 38.55 metres in a down-plunge extension of the Llama deposit. Not bad for a 460-metre step-out hole. The focus is on adding high-quality ounces — after all, Back River already hosts 7.2 million ounces Au in all categories.

Our plane of analysts landed at the Goose camp on a high-quality air strip made from gravel produced on-site. The camp gets its name from adjacent Goose Lake, which serves as the winter landing strip for 737s that come in laden with fuel. The well-run camp felt more like a mining operation than an exploration camp.

Inside, we were briefed on the objectives of the summer drill program and the path forward by CEO Bruce McLeod, VP Exploration Angus Campbell and Exploration Manager Jamex Maxwell. The broad outlines of the mine were established by the initial project 3,000-tonnes-per-day Feasibility Study (3KFS) McLeod commissioned when he took over in February 2015. At US$1,150/oz gold, C0.80 exchange and a 5% discount rate, the FS showed:
– 240,000 oz annually for first 8 years, about 200,000 oz for 12-year life of mine;
– $415 million initial capex, $185M sustaining capex;
– 6.3 g/t Au average head grade, 93% recovery;
– life-of-mine, all-in cash costs of US$763/oz (incl initial & sustaining capex & closure costs)

VP Ex Campbell spoke about uber-high-grade exploration upside (more on that later), while derisking was the major theme for McLeod: “We can’t afford to make mistakes in this part of the world.” Sabina has spent about $5.5 million on basic engineering since the completion of the Feasibility Study, he said, and is now into detailed engineering.

The CEO describes the Back River project as a straightforward mine in a complex environment. From a geotechnical perspective, McLeod says Back River is probably the simplest project he’s been involved with. His assertion was confirmed by a visit to the nearby mill site, the helicopters landing on flat bedrock terrain. One of the benefits of a vast property is the ability to choose exactly where the mill will be. Standing on the flat terrain of scrub and bedrock, with a 360-degree panorama view, it was easy to visualize a mine taking shape.

Author at the site of proposed Goose plant

I found an analogy McLeod used in his recent presentation at the Beaver Creek precious metals summit useful: “To a layperson, a feasibility is a concept, basic engineering is a plan and detailed engineering is a blueprint.” As Sabina constructs the blueprint, the focus is on investing upfront to avoid problems down the road. During the site visit, McLeod talked about his love for technology and some of the high-tech toys at his house, which he said “has lots of gizmos and bells and whistles and shit that breaks down all the time. It won’t happen here.”

It’s not typical CEO bluster: McLeod has already built a mine in Canada’s North. That was Capstone’s Minto copper mine in the Yukon, built by Sherwood Copper and the first hard-rock mine constructed in the territory in a decade. Sherwood was founded and run by McLeod and later bought by Capstone for $244 million. Minto was built on time and under budget – no small feat in Canada’s North.

Sabina CEO Bruce McLeod talks nuts and bolts of a mining operation at Back River.

Recent problems experienced by Nunavut neighbour TMAC Resources (TMR-T) at its recently opened Hope Bay gold mine illustrate the importance of “doing it right the first time.” TMAC recently slashed its annual guidance in half – from 100,000 to 120,000 ounces of gold to 50,000 to 60,000 ounces – due to processing issues and recovery problems. Sabina is paying close attention to metallurgy and a potential processing change from whole ore leach to flotation is one of the optimizations Sabina is studying.

Some background on Back River: Sabina Silver became Sabina Gold & Silver with its 2009 purchase of the high-grade gold project from Dundee Precious Metals (DPM-T). Prior to that, the flagship was the silver-rich Hackett River VMS deposit 45 kilometres to the west, which Sabina sold to Xstrata (now Glencore) in 2011 for $50 million cash and a significant silver royalty. That transaction put Sabina into the rare category of well-funded junior, where it remains. More on the silver royalty later.

Sabina has since added about 5 million ounces, bringing the Back River resource to 7.2 million ounces in all categories. Most of the added ounces were drilled in the first two years, followed by a lull in drilling during the 2011-16 bear market. The most recent drill program has taken the number of metres drilled above 500,000.

The scale of the core-cutting facility at Goose is an indication of the size of previous programs. It can comfortably handle 85,000 metres in a single season, so is not stretched at 10,000 metres, McLeod noted. It may seem like a minor detail, but is another box ticked for any major that buys the district-scale project (Goldcorp, for example, is carrying out an aggressive exploration drill program at Coffee).

The Back River project is a banded iron formation project that consists of 10 high-grade gold deposits on Sabina’s 53,000-hectare properties. It’s an 80-kilometre district. Llama is one of four deposits at the main Goose project area, the focus of the 3KFS that McLeod commissioned. (An earlier FS modelled a 6,000tpd operation producing 350,000 oz over a 10-year mine life.) Three of the four Goose deposits are part of the 3KFS: Goose main pit, Umwelt open pit and underground and the Llama open pit. The Llama underground, including hole 17GSE516B, is not.

One of the objectives of Sabina’s drilling is to determine if there are enough high-grade ounces underground to define a “treasure box” that could be mined up front. If the company is successful, that would involve shifting sustaining capex into the front end of the mine plan. But it could significantly improve already strong project economics, especially at the front end of the mine life. An increase of just 500 tonnes per day – to 3,500tpd – could vault Sabina into 300,000 oz/year territory.

Angus Campbell, Sabina’s VP Exploration, shed some light on how rich some of the exploration potential is on Sabina’s ground. Being the guy in charge of running exploration programs in a gold-rich 80-kilometre belt must have a kid-in-a-candy-store feel to it. But with McLeod in charge of the candy allocation, Campbell’s targets must be chosen wisely and justified. Despite 500 kilometres of drilling, there remain multiple opportunities for resource expansion, both at existing deposits and at deposits not included in either Feasibility Study.

Consider Sabina’s George deposits, about 50 kilometres away from Goose. George hosts about 2.1 million gold ounces included in the 6KFS but NOT in the 3KFS. Drilling there in the 1980s, outside the resource envelope, also hit several wide, shallow intersections of 6 and 7 g/t Au, McLeod said – rich ore by any standard. Sabina geologists were puzzled why these near-surface intercepts were not followed up at the time.

The answer, from people directly involved in the drill programs: the predecessor company was looking for higher Lupin-like grades of 9 and 10 g/t material. The nearby Lupin mine produced about 3.35 million ounces of gold between 1982 and 2004 at an average head grade of 9.27 g/t.

Under the 6,000tpd plan, George ore was slated to be trucked to the mill at Goose. But McLeod believes George is destined to become a second standalone mine once Goose is put into production. It’s a strategy both Agnico Eagle (Amaruq) and TMAC Resources (Boston) are following with their multi-deposit Nunavut gold districts.

The greatest upside potential, however, is probably where Sabina is drilling now – at the Llama extension and the Umwelt Vault zone. Particularly the latter. Vault assays are outstanding from the summer drill program, which included about 4,000 metres of Vault drilling. A spring hole there hinted at the richness, returning 16.86 g/t gold over 13.5 metres, including 27.11 g/t over 7.95 metres.

Oblique longitudinal section of the Llama/Umwelt trend target areas.

The Vault targeting is follow-up from rich 2011-12 intercepts, including 17 metres of 49.24 g/t Au. For perspective, that grade is roughly equal to GT Gold’s (GTT-V) recent intercept that helped send that Golden Triangle-focused play to a $200-million market cap briefly (Sabina’s market cap is $515 million). Except Sabina’s 2012 hole was 17 metres, compared to 6.95 metres for GTT. I asked VP Ex Angus Campbell why the rich hits weren’t followed up on at the time – he said the focus then was on building open-pit ounces.

On the infrastructure and development front, Sabina plans to truck supplies to the mine via a 157-km winter road built every year at a cost of $8 million. The CEO described it as a “fairly simple” road, logistically. Sabina will have about 45 days to truck supplies from the marine laydown area, in southern Bathurst Inlet, to the Goose camp.

Sabina is not banking on it, but a Northern road plan that has been decades in the making could also intervene to lower costs for the project. That’s the Grays Bay port and road initiative, a plan for an all-season 230-km road from a deep-water Arctic port that connects to the Yellowknife winter road. With the buy-in of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, which also strongly supports Back River, this iteration of the plan looks closer to reality than it has for some time. The road would be closer to the George deposit than Goose, but could result in significant savings.

Resource Opportunities initiated coverage on Sabina Gold & Silver on May 18, 2015, during the bear market. The catalyst for coverage was McLeod’s hiring. When I met him and Sabina’s VP Communications Nicole Hoeller in a Vancouver coffee shop, McLeod gave me a taste of his tenacity: “My philosophy is like the Italian rule of driving: you rip the rear-view mirror off, put your foot on the gas and it doesn’t really matter what’s behind you but you’re moving forward … You’re not going to let your foot off the gas.” The line implies recklessness, but it’s more about a single-minded focus on advancing projects.

McLeod could not have foreseen the dark days of summer 2016, but the philosophy served him well during that period. That’s when the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) recommended to the federal government the rejection of the Back River project as currently constituted, despite widespread Inuit and community support. The reasons given were concern over caribou and climate change implications. Ottawa flipped the tables, rejecting the NIRB’s conclusions and ordering the regulatory agency to re-examine its findings. That resulted in a positive recommendation. A final ruling from the federal government is expected before year-end.

The number of high-quality gold discoveries in recent years has dropped along with the exploration budgets of the majors. Ore grades have steadily fallen and the miners are more reliant than ever on junior exploration companies to fill the supply gap. There are precious few district-scale, high-grade gold projects in safe jurisdictions. Sabina’s Back River fits the bill and has no fatal flaws. I expect Sabina to be acquired by a large gold mining company, at prices well above the current levels. In a rising gold price environment – not a given, a bidding war could well be the outcome.

I have described Sabina previously in the newsletter as a kind of triple leverage play, and it still holds true. The shares were at bear market levels of 39 cents when I initiated coverage, and Sabina had 194 million shares outstanding. Importantly, the share count has risen only 30 million since then as the stock has increased sixfold.

That’s in the rear-view mirror, of course, and the key question is what kind of upside exists from current levels. Gold is showing weakness again, following an increase through US$1,300/oz and rapid rise to $1,350. But I expect the precious metal to resume its rise in an easy-money world, and Sabina’s 7.2 million ounces make the company’s shares an ideal vehicle for exposure to gold. I have added to my position at levels above the current share price. The following factors give Sabina multibagger potential from these levels, and tremendous leverage:

  1. Exploration – Drill plays have been getting much of the love in recent months. GT Gold Corp and other plays focused on British Columbia’s Golden Triangle plays have been leading the charge, but there have been others. The junior market’s enthusiasm for drill plays and ambivalence towards development plays reminds me of the Benjamin Graham quote: “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine.” Sabina’s recent drill results compare favourably with many drill plays that have added tens of millions of dollars of market cap on favourable assays. In Sabina’s case, the assays are overlain on a very high-grade, FS-stage gold project and potentially have a direct favourable impact on project economics. Votes come and go but the weight remains.
  2. Takeover premium. Recent takeover premiums in the gold space have been at healthy premiums (see below). In Sabina’s case, the strength of the project means the premium should at least match the highest-ranking, Integra at about 50%. That offer came from a major (Eldorado Gold) that already owned about 13% of Integra shares. Sabina has no such partner, one of the reasons a bidding war is quite possible. Dundee Precious Metals and Sun Valley Gold are the largest shareholders, each with just above 10%. Here are the takeover premiums a few of the more recent takeovers. The premium to the last close is first, followed by the premium to the 20-day volume-weighted average share price:
  • Eldorado – Integra Gold ($590 million): 46%, 52% (gold at US$1,233/oz)
    Kirkland Lake Gold – Newmarket Gold ($1 billion): 9.4%, 23% (US$1,318/oz)
    Goldcorp – Kaminak Gold ($520 million): 33%, 40% (US$1,279/oz).

3. Silver royalty: Sabina retained a valuable royalty when it sold the prior flagship project, the Hackett River polymetallic deposit, to Xstrata (now Glencore). It’s a 22.5% royalty on the first 190 million ounces of silver produced, and 12.5% on the remainder. Hackett River is one of the world’s largest undeveloped VMS deposits and the main price is zinc. Zinc has soared from below US70 cents/lb in January 2016 to about $1.40 today. The royalty was previously assigned a value of $300 million by analysts, and McLeod contends it would trade at a valuation of $300-$400 million in the portfolio of a larger royalty company such as Wheaton Precious Metals or Royal Gold. The silver royalty gets little to no value in Sabina’s portfolio.

Suitors? It’s a long list. Goldcorp has telegraphed its intention to only acquire district-scale projects, and Back River fits the bill. The project is superior on almost every level – grade, size, scalability – to Kaminak’s Coffee project and Goldcorp spent $520 million to purchase that operation. This is pure speculation, but I bet B2Gold CEO Clive Johnson would also love to open a high-grade gold mine in Canada to go with operations in more exciting jurisdictions that include Mali, the Philippines and Burkina Faso.

Management is the single most important ingredient in the junior mining sector, and Sabina’s is impressive. When he took over as CEO, McLeod refocused the company, trimming some fat and beefing up insider skin in the game. Under his stewardship, Sabina has smartly increased the quality of the gold ounces while controlling the share structure. I was impressed during the site visit by both VP Ex Angus Campbell and Exploration Manager James Maxwell.

Finally, a small detail. Sometimes, they tell a tale. There was no swag on the site visit – company shirts, ball caps, pens, etc – and clearly cost considerations were front and centre for Sabina. I’ve seen lots of swag from plenty of lesser projects in my travels. As a shareholder, seeing that kind of focus on the lesser details reassured me that Sabina will pay close attention on the big details, too – such as a fair takeout price.

Sabina Gold & Silver (SBB-T)
Price: $2.30
Shares outstanding: 224 million (243M f-d)
Treasury: $36.6 million (as of June 30, not including financing proceeds)
Market cap: $515.2 million

Disclosure: I own shares of Sabina Gold & Silver and the company paid for costs associated with the site visit. Readers are advised that the material contained herein is solely for information purposes. Readers are encouraged to conduct their own research and due diligence, and/or obtain professional advice. Nothing contained herein constitutes a representation by the publisher, nor a solicitation for the purchase or sale of securities. The information contained herein is based on sources which the publisher believes to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate, and does not purport to be a complete statement or summary of the available data. Any opinions expressed are subject to change without notice. The author and their associates are not responsible for errors or omissions. They may from time to time have a position in the securities of the companies mentioned herein, and may change their positions without notice. (Any positions will be disclosed explicitly.)

5 Reasons IDM Mining is Worth a Look at This Valuation

by James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities

IDM Mining is a Resource Opportunities sponsor company.

In the summer of 2016 I visited IDM Mining’s Red Mountain high-grade gold project in northwestern British Columbia for the first time, and most of the underground workings were still flooded with water. The conditions were a testament to the project’s mothballed status before IDM took over. To the weather, as well: the mountains outside of Stewart get plenty of precipitation in the form of both rain and snow. Some fell during that mid-summer visit.

When I returned recently, most of the water in the two kilometres of underground workings had been pumped out. Our group of analysts and investment bankers was able to hike deep inside the mountain. We crossed the portal and CEO Rob McLeod walked us through a damp, dark world, past several crosscuts accessing mineralized zones as well as sites where the underground drill was turning.

The gold grades have to be rich to make a mine economic in such an environment, and Red Mountain ore is. IDM’s latest intercepts, announced Sept. 5, are the highest-grade ever recorded at Red Mountain: 4.9 metres of 149.2 g/t gold and 59 g/t silver in the Marc Zone, the first mineralized area to be mined. The hit included 0.5 metres of 1,400 g/t Au and 437 g/t Ag. Average grades of reserves at Red Mountain are 7.53 g/t Au and 21.86 g/t Ag – multiples of global grades being mined.

Underground drilling

Majors including Lac Minerals and Royal Oak Mines spent several million dollars blasting out the portal and underground decline before abandoning the project, which IDM CEO Rob McLeod had worked on as a junior geologist. IDM optioned the 17,125-hectare project in 2014 and has systematically advanced it to the permitting stage. A recently published Feasibility Study shows an after-tax NPV of $104 million with an IRR of 32% and a 1.9-year payback, at a 5% discount. That’s based on US$1,250/oz gold and a 76-cent Canadian dollar. Average life-of-mine head grades are 7.53 g/t Au and 21.86 g/t Ag. By comparison, the average gold grade of producing mines, globally, is about 1 g/t Au.

Red Mountain is located in a beautiful corner of the world populated by snowy mountain peaks, glaciers and scenic vistas. We hiked to the top of a ridge as CEO McLeod gave us a tour that was equal parts geology and history. The bird’s-eye view included Bromley Humps, the area that will host the mill and the tailings area (we later visited by helicopter).

IDM Mining CEO Rob McLeod points toward the mill/tailings facility location in the Bitter Creek Valley.

The Golden Triangle’s history of high-grade gold mining points to its potential. Pretium’s Brucejack is just the latest in a region with a long list of past producing high-grade mines, including Snip, Eskay Creek, Premier and Granduc. And IDM’s development is part of a Golden Triangle revival that is driving some incredible share price gains among area drill plays. The most notable is GT Gold Corp., whose shares started 2017 at 25 cents and have rocketed above $2.50 on drill results. The stellar initial intercepts included 6.95 metres grading 51.53 g/t gold and 117.38 g/t silver. The stock surge has vaulted GT Gold to a market capitalization of almost $200 million. That compares to about $50 million for IDM, whose Red Mountain is an FS-stage advanced development project with a defined deposit and lots of upside.

Proven and probable reserves at Red Mountain contain 1.953 million tonnes at an average grade of 7.53 g/t Au, for 473,000 gold ounces, and 21.86 g/t Ag, for 1.373 million silver ounces. Most of the ore is found in three mineralized zones: the Marc, AV and JW Zones. Underground step-out drill results released by IDM this summer hint at the upside potential at Red Mountain. Intercepts have included:

  • 4.9 metres of 149.2 g/t Au & 59.9 g/t Ag, incl. 1,400 g/t over 0.5m (U17-1289, Marc Zone)
  • 8 metres of 12.28 g/t Au & 27.07 g/t Ag (U17-1274, SF Zone step-out)
  • 14 metres of 10.65 g/t Au & 17.37 g/t Ag (U17-1262, JW Zone step-out)
  • 8.6 metres of 12.33 g/t Au & 70.9 g/t Ag (U17-1245, JW Zone step-out).


Other high-grade Canadian gold plays are being picked off by majors, one by one. Recent projects that have been purchased include Lake Shore Gold ($945 million by Tahoe), Kaminak ($520 million by Goldcorp) and Integra ($590 million by Eldorado). The latest to be snapped up was Richmont Mines, a high-grade underground producer recently acquired by Alamos Gold for $933 million. Richmont produces gold at two underground mines in Ontario and Quebec.

In USD terms, the price of gold has increased about 15% this year, from $1,150 to the current $1,325. Yet IDM shares have remained at the 14-cent range, after hitting 21 cents about a year ago. Here are five reasons IDM shares are worth a closer look at these levels:


The global gold mining industry is facing a supply crunch. Demand remains strong, driven primarily by the Asian appetite, ETF inflows and central bank buying. But on the supply side, gold mining companies are struggling to keep pace. It’s primarily due to a lack of new discoveries, a trend that is forcing miners to process lower-grade ore as they deplete existing ore bodies. The average grade at producing gold mines, globally, is about 1 g/t Au. It’s a worrying industry trend since grade remains king, as well as being a key determinant of the profitability of gold mining companies. That puts a target on IDM Mining’s Red Mountain, which has gold grades multiples of the global average. Cash costs net of silver credits for the Red Mountain project would be US$492/oz, according to IDM’s recent Feasibility Study.


Smart management teams purchase unloved, unwanted assets for pennies on the dollar during bear markets, then turn them into viable economic projects in time for the commodity upcycle. That’s the playbook for IDM and the timing looks good, especially with gold’s push above $1,300/oz. IDM leveraged millions of dollars of prior development, including almost 2,000 metres of underground tunnels. The infrastructure advantage extends to road access from Stewart, as well as plentiful and cheap power. British Columbia has some of the least-expensive industrial power rates of any jurisdiction in the world.


Stewart is Rob McLeod’s hometown and he has deep family roots there, which makes construction of a mine at Red Mountain personal. The town of Stewart used to be a thriving mining hub but is heavily exposed to the cyclicality of the sector. For example, Stewart’s 1910 population of 10,000 dropped as low as 17 people less than a decade later, during the First World War years. Rob’s father Ian McLeod and his uncle Don (after whom IDM is named) prospected mountains in the region for gold – including the property that now hosts Pretium’s high-grade Brucejack mine. Stewart boomed again with the opening of the Premier mine, which operated from the 1920s to 1952 and was North America’s largest gold mine.

How deep are the CEO’s ties to Stewart? Rob’s father was born in Stewart in 1927 and served as mayor for 15 years. He also owned the King Edward Hotel in Stewart from 1952 to 2001. IDM’s Executive Chairman is Mike McPhie, a mining veteran who was CEO of Curis Resources (bought by Taseko Mines) and a director of Silver Quest Resources (bought by New Gold). Another third-generation miner, engineer Ryan Weymark, joined IDM Mining in the spring. His father and grandfather were also mining engineers and spent their careers at Teck Cominco.


IDM’s high-grade stepout hits at Red Mountain mean the 5.4-year mine life outlined by the Feasibility Study is likely to be extended, perhaps considerably. Infrastructure costs for a mine would be fixed, so finding additional ounces is highly accretive to mine economics. And the upside goes beyond defining additional ounces at Red Mountain. Glacial melt has uncovered areas of mineralization that have never been drilled or explored, such as Lost Valley. A resource update is expected in the first quarter of 2018.


Lost Valley gold mineralization


A deal IDM announced in late 2016 has given the company a call option on a promising portfolio in the Yukon, one of the world’s hottest exploration jurisdictions. The company sold its Yukon projects (formerly owned by Ryan Gold) to Strikepoint Gold (SKP-V) for $4 million, most of it in StrikePoint shares. As a result IDM holds 18% of StrikePoint’s outstanding shares, joining other major shareholder Eric Sprott, who owns a 12% stake. StrikePoint’s VP Exploration is Yukon veteran Andy Randall, who was chief geologist for Ryan Gold when that Shawn Ryan vehicle spent $25 million to advance the Yukon projects. StrikePoint is spending $2.5 million this year to explore three properties: Mahtin, Pluto and Golden-Oly. The fledgling company, helmed by Shawn Khunkhun, has about $8 million in the treasury and is fully funded through 2018. IDM’s stake is worth about $2.9 million at StrikePoint’s current share price.

Disclosure: IDM Mining is a Resource Opportunities sponsor and the author is long IDM Mining shares, which makes him biased. This article is for informational purposes only. All investors are responsible for their own trades and need to do their own research and due diligence.