Strategic Metals is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsor companies.
Strategic Metals CEO Doug Eaton has faced a few grizzly bears in his decades of stomping around the Yukon as an Archer Cathro geologist. And he’s been an exec in the junior exploration business long enough to ride out several bear markets. The key to both experiences: don’t get gored.
The Archer Cathro principal has also seen the other side of the coin, though — the one some junior resource speculators fear may never return. In the summer of 2011, ATAC discovered high-grade gold at Osiris, sending ATAC shares above $10 and Strategic shares above $4. Strategic continues to hold a large ATAC stake, currently 6.9%. Those moves occurred as the gold price approached highs of US$1,900 an ounce.
Current share price levels tell the tale of this bear market, and of the long slide down. Strategic shares trade at 41 cents and ATAC shares are stuck in the 52-cent range, near 52-week lows. ATAC recently announced a maiden resource estimate at Osiris, scene of that 2011 discovery hole, of 1.685 million ounces (Inferred) at 4.23 g/t Au, including a pit-constrained resource of more than 1 million ounces.
Eaton is philosophical about the continuing bear market as Strategic advances its properties (121 wholly owned) and looks for optioners. Lately the company has been doing deals on its cobalt and vanadium projects, as battery metal prices continue to rise amid surging demand and limited supply. And he is very bullish on Rockhaven Resources (RK-V), which recently published a resource update at its Klaza project. Eaton has been adding to his personal Rockhaven stake (currently 9.1% of outstanding shares) and Strategic Metals has also been bulking up, taking their stake to 40.23%.
The number of global ounces at Klaza actually dropped in the resource update, but Rockhaven converted 686,000 ounces from the Inferred to Indicated categories. There was also a significant upgrade in pit-constrained tonnes and grade, including 232,000 ounces of gold (Indicated) at grades of 9.5 g/t in the Western BRX zone. Rockhaven is looking at several processing changes, Eaton noted, including a pre-crushing circuit that would both increase ore grades and reduce processing costs.
I recently caught up with Eaton to talk battery metals, bear markets, and why there isn’t more M&A in this beaten-down sector.
Q: Do mining stocks deserve their poor reputation?
As an industry, we have executed quite badly. We have a tendency to disappoint more frequently than exceed expectations. In exploration, because of the nature of the business, that’s a given. In mining, it shouldn’t be.
Meanwhile, the U.S. markets continue to rise. It’s like stepping onto an escalator, it just keeps going up and up (Facebook shares were recently hit hard, post-interview, after the company missed earnings projections). But it takes such a tiny, tiny reallocation of assets back into resources and it’s going to be like a tsunami force.
Q: What catalysts besides a rising gold price could revive the junior exploration market?
We need buyouts of juniors and for people to redeploy money into the juniors. We’re starting to see it with South32 buying Arizona Mining and Orion Mine Finance buying Dalradian. But the retail market is gone and the big banks won’t touch the sector.
Q: Does Strategic Metals have exposure to the battery metals?
We are working on vanadium and cobalt deals. We went through the digital geochem database looking for cobalt showings. We found 20 properties in total and four with cobalt clusters. We did the same with vanadium and were expecting the same kind of result, but we came up with three strong vanadium properties.
Q: Why are you personally, and why is Strategic Metals, loading up on Rockhaven shares, given the size of your existing stakes? (Amount insiders have spent buying Rockhaven shares in the past 3 months: Eaton $50,000 at 13-15 cents, Strategic Metals $72,000 at 13-15 cents, CEO Matt Turner $19,000 at 13 cents.)
The only other time in my career that I’ve seen such low-hanging fruit was in 2008 when we were buying ATAC shares at 10 cents and the stock went to 10 bucks. Rockhaven now has an immediacy that ATAC doesn’t. And there is huge exploration potential that gets no credit. It’s not hard to see Klaza reaching 3-4-5 million ounces if you go up-dip and down-dip from deep, really good hits. I think there’s at least 5 million ounces there.
Come on guys, the writing is on the wall. We effectively told you we have a mine here. At the Western BRX we’ve got a pit with a quarter million ounces at above 9 grams per tonne. Do the math. What the hell is the matter here?
Q: Well, why aren’t majors capitalizing more on low valuations in this sector?
The majors have a habit of overpaying at the top of the market. They are running so fast that their tongues are hanging out, trying to keep up production levels. The majors are high-grading their deposits and not replacing the reserves.
On some of the recent major investments into juniors, they are predatory and smart, quite frankly. But most are not even thinking about new acquisitions, despite the fact they’re depleting their reserves. As a rule, mining companies are run by bean counters and engineers. Mining engineers are the least imaginative people I’ve ever met when it comes to deal making.
If I’m a major or mid-tier mining company, and looking for an economic deposit, I would look for an established resource that has lots of blue sky. Klaza fits the bill.
Q: What approach is Strategic Metals taking in tough market conditions?
We are keeping our powder dry and doing smart deals. It’s a bit of a holding pattern but sometimes the best deal is the one you don’t do. Timing is key.
Disclosure: James Kwantes owns shares of Rockhaven Resources, ATAC Resources and Strategic Metals. Strategic Metals is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsor companies. This article is for informational purposes only and may contain forward-looking statements. All investors need to do their own due diligence.
North Arrow Minerals is 1 of 3 Resource Opportunities sponsor companies.
Vancouver-based North Arrow Minerals is one of the more active diamond exploration companies globally, with a portfolio of projects focused on Canada. Its most advanced-stage project is the large Naujaat deposit in Nunavut, which has a resource and hosts a population of valuable fancy orange yellow diamonds.
But this season’s focus is on exploration drilling at the Mel and Loki projects in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, respectively. Mel was a grassroots diamond discovery that North Arrow announced late last year. The company traced kimberlite indicator mineral (KIM) trains up-ice and made a prospecting discovery of kimberlite, from which 23 microdiamonds were recovered from a 62.1-kg sample. The first drilling program on the property is planned for this summer.
The Loki project is in the Lac de Gras diamond field that hosts the Diavik and Ekati mines. The focus there is EG05, a kimberlite that Rio Tinto discovered, and 465, a kimberlite discovered by North Arrow in the spring. The latter was the first kimberlite discovery in Lac de Gras in the past 5 years. It’s familiar terrain for the North Arrow team, including chairman Gren Thomas whose Aber Resources discovered the Diavik diamond mine.
Rough diamond prices are now at a 52-week high and demand for polished diamonds is strong in China, India and the U.S., according to New York-based diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky. On the production side, pending mine closures including Argyle and Victor will put pressure on supply, with few new operations coming online.
The improving picture follows a choppy 2017 that saw high inventory levels at De Beers and Alrosa and flat rough diamond prices. North Arrow shares have been under pressure along with shares of new Canadian producers Stornoway Diamonds and Mountain Province Diamonds, which declined 41% and 18% respectively over the past year as startup problems weighed.
On Monday North Arrow announced a $3-million private placement consisting of flow-through shares at 20 cents and non-flow-through units (one share, one 2-year 30-cent warrant) at 17 cents. We caught up with CEO Ken Armstrong, who was in Calgary for the TakeStock! investor forum, to find out more about plans and how the money will be used.
Q: What is the breakdown on how the $3-million financing will be spent?
A: We’ve allocated $2 million for Mel drilling – testing the 2017 kimberlite discovery and new targets. That number includes microdiamond processing costs. We will also complete microdiamond processing of the EG05 and 465 kimberlites at the Loki project that were drilled in March, as well as some final microdiamond processing from the 2017 drilling of Naujaat. That’ll be a couple hundred grand. We are also looking at getting a remaining top target drilled at Loki, target 853. Ideally we’d tie that onto ongoing drilling at our LDG JV property, which is operated and funded by partner Dominion Diamond. We’d retain a half million or so for G&A.
Q: Any big names buying into the financing? How much will insiders and management participate for?
A: Insiders are committed to taking at least $1.5 million, so half, with most of that being directors/management. Gren Thomas, our chairman, and Eira Thomas, a North Arrow advisor, will both participate. I will also participate.
Q: How did you determine the pricing of the financing?
A: We tried to price it to make the non flow-through unit and flow-through share components equally attractive. On the Unit we put a fairly quick threshold on the accelerator, at 40 cents, however we felt it was justified by pricing it a discount to market with a full warrant, rather than a half-warrant. The flow through is essentially priced at market with the intent to fill the orderbook efficiently. We are looking at immediate use of funds with Mel drilling in July, Loki drilling in July or August and with more diamond results from Loki, Naujaat, and in September or October, from Mel. This is all news flow that will occur before the four-month hold comes off the financing shares which is, we think, a positive feature of the placement. We have been the most active Canadian junior in terms of new kimberlite discoveries in Canada and are poised for more discovery, potentially on up to three projects, over the four months.
Q: Which of the three active projects that you’re raising money for is the most likely catalyst — Loki, Mel or Naujaat?
A: All three have potential catalysts. Folks seem to be most interested in new discoveries and Mel certainly fits that bill — it’s a brand new kimberlite discovery made by prospecting last fall. The kimberlite contains some very coarse mantle minerals and we see hints of that coarseness in the initial diamond results, which is positive. Having already found kimberlite and diamonds actually de-risks the initial drilling significantly. We know we will hit kimberlite with diamonds, it’s more a question of how many and how big they are.
Based on the spread of indicator minerals there are certainly multiple sources with some nice, sizable magnetic targets. This is a brand new kimberlite field and the first kimberlite discovered is significantly diamondiferous. It doesn’t happen too often, so we are keen to get drilling. We’re currently mobilizing a camp and drill to the property now with drilling planned for July.
At Loki we also have a new discovery and are waiting on microdiamond results. In early April we announced the discovery of the 465 kimberlite – the first kimberlite discovery made in the Lac de Gras area in over 5 years. There are also pending microdiamond results from the EG05 kimberlite which was also drilled during the spring 2018 program. We also have a number of targets that we’d like to drill test, including target 853, which we’d like to see drilled this summer.
Q: It’s been almost three years since the disappointing Naujaat diamond valuation. Does Naujaat remain North Arrow’s flagship project and what is happening with the project?
A: Naujaat remains North Arrow’s most advanced project. We’re still interested because it’s a significant diamond inventory in a large tonnage deposit (as far as Canadian diamond deposits go) sitting on tidewater near a community. Our work on the Q1-4 diamonds has clearly shown the deposit contains high-value fancy orange yellow diamonds and, overall, is under evaluated. Last summer we completed more drilling to confirm the size potential of the kimberlite down to 300 metres below surface and we had three different holes extend over 100 metres beyond the geological model, with two of those holes ending in kimberlite. It’s a big body. We also collected a 210-tonne sample that confirmed the presence of the coloured diamond population in the A88 phase of the kimberlite. This is a totally different unit than was sampled in 2014 – the 2017 sample pit was over 400 metres away for the 2014 pits – and the proportion of coloured stones is very similar to the 2014 result. The work we’ve done with the diamonds themselves has shown that the coloured stones are a distinct population from the non-coloured stones. The two populations are completely different ages and the yellow population has a markedly coarser distribution than the non coloured stones.
The photos of the diamonds we had polished and certified at the GIA show how beautiful this colour is and highlight the potential value upside in these diamonds. But it is actually the potential for a coarse size distribution that may be even more important in terms of potential upside to the value contribution of the coloured diamonds. And the only way to confirm or disprove the potential value upside is a larger bulk sample.
To that end we have hired consultants and been working closely with the community of Naujaat to look at developing a road to the deposit. We’ve also started looking at processing options for a larger sample and how that might look, all with an eye to better pinning down the budget options for collecting a sample of sufficient size to get that answer. Being so close to the community really presents opportunities for reduced costs – we’ve seen that with our exploration programs and we need to make sure we take full advantage of all potential cost savings.
Of course all this takes time, but that is why we have North Arrow evaluating a number of quality projects, not just one. It allows the team to focus on well-informed, cost-effective exploration even if that might mean slower news flow from a particular project. There will be steady news flow from other projects as each cycles through the process.
Q: Along the lines of quiet projects, what is the status of the Lac de Gras joint venture with operator Dominion Diamond Corp.?
A: The LDG JV is having an active year. It has definitely been one of our quieter projects as our partner Dominion spent a lot of effort defining targets through a series of overburden drilling and geophysics programs. Late last year, Dominion also went through a well-documented takeover by the Washington Group of Companies, with the resulting transitions that often accompany such changes. However, a very positive outcome for the LDG joint venture has been Dominion’s renewed commitment to exploration, and, as I understand it, the 2018 LDG JV budget was one of the first budgets approved by the new ownership. The focus of the 2018 program is exploration and discovery-type drilling and we expect that work to pick up again during the summer. North Arrow elected not to finance its share of the current program so we could focus our resources drilling our 100% owned projects at Mel and Loki. However, although we are taking dilution of our joint venture interest, if a Lac de Gras-type discovery is made North Arrow will still maintain a significant interest, north of 25%, in the joint venture.
Q: With Eira recently taking over as CEO of Lucara Diamond Corp., how involved does she remain with North Arrow?
A: Eira’s involvement with North Arrow has been key since we began our focus on the Canadian diamond space. She remains an important advisor and sounding board for management – and the board – as we strategize on how best to move the project portfolio forward.
Disclosure: North Arrow Minerals is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsor companies and James Kwantes owns North Arrow shares. Readers are advised that this article is solely for information purposes. Readers are encouraged to conduct their own research and due diligence, and/or obtain professional advice. The information 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.
Copyright: This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form, without the express permission of the publisher. Permission is given to extract parts of the report for inclusion or review in other publications only if credit is given, including the name and address of the publisher.
It’s early afternoon on an overcast Yukon day and CEO Peter Tallman is in show and tell mode at Lone Star, one of Klondike Gold’s properties in the heart of the historic Klondike goldfields. The geologist is dressed in old jeans, a flannel shirt, muddy gumboots and a baseball cap. The trip to the rugged property outside of Dawson City had Tallman’s pickup truck bouncing and bucking like an ornery bull with a rider on its back. It’s 3,000 kilometres and a world away from Vancouver’s Howe Street, a global centre for mining exploration finance.
The Lone Star mine was one of only a handful of bedrock gold mines in the Yukon, albeit a small-scale operation. The mine produced a small amount of gold at average grades of about 5.2 g/t Au between 1911 and 1914. Exhibit A is a faded wooden two-storey building, constructed in 1908 and visibly leaning. The building was abandoned circa World War 1, although it was reinforced and has been used since for various purposes. Nearby are high-grade surface and underground vein workings.
As Tallman walks through high grass toward the sun-burnt structure, he spots something and stops to pick it up. Exhibit B: a dilapidated shoe, several rusted metal tacks keeping the sole on. Tallman marvels at the resilience of the oldtimers, as he outlines his own plans to develop an economic gold deposit on the property.
“Imagine you’re working in minus 30 and wearing these on your feet,” he says, shaking his head.
Inside the dilapidated building are glimpses of the lengths to which fortune seekers would go – and the distances they would travel – in search of gold. After catching up on the news, the miners would line the walls with their newspapers – makeshift insulation in a land where winter temperatures routinely drop below -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). Posted alongside English-language newspapers from Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal are broadsheets in Swedish and German.
In the Yukon, these bedrock miners were an anomaly. The Yukon Geological Society estimates that 20 million ounces of gold have been pulled from Klondike-area creeks and gravel beds since 1896. Virtually all of it, of course, has been alluvial gold. The lack of bedrock sources for the gold is one of the enduring riddles of the Yukon, where placer gold mining remains one of the largest industries. Several stores in Dawson City still accept gold nuggets as currency.
Tallman’s goal is to systematically explore the property and identify an open-pittable gold deposit of more than 1 million ounces, for starters. He joined Klondike Gold in December 2013. But before he got to the geology, Tallman spent most of the first year and a half cleaning up the corporate structure and rebuilding relationships in the Yukon. Predecessor companies had raised a lot of money, dug a trench that could be seen from space, and constructed some Cadillac core shacks. But little was spent on systematic property-wide exploration, and not much accomplished.
Diamond drilling is underway on this year’s 5,000- to 7,000-metre program. The 2018 exploration budget is $2.5 million, Klondike Gold’s largest yet, and work will include soil sampling and ground magnetics. The plan builds on last year’s exploration program ($2 million spent) and the Lone Star discovery of 2016, when Klondike spent $750,000 on exploration.
There is high-grade gold on the Lone Star property, as drill intercepts from both 2016 and 2017 have shown. They included:
– 2.4 g/t Au over 41 metres (Lone Star, 2017) – 2.4 g/t Au over 37 m (Lone Star, 2017) – 5.1 g/t Au over 14.3m (Nugget zone, 2016) – 3.3 g/t Au over 11.93m (Nugget zone, 2016)
But key to a new geological interpretation is the presence of disseminated lower-grade gold, which builds ounces even though it doesn’t generate sexy headlines. The new interpretation was the focus of a PhD thesis from Leeds geology student Matt Grimshaw, who will be back this summer helping SRK Consulting map the entire property. Tallman thinks as much as 90% of the gold in the Klondike could be disseminated.
Tallman has also brought on a VP Exploration to help him solve the geological riddles of the goldfields: Ian Perry. The geologist has more than 35 years of experience managing advanced exploration and development projects in Canada and internationally.
Tallman has identified four faults that control gold mineralization at Lone Star: the Bonanza, Nugget, Eldorado and Irish faults. The gold was forced up through the faults and formed veins or was disseminated. Tallman’s theory is that those faults, in turn, are controlled by the Rabbit Creek Thrust, which he believes could run the entire length of Klondike’s 55-km claims holdings.
“Do we know that these gold-bearing structures, that we’ve proven are at Lone Star, do they extend across the entire 55-kilometre structure?” Tallman says. Determining the answer to that question is the goal of the 2018 exploration program, which will include drilling at Gold Run at the southern end of Klondike’s property.
Klondike Gold has a dominant land position in a district where the mining of gold is already a multi-million-dollar business. A few numbers give a sense of just how large Klondike Gold’s property package is. The company owns 2,780 quartz claims, which make up 553 square kilometres to form a district that is 55 kilometres long. Road access is excellent – an important feature in a territory where planes and helicopters are common but expensive tools of modern gold exploration.
And the infrastructure is about to get better. The $360-million “Roads to Resources” plan announced last year by the Canadian and Yukon governments includes reconstruction of two roads that run through Klondike’s claims. The road connecting Goldcorp’s Coffee to Dawson City also goes through Klondike Gold claims. Goldcorp bought Kaminak Gold and its Coffee deposit — 120 kilometres south of Klondike’s claims — for $520 million in 2016. The takeover was part of a flood of Yukon investments from gold producers including Barrick and Newmont.
Tallman wants to build long-term shareholder value at Klondike Gold, so it’s a play that requires patience. On that front, it helps having deep-pocketed shareholders who take a long-term view of their mining exploration investments. Among them are billionaires Frank Giustra (14%), Eric Sprott (13%) and Francesco Aquilini, whose family owns the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. About 56% of Klondike’s shares are held by the top 20 shareholders.
A series of financings has the company fully funded for both this year and next. Klondike Gold has $6.5 million in the treasury and about $7.4 million worth of warrants.
Since bottoming in the fall of 2016, Klondike shares have been making higher highs and higher lows. Tallman has been buying stock in the open market this year, at prices ranging from 22-24 cents. The purchases take his stake in the company to about 2.7 million shares, or 2.8% of outstanding shares.
Klondike Gold (KG-V, KDKGF-OTC) Price: 0.235 Shares outstanding: 96.8 million (120M f-d) Market cap: $22.8 million
Disclosure: Klondike Gold is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsor companies and James Kwantes, editor and publisher of Resource Opportunities, owns Klondike Gold shares. Readers are advised that this article is solely for information purposes. Readers are encouraged to conduct their own research and due diligence, and/or obtain professional advice. The information 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.
Copyright: This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form, without the express permission of the publisher. Permission is given to extract parts of the report for inclusion or review in other publications only if credit is given, including the name and address of the publisher.
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%).
CANADA’S GROUND ZERO FOR 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).
DRIVE FOR DISCOVERY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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 Gold & Silver (SBB-T)
Oct. 4, 2017
By James Kwantes
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.
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.
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.
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.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
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.
ECONOMICS OF EXPLORATION
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.
EXPLORING A VAULT
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.
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.
THE PATH FORWARD
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:
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.
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:
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.)
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.
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.
4. RESOURCE UPSIDE
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
5. STRIKEPOINT GOLD STAKE
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.
North Arrow Minerals is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsors.
The November 1991 discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories by Chuck Fipke and Stu Blusson put Canada on the global diamond map. It also triggered one of the largest staking rushes in the world, as hundreds of companies hurried north to find treasure.
A few years later, many had retreated to warmer climes. One company that remained in the hunt was Gren Thomas’s Aber Resources, with a large land package staked by Thomas and partners at Lac de Gras near the Fipke find. In the spring of 1994, an Aber exploration crew led by Thomas’s geologist daughter, Eira Thomas, raced the spring melt to drill through the ice in search of kimberlite — the rock that sometimes hosts valuable diamonds.
It was a longshot. Since the Fipke find, the great Canadian diamond hunt had virtually ground to a halt — despite the millions of dollars spent in search of the glittery stones. But the drill core from that final spring hole had a two-carat diamond embedded in it. The Diavik discovery meant it was game on for Aber — and Canada’s nascent diamond industry.
DIAMOND POWER PLAYER
A quarter century after that fateful hole was punched through melting ice, Canada punches above its weight in the world of diamonds. Measured by value, the country is the third largest producer of diamonds by value globally. And the valuable diamonds that continue to be unearthed at the Diavik mine discovered by Aber are a big reason why.
The discovery unleashed a wave of shareholder value. The shares of Aber and its successor companies went from pennies to more than $50 as the quality of the diamonds and the asset became known. Dominion Diamond Corp., as Aber is now known and which owns the Ekati mine and 40% of Diavik, is Canada’s premiere diamond company. Diavik is expected to produce about 7.4 million carats this year, making it among the world’s largest diamond operations.
The team behind the Diavik discovery has also created a fair amount of shareholder value in the years since, led by Eira Thomas. She has co-founded two diamond players, Stornoway Diamond Corp. and Lucara Diamond Corp., and remains a director of the latter Lundin Group company. Her most recent gig, as CEO of Kaminak Gold, ended rather well — Goldcorp bought the company for $520 million last year.
Thomas is also an advisor to North Arrow Minerals (NAR-V), a cashed-up junior company at the forefront of Canadian diamond exploration. Aber’s Gren Thomas is North Arrow’s chairman and the CEO is Ken Armstrong, a former Aber and Rio Tinto geologist. North Arrow recently raised $5 million to explore its portfolio of projects and a drill program is underway at its advanced-stage Naujaat project, which hosts a population of valuable fancy orangey yellow diamonds.
In a space with few new discoveries or development projects, Canada is home to two of the world’s new diamond mines. Stornoway’s Renard mine in Quebec and Gahcho Kue, a De Beers-Mountain Province joint venture in the Northwest Territories, have both recently begun commercial production.
Globally, the diamond industry has faced headwinds, including India’s demonetization and choppy rough stone prices. But diamonds remain a money maker for some of the world’s largest mining companies, including Rio Tinto (60% owner of Diavik) and Anglo American. Incoming Rio boss Jean-Sebastien Jacques identified diamonds as a “priority area” last year in a Bloomberg interview: “I would love to have more diamonds, to be very explicit.” The company recently backed up those words by signing a three-year, $18.5-million option on Shore Gold’s Star-Orion South diamond project in northern Saskatchewan.
And Anglo’s De Beers division remains a reliable profit generator. In 2016, rough diamond sales surged for both Anglo American (up 36%) and Russian producer Alrosa (up 26%), according to The Diamond Loupe. A recent hostile takeover bid for Dominion Diamond reflects the demand for well-run diamond mines, which are powerful profit machines.
The picture is less promising on the exploration front. Budgets dried up during the mining slump that began in 2011, and little grassroots exploration work is being done. It’s particularly problematic for supply because diamond mines take longer to discover, evaluate and build pharm. The new Canadian mines will help fill the gap, but it won’t be enough. Economic diamond discoveries have simply not kept pace with mine depletion, globally.
“There are definitely a lack of new projects, at least new projects that are close to infrastructure,” said Paul Zimnisky, a New York-based independent diamond analyst. “There really is not much at all in the global diamond production pipeline.”
Economic, world-class diamond projects are few and far between, and most exploration companies looking for them have failed, Zimnisky explained. That has resulted in wariness and declining interest among investors: “In general, shareholders have not done well in diamonds.”
The looming supply deficit is particularly acute for rare coloured diamonds, which fetch higher prices. Australia’s Ellendale mine produced an estimated 50% of the world’s fancy yellow diamonds before closing in 2015. The Argyle mine, also in Australia, is one of the world’s biggest mines and a source of valuable coloured diamonds, including extremely rare pinks. It, too, is slated to close in the coming years, after decades of production.
North Arrow’s Naujaat could help fill the void. The project hosts a population of fancy orangey yellow diamonds that are more valuable because of their rarity. Naujaat is on tidewater, which dramatically reduces costs, and hosts a very large diamondiferous kimberlite, Q1-4, that outcrops on surface.
It’s the focus of this year’s $3.2-million program, which will see North Arrow drill 4,500 metres and collect a 200-tonne mini bulk sample. The goal is to extend the Inferred resource to a depth of at least 300 kilometres below surface and better define the diamond population. The sample will be shipped south in late August and processed in the fall.
“There is excellent potential to extend the Q1-4 kimberlite at depth, beyond the reach of past drilling efforts,” said North Arrow CEO Ken Armstrong. “It’s the first drilling in more than 12 years. The work will help us confirm and update the size of Q1-4 and improve our understanding of the deposit’s internal geology and diamond distribution.”
In 2014 and 2015, North Arrow collected a small bulk sample at Naujaat (formerly known as Qilalugaq) with the goal of gauging diamond values. But the carat values on the small 384-carat package came in significantly below expectations. North Arrow shares were relegated to the market penalty box and the company has been largely under the radar since, despite important background work that set the stage for this year’s program.
RISK AND OPPORTUNITY
Contrarian investing and the ability to time cycles can lead to fortunes in the junior mining sector. Vancouver investor Ross Beaty has proven it, time and again. In the early 2000s, with copper trading for under US$1 a pound, his team assembled a portfolio of unwanted copper assets in a bear market. He developed and sold those projects during bull markets, turning $170 million in invested capital into shareholder returns of $1.87 billion. His latest win was a large bear-market investment in Kaminak Gold, later bought out by Goldcorp.
Beaty’s latest contrarian bet is on North Arrow, through a $2-million investment that was part of the recent $5-million private placement financing. Other investors included the New York-based Electrum Strategic Opportunities Fund ($2 million) and company management and directors. The money will fund an aggressive program at Naujaat including drilling and a bulk sample, as well as exploration at North Arrow’s Mel, Loki and Pikoo projects.
North Arrow also has exposure to drilling through the LDG (Lac de Gras) joint venture with Dominion Diamond Corp. That project borders on the mineral leases where Diavik is located. Ekati is 40 kilometres to the northwest. Dominion plans to drill several targets later this summer as part of a $2.8-million exploration program. North Arrow will have a 30% interest in the JV.
With a target on its back, Dominion is highly motivated to enhance shareholder value. And that extends beyond mine operations to exploration and new discoveries. In May, Dominion announced a “renewed strategic focus on exploration” and a $50-million, five-year exploration budget.
A FANCY EDGE
As for Naujaat, North Arrow is revisiting the project after a polishing exercise yielded fancy yellow diamonds that turned some heads in the industry. Several were certified “fancy vivid” diamonds, a coveted designation in the coloured diamond world. The quality of the polished stones suggests the fancy orangey yellow diamonds at Naujaat are considerably more valuable than the June 2015 valuation of the roughs indicated.
The primary conclusion of the diamond evaluators was that the 384-carat parcel of Naujaat diamonds was too small to properly evaluate. North Arrow plans to remedy that, in part, by collecting a 200-tonne bulk sample that should yield another 80 to 100 carats. The sample will be taken from the kimberlite’s highest-grade zone, A61. Lab results are expected in early 2018.
Another complicating factor at Naujaat is the presence of two distinct diamond populations of different ages, including a population of rare fancy yellow diamonds. It’s a consideration that was not factored into the prior carat valuation. It will be next time. Diamonds are a rarity play, and diamonds that occur less frequently — such as coloured diamonds and large diamonds — are more valuable. Yellow diamonds made up only 9% of the 2015 Naujaat sample by stone count, but more than 21% by carat weight.
The drilling at Naujaat is targeting kimberlite between 200 and 300 metres in order to bring material designated target for future exploration (TFFE) into the Inferred category. That drilling, plus the mini bulk sample, should help North Arrow better evaluate the diamond deposit on the path to a future Preliminary Economic Assessment. The Q1-4 kimberlite has a horseshoe shape that makes it amenable to open-pit mining and a low strip ratio. A larger bulk sample is planned for 2018.
Fancy yellow diamonds were thrust into the spotlight earlier this month when Dominion unveiled the striking 30.54-carat Arctic Sun, a fancy vivid yellow diamond cut from a 65.93-carat stone unearthed at Ekati. Dominion also played up coloured diamonds in their latest corporate presentation — specifically, the sweetener effect of high-value fancy yellow and orange diamonds at Misery.
The potential emergence of Canadian coloured diamonds could help solidify Canada’s position on the world diamond stage, according to analyst Zimnisky. On the branding and marketing side, Canadian diamonds continue to have strong appeal because of their high quality and ethical sourcing.
And the two recent Canadian mine openings are a bright spot for the global industry, despite early growing pains at both Gahcho Kue (lower-than-expected values) and Renard (breakage), he pointed out.
“There is absolutely an opportunity to sell Canadian diamonds at a premium, especially in North America,” Zimnisky said. The United States remains the world’s largest diamond market, despite the growth in demand from China and India.
Important hurdles remain before any mine is built at Naujaat, but the strength of North Arrow’s management team bodes well for success, according to Zimnisky.
“North Arrow is looking for something world-class and it’s high-risk, high-reward,” said Zimnisky, who has seen the company’s cut and polished fancy yellow diamonds: “They’re beautiful.”
The appetite for fancy yellow and other coloured diamonds remains strong, despite the closure or pending closure of two of the mines that produce many of them. Last year a De Beers store opened on Madison Avenue in New York, Zimnisky said, and the feature diamond on opening day was a very large fancy yellow of more than 100 carats.
Further north of Naujaat on Nunavut’s Melville Peninsula is another North Arrow project with a good shot at a kimberlite discovery. At the Mel property, 210 kilometres north of Naujaat, North Arrow geologists have narrowed down and defined three kimberlite indicator mineral (KIM) trains through systematic soil sampling over several seasons. Last year’s till sampling defined where the KIM train is cut off, suggesting the bedrock kimberlite source is nearby.
The discovery of a new kimberlite field this season is possible, since kimberlites in the region outcrop at surface. “It’s a first look, but there’s potential for discovery without drilling,” says CEO Ken Armstrong.
As for the Lac de Gras joint venture, the US$1.1-billion hostile takeover bid for Dominion unveiled by the private Washington Corp. earlier this year may work in North Arrow’s favour. In addition to spurring a stock surge, the bid forced the diamond miner to crystallize its focus on creating shareholder value. And a key strategy for Dominion, with its two aging mines, is a renewed exploration push.
Finding new diamondiferous kimberlites in proximity to its existing operations would be a big boost for Dominion. One of its best shots is through the joint venture with North Arrow, which covers 147,200 hectares south of Ekati and Diavik. Dominion is spending $2.8 million on the project this season, including a planned drill program in the fall. North Arrow is well-positioned to capture the value of any Dominion kimberlite discoveries made.
North Arrow also plans to drill two or three promising kimberlite targets at its nearby 100% owned Loki project, dovetailing with the completion of the LDG drilling. The company has received a $170,000 grant from the Northwest Territories government to drill Loki. North Arrow will also conduct till sampling in the fall at Pikoo, its Saskatchewan diamond discovery, in advance of a potential early 2018 drill program.
Disclosure: Author owns shares of North Arrow Minerals. North Arrow is one of three company sponsors of Resource Opportunities, helping keep subscription prices low for the subscriber-supported newsletter. North Arrow Minerals is a high-risk junior exploration company. This article is for informational purposes only and all investors need to do their own research and due diligence.
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Initiating coverage on Trifecta Gold (TG-V) Share price: .29 Shares outstanding: 23.15 million Market cap: $6.7 million
The Yukon is now one of the hottest jurisdictions globally for gold exploration. Goldcorp kicked things off in the spring of 2016 with its $520-million purchase of Kaminak Gold and the 5-million-ounce Coffee project. Since then Barrick, Newmont and Agnico Eagle have also entered through investments in Yukon projects.
As the Yukon’s largest claims holder, Strategic Metals is poised to capitalize on the upsurge in interest. But the company wasn’t getting much value in the market for some prime projects in the highly prospective Dawson Range gold belt.
It is now.
Strategic packaged four of the properties — Eureka, Trident, Triple Crown and Treble — into a new company called Trifecta Gold, which began trading on the TSX Venture last Thursday with the symbol TG. The new exploration play has just 23.15 million shares outstanding and Strategic retains a 9.19 stake. The rest of the shares were distributed to Strategic shareholders, on the basis of 1 Trifecta share for every 4.5 Strategic shares.
Trifecta stock is trading at 29 cents, giving the company a market capitalization of about $6.7 million. That’s almost a triple already on the deemed value of 10 cents a share at spinout. It’s a great example of shareholder value creation in a sector where the opposite is too often the rule. But I believe there is considerably more upside and have added to my position since Trifecta shares began trading.
Trifecta plans to initially drill 800 to 1,000 metres at each of Eureka and Trident, and conduct earlier-stage exploration at Treble and Triple Crown. Follow-up drilling later in the season is also possible, as merited, at any of the four properties. Eureka, Treble and Triple Crown are Strategic claims, while Trident includes ground Strategic staked as well as two optioned claims packages.
Eureka is an orogenic gold project located in the south of the storied Klondike Goldfields, along the proposed road route between Goldcorp’s Coffee and Dawson City. The lack of a significant bedrock gold source is one of the Klondike’s great mysteries. More than 20 million ounces of placer gold have been pulled from Klondike waterways since the great Gold Rush. But finding the bedrock source of all that gold has been an illusive quest.
Eureka straddles the headwaters of Eureka and Black Hills creeks, which together have produced at least 200,000 ounces of placer gold since 1978. The characteristics of the gold suggest a nearby source. The property has a 6-km by 2.5-km zone of gold-in-soil geochemical anomalies that has not seen much trenching or drilling.
But it’s the Trident project that may hold the most promise. Trident is located near the Yukon-Alaska border about 75 kilometres northwest of Goldcorp’s Coffee. The project includes claims staked by Strategic, as well as claim blocks optioned from a prospector (CH) and Metals Creek Resources (Squid). It’s road-accessible and has a gravel airstrip but has also seen limited trenching and drilling.
Drilling in 2013 by another operator during the bear market hints at the possibilities. Intercepts included 21 metres of 1.55 g/t gold and 114 g/t silver and 12 metres of 1.7 g/t Au and 81.78 g/t Ag. An overlying trench turned up 22 metres of 1.96 g/t Au and 160.6 g/t Ag.
Trifecta’s CEO is Dylan Wallinger (right), a former Archer Cathro project manager who resigned as a partner to take the helm of the new White Gold-focused company.
He said the idea at Trident is to aggressively explore the optioned ground and “prove it or kill it.” Trifecta plans a $3-million financing soon to top up the $500,000 currently in the treasury.
Wallinger got a taste of Yukon gold discovery while working at ATAC’s Rau property in the summer of 2010 as part of an Archer Cathro field crew. He split the core that turned out to be the Osiris discovery hole, which returned 9.26 g/t gold over 31.13 metres.
That discovery and subsequent high-grade gold hits that helped identify several deposits propelled ATAC shares to the $9 level in 2011 — and Strategic shares above $4.
In addition to being young and hungry — he’s 30 — Wallinger has a family history steeped in the mining industry, on both sides of the family. His path to Trifecta leads through storied Canadian mining districts such as Timmins, Ontario, and Faro, Yukon and companies including Cominco.
Wallinger’s great great grandfather, Noel Wallinger, was British Columbia’s gold commissioner from 1914 to 1922 and a former Conservative Member of B.C.’s Legislative Assembly. Both of Dylan’s grandfathers and several other relatives worked at the Yukon’s Faro mine, once the world’s largest open-pit zinc-lead operation.
Dylan Wallinger’s father, Neil Arnold-Wallinger, is third from left at top. Myra Falls mine, B.C.
Wallinger’s parents met in high school at Faro and both subsequently worked at the mine, as well. More recently, his father worked at Nyrstar’s Myra Falls polymetallic mine on Vancouver Island.
As for Trifecta, the new company’s other two properties — Triple Crown and Treble — are located between Coffee and Rockhaven’s Klaza deposit. They are earlier-stage, but prospecting has turned up some promising sniffs. One rock sample from Triple Crown assayed 6,680 g/t silver. Trenching returned 570 g/t silver, 2.76% lead, 0.08 g/t gold over 6.4 metres and 106 g/t silver, 0.84% lead and 0.03 g/t gold over 9.6 metres.
It is said that the best place to find a new mine is in the shadow of an existing head frame. That “closeology” thesis holds equally true in exploration. And Strategic has exposure — through prime land positions or equity stakes — to all of Yukon’s most exciting discoveries. That includes a significant equity stake in Arcus Development Group (ADG-V), exploring Dan Man on Coffee’s doorstep, and extensive land holdings bordering ATAC’s Rackla property, where Barrick Gold recently invested.
Yet Strategic’s share price has barely moved, creating a significant discrepancy between the share price and the energy that has been building in the Yukon. One of the knocks on project generators is the “holding company discount” and a structure that dilutes the tremendous shareholder value that can be created from discovery. It’s one of the reasons Strategic decided to spin out Trifecta Gold, crystallizing the value in four promising projects in one of the world’s hottest mineral belts.
Strategic CEO Doug Eaton has seen it before. The Archer Cathro principal has decades of experience on the ground and personal involvement in many of the Yukon’s best mineral discoveries. Archer Cathro is a storied Yukon geological consultancy with a proprietary database that Strategic has full access to (Strategic and Archer Cathro share offices).
“There is so much unlocked value in Strategic, we could do this 8 or 10 times with other properties,” Eaton comments.
Trifecta is the third company that Strategic Metals has spun out to shareholders. The second was Silver Range Resources (SNG-V), which has a market cap of about $16 million and is focused on high-grade gold prospects in Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Nevada. The first spinout was an ill-fated zinc spinout that launched just before the 2008 financial crisis hit.
The timing for Trifecta Gold’s emergence, however, could not be better. Yukon-focused exploration companies are deploying hundreds of millions of dollars in the hunt for bedrock gold, their treasuries fortified by some of the world’s biggest gold miners. Strategic itself has exposure to tens of thousands of metres of drilling this season through its equity stakes in ATAC (7.3%, worth about $6.2M) and Rockhaven (42.5%, worth $9.4M) alone.
The value of those two stakes alone plus Strategic’s $16-million cash position is $31.6 million, compared to a market cap of about $49 million.
The Trifecta spinoff is a classic “making the pie bigger” move. The timing could be exquisite. Owning Strategic Metals, the Yukon’s largest claims owner and most experienced operator, gives investors broad-based exposure to one of the hottest gold exploration jurisdictions, globally. The Trifecta listing positions speculators to experience the type of explosive share price appreciation that can accompany discovery.
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Disclosure: James Kwantes owns shares of Trifecta Gold, Strategic Metals, ATAC Resources, Arcus Development Group and Rockhaven Resources. Strategic Metals is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsor companies. Readers should always conduct their own research, do thorough due diligence and/or obtain professional advice. This article is solely for information purposes. 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.
Their unique combination of portability and value make diamonds a favoured target of thieves, both on the big screen and in real life.
In The Pink Panther, a distinctive pink diamond was fodder for several movies worth of escapades between bumbling Inspector Clouseau and the elusive jewel thief.
Away from the screen, one of the biggest thefts was the Antwerp diamond heist of 2003. Thieves planned it for years, including posing as diamond merchants and renting office space in the Antwerp Diamond Center. They then made off with more than US$100 million in diamonds and jewelry from a heavily fortified safe. The bad guys were arrested; the gems were never found.
However, the greatest diamond heist of all time didn’t involve masked men, gunpoint or intricate plans concocted over several years. In fact, it didn’t involve coercion at all.
It went down rather quietly in the fall of 2009 when upstart Lucara Diamond Corp. bought a controlling interest in AK06, a De Beers diamond project in Botswana, for US$49 million. De Beers’ discovery of the nearby AK1 kimberlite — now Orapa, the world’s largest diamond mine — had launched a diamond district in Botswana’s Kalahari desert. But the diamond giant was now shedding assets and William Lamb, then Lucara’s only employee and now its CEO, was looking.
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Lamb had been hired the previous year by Lukas Lundin, the Swedish tycoon whose international mining empire is based in Vancouver. The idea of a diamond company called Lucara was hatched earlier during a Lundin lunch with Catherine McLeod-Seltzer and Eira Thomas (who contributed the “ca” and “ra,” respectively, for the company name). Lamb spent more than a year scouring the globe for prospective diamond projects and plotted them on a spreadsheet, he told me during an interview in Botswana. AK06 made his short list.
He ironed out the purchase price for a 70% stake in AK06 during a 5-minute phone conversation with an executive at De Beers, where Lamb had worked for several years. Lucara later bought out JV partner African Diamonds — who couldn’t afford to fund their share of mine construction costs — to take control of 100% of the project. AK06, of course, became the Karowe mine, the source of many of the world’s largest and most valuable rough diamonds. Lucara has now sold 145 diamonds for more than US$1 million each, generating US$528 million.
Lucara sells its largest stones through Exceptional Stone Tenders, where buyers submit sealed bids over a number of days. On May 11 Lucara announced sales proceeds of US$54.8 million from its latest tender, the largest yet. The sale featured 15 diamonds for a total of 1,765 carats, including a 374-carat Type IIA diamond, below, that fetched US$17.54 million. The 374-carat stone broke off the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona, the world’s most famous diamond. It was purchased by Graff Diamonds, whose owner Laurence Graff is arguably the most powerful player in the global diamond trade. I suspect he desires the larger companion piece.
The “Lesedi La Rona” — “Our Light” in the local Tswana tongue — was unearthed in November 2015. It is the largest gem-quality diamond recovered in a century and the second largest ever. The stone was named last year in a contest open only to Botswana residents. Last year Lucara put the Lesedi up for live auction at Sotheby’s in London. But the diamond failed to sell because bids didn’t hit the reserve price. More on that later.
Lucara sold the 813-carat Constellation diamond, recovered at about the same time, for US$63 million — a record for a rough diamond — as well as a share of the profit generated from the cut stone. Notably, the price tag for the Constellation exceeded what Lucara had paid just seven years earlier for a controlling interest in the mine that produced it.
I travelled to Botswana recently to visit Lucara’s operations and learn more about both where the company has been and where it’s going. Also on the tour was the Africa correspondent for a Swedish daily newspaper and an analyst for Nordea, a large Swedish bank. There are plenty of reasons to be bullish Lucara and I have purchased more shares in the company since I returned.
“Big” and “beautiful” were recurring themes of the trip. After the site visit, I went on a two-day safari at a lodge on the Boteti — the only river that runs through the Kalahari Desert. Watching elephants, hippos, lions, giraffes and zebras in their natural habitat was an amazing experience. Fun fact: a group of zebras is called a “dazzle.”
BOTSWANA, DIAMOND POWERHOUSE
I flew into Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, through Frankfurt and Johannesburg. “Gabs,” as the city is known colloquially, has become a global diamond centre as Botswana has risen among the ranks of producers. The African nation is now the second largest producing nation by value, unearthing 22% of global supply, as outlined by New York-based diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky (Russia is first, Canada third). Most of the Botswana stones come from the Jwaneng and Orapa mines, located in the same neighbourhood as Karowe.
In 2013, De Beers moved its sorting and sales operations to Gaborone, an exclamation mark on Botswana’s emergence as a diamond power. Botswana owns the other 15% of De Beers not owned by Anglo American, as well as 50% of Debswana, a De Beers JV. Diamonds generate up to 50% of government revenues, funding universal health care and education (including post-secondary). Botswana is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and has a higher GDP per capita than South Africa.
One of the first stops for our small group was the gated Diamond Technology Park (DTP) on the outskirts of Gaborone. The compound is the headquarters for Lucara and other Botswana diamond miners. Down the street is the De Beers sorting centre. A helipad atop that building attests to former De Beers boss Nicky Oppenheimer’s fondness for helicopter transportation.
The DTP is ground zero for the billionaires, royalty and other high-net-worth investors who fly in from around the world to view Lucara’s finest merchandise: large rough stones that sell for millions — sometimes tens of millions — of dollars. The company picks up clients at the airport and whisks them in limousines to Lucara showrooms. Some spend hours with a single stone — investigating the clarity, evaluating the colour, envisioning the cut possibilities. The 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona was not part of the latest Exceptional Stone Tender. But presumably some of the clients who flew in to view the diamonds on offer also viewed the Lesedi.
Security measures were extensive. My fingers were printed and retinas scanned. Later, on the way in to Lucara showrooms, I was searched in a secure room. On the way out, I was asked to remove a candy from my mouth to show that it wasn’t something much more valuable.
Steve Lincoln, Lucara’s sales manager, is a former De Beers man — like many in the sector. He led us into a room that shimmered with diamonds grouped by weight, colour and quality. Here, a group of 5- to 10-carat stones. There, a selection of the diamonds being sold in the Exceptional Stone Tender. Most were white and clear. Among them was the beautiful 374-carat Type IIA stone that went for almost US$18 million.
LESEDI LA RONA
Our final stop was at the icy elephant in the room. Sitting by itself on a white table under a row of lamps was the Lesedi. I picked up the rock, muscles adjusting to its heft as I cradled it in my fingers. Looking into the diamond through a loupe, what struck me was the stone’s architecture. Beyond the clear, smooth plane where the 374-carat diamond cleaved off were ridges, soft pools of light, jagged edges, rippled valleys. Close up, it’s easy to get lost in the stone’s landscape. The diamond occupies its own world.
And in the diamond world, news of its arrival landed like a lightning bolt. Once cut and polished, the Lesedi could be among the world’s largest clear diamonds. The largest, the 530-carat Great Star of Africa (or Cullinan), was cut from the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond — the only larger diamond ever found. The Great Star is set into the British Crown Jewels. But not only did the Lesedi break, it broke the mould. The diamond’s size makes it difficult to determine how many stones could be cut from it, or how they might look. The rock doesn’t fit into the largest scanners made for diamonds.
The diamond’s incredible narrative was derailed by the unsuccessful auction. Following a global road show and marketing campaign, the Lesedi La Rona failed to hit the (undisclosed) reserve price at a glitzy live auction in London on the evening of June 29, 2016. The top bid was US$61 million, less than the Constellation had fetched and far below projections of a potential US$100-million sale price. The Constellation’s per-carat price, US$77,500, implied an US$86-million value for the Lesedi — plus a large premium given the stone’s provenance.
The fate of Lesedi La Rona remains the million-dollar question — perhaps, the $100-million question. Interest remains high — Lamb fields calls about the diamond most days (two on the day of the interview). Cash offers are rejected out of hand. A few members of the cast of characters drawn out by the giant diamond have been particularly interesting, Lamb said with a smile. He didn’t elaborate.
As author Matthew Hart documented in an Aug. 5, 2016 feature in Vanity Fair, it wasn’t for lack of interest that the auction fizzled. Moments after the hammer fell, Laurence Graff’s son rushed up to the CEO to express interest in the stone.
DIAMANTAIRES AND DISRUPTION
In the diamond business, diamantaires are the middlemen. They privately purchase rough stones from producers, cut them and take their cut of the value created. It’s a traditional, secretive system that goes back centuries. Lucara was the upstart that shook the foundations of that established order by auctioning the world’s most desirable stones.
“Diamantaires felt that we were trying to sell the stone to their end client,” CEO Lamb, right, states matter-of-factly. “The diamantaires hate the public process. … they will pay you more for that exclusivity.”
It goes some way to explaining why the second largest gem-quality diamond ever recovered, a stone with historical significance, failed to sell at the live auction.
Lamb reasons that Lucara is actually helping other producers — especially the handful of other producers that recover very large diamonds — by controlling the supply of such stones through orderly tenders. The company could easily swamp the market for large diamonds, he points out.
As for the auction, the company did not get to the pinnacle of the large-diamond world by shying away from calculated risks, the CEO noted. The live Sotheby’s auction, he acknowledges, was an experiment. The exercise, driven by the significance of Lucara’s find as Lamb tells it, didn’t ultimately pay off — at least monetarily.
“We wanted to maximize shareholder value and let the world know that we had recovered the only 1,000-carat stone that anybody on the planet had ever seen.” (The Cullinan was unearthed in 1905.)
Lamb continues: “It’s not because we just love the risk and we sort of don’t pack our parachute and jump out of the plane. We’re packing the parachute very meticulously. We’re going to the edge of the cliff and we’re jumping, knowing that we’ve actually done our homework.”
As “failures” go, the Lesedi La Rona marketing blitz and auction was rather successful. The company estimates about 1.8 billion people — a quarter of the world’s population — have either seen, read about or heard about the diamond. But only about 100 people have held the stone, and the list of potential buyers is shorter yet. The diamond’s fate has weighed on company shares, which have drifted down from the $4 level pre-sale to below $3.00.
Eighteen months after its discovery, Lamb still becomes animated when talking about the Lesedi. The diamond, forged deep within the Earth over billions of years, is likely as old as the Earth itself, the CEO enthuses. “That stone was growing as the Earth cooled down … the Earth was just gas clouds collecting. While that gas cloud is collecting, those carbon atoms were already trying to find each other. The stone was starting to grow that far back.”
Tall and trim, Lamb is a former elite athlete who has represented South Africa at the world track and field championships (he once placed fifth in the duathlon). Running remains a passion — a recent excursion with a friend and his son saw Lamb start at one edge of the Grand Canyon, run down and through it, and up the other side (it took him 4.5 hours). I got the sense that blazing a trail through the traditional diamond industry — not to mention proving naysayers and skeptics wrong — brings out his competitive juices.
That said, other extraordinarily large diamonds the company finds will likely not be sold at live auction. “We learn from our mistakes. We wouldn’t go back to auction.” Lucara is investigating various options for selling the Lesedi, Lamb said, including partnership and/or retaining a financial interest in the polished product.
A humorous moment in the showroom, which had an empty diamond scale sitting on the table when we walked in. When the Lesedi La Rona was placed on the platform, the reading that came up was 1,106 carats — prompting a few laughs as well as nervous glances between company officials. As it turned out, the scale had not been calibrated after it had been moved into the room. The stone does, in fact, weigh 1,109 carats.
TWO SUITCASES, $1 BILLION IN STONES
After viewing some of the most valuable stones pulled out of Karowe, we flew to the mine for a tour of the operation. It started in the open pit, which measures 820 metres across at its widest point and is about 80 or 90 metres deep. Weekly dynamite blasts loosen up the ore, which is transported out by 100-tonne dump trucks. The strip ratio is in the range of 5 or 6:1 for the next couple of years, then drops to below 2 due to the shape of the kimberlite. Lucara will then shift focus from accessing the treasure to mining it. The bottom of the pit will get about three times as deep by the end of the current mine life, in 2026.
Lucara recently brought in a new mining contractor at Karowe, a move prompted by consistent over-billing by the previous contractor for volume of ore processed, Lamb said. Open-pit mining was shut down for two months during the transition but operations were not affected — Lucara mined from stockpiles. It has worked out alright, Lamb says — the new contractor is cheaper and has more capacity.
About 40 million cubic metres of rock have been processed since Karowe opened. The diamonds recovered could fit in two suitcases. They have generated a billion dollars in revenue, and counting.
Lucara is working on economic studies — due out later this year — on an underground expansion that would extend the Karowe mine life well beyond 2026. And it’s the expansion that could really drive profitability if Lucara can continue to pull large stones out of the south lobe. That’s the largest kimberlite, from which the Lesedi and Constellation were unearthed. Lucara completed a deep drilling program at Karowe in February that included a 758-metre drill hole. An updated resource estimate is expected in Q4.
Lucara is also building a Mega Diamond Recovery unit (MDR) at Karowe. A particular challenge of diamond mining, especially for Lucara, is avoiding breakage during a process that consists of crushing and grinding rock into progressively smaller pieces. The MDR, at a cost of between $15 million and $18 million, will divert the largest stones at the front end of the mining process. The unit will be able to recover stones as large as 45-50mm. Lamb refers to the recovery of large stones as “mining money” and the MDR will help Lucara recover the largest, most valuable stones intact. The company is also installing four new XRT (X-ray transmission) diamond recovery units.
Viewed from the primary crusher — the first point of entry for the ore and one of the highest points of the mine — the operation resembles a kind of amusement park. The ball mill is the Ferris wheel, the conveyors the roller-coasters that deposit sometimes precious cargo at the next stop. In this Darwinian adventure park, only the most valuable cargo survives a series of crushing and shaking exercises.
Karowe has a been a phenomenal success, by many metrics. The mine was built in just 18 months and had a 9-month payback. In December 2016, just four years and eight months after the very first diamonds were produced, Lucara passed $1 billion in sales. The company implemented a dividend in 2014 and has now paid out more dividend dollars than it has raised in equity. The dividend policy also broke new ground as the first company in the Lundin empire to pay one. It took six months to convince Lundin, Lucara’s chairman, to go with a dividend, Lamb recalls with a smile.
Karowe mine staff also reaped the benefits of the recovery of the 813-carat and 1,109-carat stones. Each employee received a 20-30% large stone bonus. Jobs in the Botswana diamond industry — which is large enough to ensure salaries remain competitive — are typically coveted positions.
At a $2.95 share price, Lucara’s market capitalization is about $1.13 billion. Last year the company paid out dividends totalling 51 cents a share — 6 cents in quarterly payments plus a special dividend of 45 cents in the months following the failed Lesedi sale. This year Lucara hiked the full-year dividend to 10 cents — a 60% increase — for a current yield of about 3.4%. The list of mining companies paying that generous a dividend is very short.
Lamb is open to adding assets through acquisition, but only if they are accretive — a tall order given Karowe’s profitability. Late last year Lucara purchased a 9.9% stake in Tsodilo Resources (TSD-V), an illiquid diamond exploreco that is currently drilling its BK16 diamondiferous kimberlite. BK16 is six hectares at surface, located in the same Orapa kimberlite field as Karowe, and hosts a population of rare Type IIa diamonds. The project is another De Beers discard and the company is run by Mike de Wit, De Beers’ former VP of exploration for Africa.
ROUGH START, EXCEPTIONAL OPERATION
The company’s value can be expressed in a single sentence: Karowe produces less than .5% of global diamonds by weight, but more than 50% of the world’s “specials” (10.8 carats plus). And those large stones command exponentially higher prices. A 100-carat diamond is much more valuable than ten 10-carat diamonds. A 1,109-carat diamond? Its price has yet to be determined. But the stone remains in Lucara’s inventory, as under the radar as a world-famous diamond can be. I will be surprised if it doesn’t sell this year.
Karowe was no overnight success, Lamb recalled during an interview after the mine tour, in nearby Letlhakane. Lucara’s first sale was underwhelming, with average carat prices coming in at US$215 (2016 revenue was US$824 per carat). It was a “disappointing” outcome, below projections, and the stock plunged from the $1.25 level to below 50 cents, Lamb recalled.
“We’re now panicking. We’re thinking, ‘We bought this dud from De Beers.’ What’s happening?”
Then in April 2013, Lucara recovered a 239-carat stone. It turned out to be a sign of things to come, and the company took immediate steps to modify the plant, decreasing the risks of breaking large stones. Ever since, a steady stream of beautiful, unusually large stones — and the high prices fetched for them — have made Karowe one of the world’s most profitable diamond mines on a per-carat basis. Debswana’s nearby Orapa mine, the world’s largest diamond operation, mines more carats in two weeks than Lucara does at Karowe in a year. But size matters — Lucara has now sold 145 diamonds for more than $1 million each, generating revenues of more than US$528 million.
The company’s greatest success came in November 2015, when Lucara unearthed the three largest diamonds it has ever recovered in the space of a week. In addition to Lesedi La Rona and Constellation — the sixth largest gem-quality diamond ever recovered — there was the 374-carat stone that sold in the latest tender.
Lucara’s large-stone focus also insulates the company from two of the primary threats facing the global diamond industry: synthetic stones and changing relationship patterns among millenials. With its iconic “Diamonds are forever” narrative, De Beers inextricably linked love, commitment and diamonds for generations of couples.
However, lower marriage rates among millenials means fewer diamond engagement rings. The diamond industry is countering the trend through its “Real is Rare” campaign, which emphasizes authenticity and is aimed at people who didn’t grow up with “Diamonds are forever.”
Prospective husbands are not really the target audience for the large stones that generate most of Lucara’s revenues, anyway. The buyers for these diamonds travel by private jet and sometimes rule countries. Similarly, synthetic stones are much more of a threat to companies producing smaller stones. And synthetics take an enormous amount of heat and electricity to create, tarnishing their green credibility.
The “blood diamonds” legacy is another headwind in Africa. Blood Diamond, the 2006 thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a diamond smuggler, helped stamp the narrative on the public imagination. To an extent, Lamb is resigned to it: “Diamonds will always have a tarnished image, no matter how much marketing you do.”
But when talk turns to DiCaprio, who is also backing a California-based synthetic diamond producer, frustration crosses Lamb’s face and his voice develops a bit of an exasperated edge. He links the 50% of government revenues that come from the diamond industry with Botswana’s emergence as a stable nation with a high GDP and low corruption. Botswana provides universal health care and free education, including post-secondary. Taxes are based on profitability and Lucara paid US$103 million in taxes in 2016 (full-year revenue was US$295.5 million).
Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron, right, also provided a sort of counterpoint to the blood diamond narrative at the 2017 Academy Awards in February. The actress created a buzz with a pair of stunning diamond earrings cut from the Queen of Kalahari, a clear 342-carat diamond recovered at Karowe in 2015. The diamond sold for US$20.55 million and was cut by jeweller Chopard into a diamond collection dubbed the Gardens of Kalahari. Theron, who is South African, wore a 26-carat heart-shaped stone and a 25-carat pear-shaped diamond.
For me, a very brief foray into South Africa during a transfer — and in-flight conversations with a few South Africans — highlighted the geopolitical contrasts between the neighbouring countries. At the Johannesburg airport, the TV headlines were “No-confidence vote against Zuma considered.” In conversation, a few of the prevailing themes were presidential corruption on a massive scale, ANC infighting, racial tensions and the country’s downward slide.
In Botswana, by contrast, the current (elected) president — Ian Khama — is the son of a black father and a white mother. His father is Botswana’s founding president, Seretse Khama, a tribal leader who studied in England and fell in love with and married a white English woman. The union rocked South Africa — where apartheid was just getting started — as well as the rest of southern Africa. Fifty-some years later, the young country ranks high on living standards and low on corruption compared to African peers. Especially given what’s happening to the south, Botswana is a veritable oasis of stability.
There was, however, a bit of excitement during the Botswana visit. I was sitting across from Lucara CEO Lamb during dinner at a Brazilian restaurant in Gaborone when the table began to shake. “This is an earthquake,” he declared. The epicenter of the 6.5-magnitude quake was not very far away and the shaking lasted longer than any quake I’ve experienced in the seismically active Vancouver area. The quake did not cause any damage or deaths — only jokes that it was triggered by the falling rand.
In the diamond world, Lucara is the upstart that has quickly climbed to the top thanks to its high-quality, exceptionally large stones. Just four years into the mine life, Karowe is a dividend-paying profit machine. The company actually lost money in Q1 because revenues came in below projections, but that had more to do with timing of tenders than company performance. Globally, there is a looming supply shortfall for smaller diamonds. Few new mines are coming online; two Canadian mines, Stornoway’s Renard and De Beers/ Mountain Province’s Gahcho Kue, are among the exceptions. Demand for Lucara’s large stones remains strong.
And as countries go, Botswana is a young one at just 50. The Kalahari Desert covers most of the nation, and it was greener than usual this year because of above-average rainfall. Botswana’s Tswana language reflects the country’s desert reality — the currency is called the “pula.” The word has many meanings: it’s also the Tswana term for rain, as well as the declaration when you raise a toast.
It’s an apt metaphor for Lucara, because the consistent haul of large, high-quality diamonds from Karowe ensures the company will likely continue to “rain money.” The likelihood of underground expansion would extend the mine life beyond 2026 as Lucara focuses on the south lobe — the kimberlite pipe that produces the most valuable stones. The strong dividend, including further potential hikes, and share price growth makes Lucara a compelling investment under $3.00.
Disclosure: The author owns shares of Lucara Diamond Corp. and Tsodilo Resources but has no business relationship with either company. Lucara paid for flights to the Karowe mine site and associated costs, but not safari costs. Readers should always conduct their own research, do thorough due diligence and/or obtain professional advice. This article is solely for information purposes. 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.
James Kwantes is the editor of Resource Opportunities, a subscriber supported junior mining investment publication. Mr. Kwantes has two decades of journalism experience and was the mining reporter at the Vancouver Sun. Twitter: @JamesKwantes
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