Tag Archives: Barrick Gold

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

By James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic Metals: working capital vs. market capitalization

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Executing on gold development, exploration in the Americas

Columbus Gold advances Montagne d’Or towards bankable feasibility study

Fall resource estimate planned at Eastside gold project in Nevada

By James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities
As befits its location about 500 kilometres north of the equator, French Guiana is hot and humid, with average temperatures of 25-30 Celsius year-round. The namesake Cayenne pepper, named for the capital city, spices up cuisine and hints at the Creole roots of the territory, a region of France.

But it’s the heat being generated by a rising gold price that could help revitalize the economy of French Guiana. It’s a prosperous corner of South America, but GDP remains heavily reliant on the Guiana Space Centre. Selected in 1964 to be France’s space centre, the facility expanded to become Europe’s Spaceport in 1975 and is used by other countries launching satellites into space, including Russia.

The Guiana Space Centre. Photo: www.satellitetoday.com

The Guiana Space Centre. Photo: www.satellitetoday.com

Once you step off the space centre, however, incomes fall back to earth. French Guiana is heavily reliant on mainland France for subsidies, trade and goods. Traditionally, the region’s main industries have been fishing, logging and small-scale gold mining.

It’s gold that Vancouver entrepreneur Robert Giustra is eyeing. Specifically, the mountain of gold — Montagne d’Or — contained in the deposit that his Columbus Gold is advancing in the jungle 180 kilometres west of the capital city Cayenne. Gold miner Nordgold is earning in to a 50.01% interest in the project by spending at least US$30-million on exploration and delivering a bankable feasibility study by March 2017. In January Columbus sold an additional 5% interest in the project to Nordgold, so their interest would be 55.01% upon completion of the earn-in.

A mine like the one Columbus Gold is proposing would employ about 1,000 people during construction, 800 full-time during operations, and produce an average 270,000 ounces a year. With average mined grades of about 2 g/t in the first 10 years, it would be among the highest grade open-pit gold mines in the Americas.

A WIN FOR FRENCH GOVERNMENT, CGT SHAREHOLDERS

For French Guiana, a large-scale commercial mine would be a game changer, diversifying the economy and boosting the French government’s tax take. It could even help the long-running battle against illegal gold miners in French Guiana. The mostly Brazilian “garimpeiros” use mercury to process the gold and cut a toxic path through the jungle, devastating the environment. The miners then vacate the country with their heavy equipment and the gold, leaving France to clean up the mess.

It’s a problem French authorities have grappled with for a long time, through regular sweeps and arrests. But the illegal miners have the edge through strength of numbers and an intimate knowledge of the jungle. All too often, crackdowns resemble a law enforcement version of arcade game Whac-A-Mole.

The path towards a gold mine at Montagne d’Or could well be a road to riches for shareholders of Columbus Gold, which is also drilling the Eastside gold exploration project in Nevada. Columbus has aggressively developed Montagne d’Or since picking up the project in 2011 when it had a 1.9-million-ounce resource (Inferred). Columbus has delineated 3.9 million ounces in the Indicated category and another 1.1 million ounces Inferred at grades well above global averages.

Last year the company published a preliminary economic assessment for Montagne d’Or showing positive economics at a gold price of US$1,200/oz:
– After-tax NPV of US$324 million (8% discount rate)
– After-tax IRR of 23%
– Initial capex of US$366 million, including US$44 million contingency
– All-in sustaining costs of US$711/oz
– Average annual production of 273,000 ounces at average grades of 2 g/t in Years 1-10

Gold’s rise of more than 27% in 2016 should further improve economics in the Feasibility Study, and it’s not the only factor that will help. The PEA envisioned diesel power being generated on-site at a cost of about US.20/kWh. Columbus is now looking at connecting to the French Guiana grid, which would lower costs to .11-.12/kWh. It’s a substantial savings, since power is one of the mine’s largest operating costs.

In addition to improving economics at the flagship project, gold’s ascent to US$1,350 an ounce has increased the interest level in Columbus Gold shares. The company uplisted from the TSX Venture to the Toronto Stock Exchange on January 26, an accomplishment achieved by only one other company in the previous two years, and shares recently hit 93 cents, a 52-week high.

Robert Giustra, Columbus Gold Chairman & CEO

Robert Giustra, Columbus Gold Chairman & CEO

Sentiment has shifted dramatically from the bear market that took gold down from US$1,900 an ounce to below $1,100/oz, notes Giustra, Columbus’s Chairman and CEO. The resulting flight of capital over the past four years led to liquidity drying up, wreaking havoc on the ability of junior mining firms to raise money and depressing share prices — even for companies with fundamental value. In order to initiate a position, funds would have to sell an existing holding, and there was nobody to sell to. It had the effect of putting the brakes on shares of all mining sector companies, including Columbus Gold. “People would love the story, but couldn’t buy the stock,” Giustra commented.

Capital and interest has returned to the sector, he says, and Columbus Gold shares should continue to benefit. The company has about $4 million in the treasury and two major catalysts on the horizon:
– The bankable feasibility study at Montagne d’Or;
– A planned maiden resource estimate at Eastside, the Nevada project.

EXPLORATION UPSIDE AT MONTAGNE D’OR

Exploration upside around the defined deposit has the potential of turning Montagne d’Or into something even bigger. The aggressive three-year timeline that Nordgold agreed to when it took on the project in March 2014 means little exploration work has been done. That’s despite indications the mineralization at Montagne d’Or remains open along strike to both the east and west, in parallel zones and untested nearby surface anomalies, as well as at depth.

The most recent exploration permits, granted in July by the French Minister of Economy, cover gold-soil anomalies two kilometres to the west and 2.7 kilometres to the east of the deposit. Only two holes have ever been drilled in these areas. One of them, punched in 750 metres east of the deposit, intercepted 31.94 g/t gold over 3.5 metres. Montagne d’Or is also open at depth below the 250 metres modelled by the pit.

Exploration permits on strike of the east and west extensions of Montagne d'Or

Exploration permits on strike of the east and west extensions of Montagne d’Or

The Phase 1 exploration program kicks off this month with prospecting and soil sampling west of Montagne d’Or. For the second phase, Columbus may fly IP (induced polarization) to enhance drill targets. In the 1990s, such geophysical surveying helped trace the gold-sulphide mineralized horizons at Montagne d’Or.

The French geological survey identified the initial gold anomaly that defines Montagne d’Or in the 1990s. But the agency was subsequently privatized and began selling assets including Montagne d’Or, which saw very limited drilling in the late 1990s. Columbus Gold built the resource with drilling campaigns, but the aggressive three-year path to a bankable FS agreed to by Nordgold in March 2014 effectively put a cap on exploration drilling.

As a result, the highly prospective properties that surround Montagne d’Or are virtually virgin territory.

“French Guiana is extremely under-explored, particularly compared to its geological twin in the West African Birimian Shield,” Giustra explains. “That gold region has seen over a century of exploration.”

Geological continuity between Guiana Shield and Birimian Shield

Geological continuity between Guiana Shield and Birimian Shield

Having a deep-pocketed major pay the bills on flagship development project Montagne d’Or also helped Columbus Gold weather the bear market storms. Nordgold is the world’s 15th largest gold miner and operates 9 mines in 4 countries. In 2015, the Russia-based producer mined about 950,000 ounces at all-in sustaining costs of US$793 an ounce, making it one of the world’s lowest-cost producers. At 270,000 ounces a year, Montagne d’Or would be the largest mine Nordgold has an interest in.

Nordgold also has a reputation as an efficient and smart operator. The Russia-based miner built its newest mine, the 200,000-oz/yr Bissa gold mine in Burkina Faso, in just 15 months, Giustra points out. The company is also familiar with the geological neighbourhood because it operates three mines in the West African Birimian Shield — two in Burkina Faso, one in Guinea.

Nordgold was founded in 2007 as a division of Russian steel giant Severstal and went public on the London Stock Exchange in January 2012. The company is among the world’s fastest-growing gold miners, a feat accomplished mostly through acquisitions.

“People have said to me ‘Watch out for the Russians,’ ” Giustra says, “but they’ve been great partners. We come to agreements on a handshake and they follow through.”

DRILLING SUCCESS AT EASTSIDE IN NEVADA

Columbus Gold also has a growing Nevada exploration project to go with its Montagne d’Or development project in French Guiana. And the company’s foundation for growth lies under the desert sand at its Eastside project.

Nevada’s gold endowment is well-documented. The state produces about three-quarters of U.S. gold production and more than 6% of the world’s gold. Gold mines in the “Silver State” have been company makers for the world’s largest gold producers, including Barrick Gold and Newmont Mining — not to mention royalty giant Franco-Nevada.

Much of that production has come out of the Carlin Trend, one of the world’s richest gold endowments and home to Barrick and Newmont’s most prolific mines. The Carlin was discovered by legendary geologist John Livermore, who sparked a modern-day gold rush when he discovered a new kind of “invisible gold” mineralization in the early 1960s while working for Newmont. He founded Cordex Exploration in 1970 and went on to discover several Nevada gold mines. Livermore died in 2013.

Geologist Andy Wallace, Livermore’s longtime business partner, is now principal of Cordex Exploration as well as president of Columbus Gold Nevada. Wallace joined Cordex in 1974 at the height of the Nevada gold rush and became Cordex’s Manager of Exploration in 1985. He also has a few mine finds under his belt — under his leadership, Cordex discovered the 5-million-ounce Marigold deposit and the 12-million-ounce Stonehouse/Lone Tree deposits. Silver Standard purchased Marigold from Goldcorp and Barrick in 2014 and Lone Tree is still being mined by Newmont.

Columbus Gold Nevada President Andy Wallace is credited with discovering Marigold, now a Silver Standard mine.

Columbus Gold Nevada President Andy Wallace is credited with discovering Marigold, now a Silver Standard mine.

Nevada is elephant country for gold. In Cordex, Columbus has an elephant hunter on its team. Columbus has an exclusive exploration arrangement with Cordex, giving the company one of the largest databases in Nevada. Cordex also runs Columbus’s exploration programs in Nevada.

Exploration is now focused on the Eastside project, composed of 725 mining claims making up 57.7 square kilometres about 32 kilometres west of Tonopah, Nevada. The nearby Round Mountain gold mine, which has produced more than 12 million ounces and is now 100% owned by Kinross, is about 32 km away. It’s the world’s largest heap-leach operation.

Columbus recently wrapped up its 2016 drill program at Eastside, completing 17,500 metres of drilling– 12,663 metres of reverse circulation and 4,837 metres of diamond drilling. The company has now drilled more than 37,000 metres at Eastside, mostly confined to a one-square-km parcel dubbed the “Original Target.” Columbus is aiming to complete a maiden resource estimate this fall. Results year-to-date have been positive, with recent intercepts of 97.5 metres of 0.68 g/t gold and 13 metres of 1.12 g/t. Previous hits included 35.1 metres of 4.1 g/t and 152.4 metres of 0.71 g/t.

Gold and silver mineralization at the Original Target occurs in two broad, northerly trending zones called the East Zone and West Zone. The zones coincide with rhyolite flow dome complexes that host the bulk of the mineralization. Drilling to date has determined that strike extends at least 450 metres on the East Zone and 850 metres on the West Zone. Both zones are open at depth and to the south, and the West Zone is open to the north as well.

Initial metallurgical tests determined that gold at Eastside is highly amenable to processing using cyanide. Columbus is now doing further metallurgical tests on samples of varying grades and ore types to evaluate potential heap leaching and whether crushing will be required and if so, the optimum crush size.

Eastside is located in an infrastructure sweet spot. It’s adjacent to Highway US95, the main road route between Las Vegas and Reno, and is connected by a county-maintained gravel road. A major transmission line runs through the Eastside property and there is available water from shallow aquifers in the area, Giustra says. Year-round drilling is possible at the property.

Infrastructure is excellent at Eastside, located about 32 km west of Tonopah, Nevada

Infrastructure is excellent at Eastside, located about 32 km west of Tonopah, Nevada

If Columbus Gold can connect the dots and mineralization at Eastside, the Nevada gold property could become an impressive flagship project. In Cordex, Eastside has an experienced minefinding partner. The project’s good metallurgy, superior road infrastructure, power and water access lower the threshold to develop a mine in America’s most important gold-producing state.

Price: 0.76
Shares outstanding: 142.9 million
Market capitalization: $108.6 million
Treasury: $4 million

Disclosure: The author owns shares of Columbus Gold and the company is one of a small number of Resource Opportunities sponsors, who help support the subscriber-funded newsletter. The work included in this article is based on SEDAR filings, current events, interviews, and corporate press releases. It may contain errors, and you shouldn’t make any investment decision based solely on what you read here. This publication contains forward-looking statements, including but not limited to comments regarding predictions and projections. Forward-looking statements address future events and conditions and therefore involve inherent risks and uncertainties. Actual results may differ materially from those currently anticipated in such statements. This publication is provided for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Always thoroughly do your own due diligence and talk to a licensed investment adviser prior to making any investment decisions. Junior resource companies can easily lose 100% of their value, so read company profiles on www.SEDAR.com for important risk disclosures. It’s your money and your responsibility.

Kitchen-table deal launched a Nevada gold royalty play

Goldstrike1

Gold standard: Barrick’s Goldstrike mine was a company maker for both Barrick and Franco-Nevada.

By James Kwantes

“Royalty” — the primary definition refers to kings, queens and others of royal blood. And that usage hints at the strength of the mining industry variety — a defined share of revenues from a mining operation.

Mining royalties can be a fabulous business model, as demonstrated by royalty and streaming giant Franco-Nevada. The company has become a $15-billion powerhouse with claims on assets ranging from gold and base metals mines to oil and gas operations.

It all started in 1985 when cofounders Seymour Schulich and Pierre Lassonde purchased a 4% royalty on a small Nevada gold mine called Goldstrike. The $2 million they paid was no small bet — it represented the majority of cash on the budding company’s balance sheet. But the titans reasoned they were buying both a cut of production and exploration upside on the surrounding properties.

It turned out to be the bet of a lifetime. Barrick Gold purchased Goldstrike and soon hit a rich discovery on the way to a 50-million-ounce gold deposit. As Goldstrike grew to become Barrick’s flagship mine, it became a golden goose for Franco-Nevada.

Investors have taken note — Franco-Nevada shares have returned more than 140% in the past five years as commodity prices cratered and mining shares descended.

Others have followed in Franco-Nevada’s footsteps. One of the largest is Royal Gold, which also expanded rapidly by deploying cash flow from its flagship royalty on Barrick’s massive Cortez mine complex. More recently, Silver Wheaton, Osisko Gold Royalties and Sandstorm Gold have entered the scene, as well as smaller plays including AuRico Metals, Eurasian Minerals and Abitibi Royalties.

Mining exploration is a notoriously difficult, Darwinian business that weeds out the weak. Few junior exploration companies will find a mine and those that do face multiple headwinds that include regulatory, operating and financial risks. In short, it’s a tough business.

Royalty companies bypass most of these pitfalls. Royalties represent a perpetual, iron-clad claim on revenues, usually for life-of-mine. Royalty companies get paid whether the mine makes money or not. They get upside exposure to exploration and expansions, while being insulated from operating risks. Shares of royalty companies typically outperform mining company equities.

It’s no surprise the royalty structure is popular among mining investors who appreciate the upside exposure to attractive deposits minus the operational risks. But the key to profiting is not so different from hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky’s approach on the ice — skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.

There’s a new royalty company on the scene and like young Franco-Nevada, its flagship asset is an attractive royalty on a Nevada gold deposit — Waterton’s Spring Valley. The company, Terraco Gold, recently closed a deal that sees it exercise options on the Spring Valley royalties and add another royalty on an adjoining property in Pershing County, Nevada.

Terraco exercised its option to buy the royalties through a US$19-million agreement with Waterton, the mining-focused private equity group that acquired Spring Valley last year from Barrick Gold (70%) and Midway Gold (30%). The deal sees Waterton pick up Terraco’s Moonlight property adjoining Spring Valley on the north by paying Terraco US$7 million in cash and subscribing to a US$12-million convertible debenture. The five-year debenture bears interest at .05% annually (more or less zero coupon) and is convertible to shares of Terraco at an exercise price of 18 cents or convertible into 45% of a Terraco subsidiary.

Terraco used US$16 million of the debenture and cash proceeds to exercise options to acquire and directly own a 3% royalty on most of the Spring Valley gold deposit, as well as royalties of up to 1% on contiguous properties that cover additional gold ounces. Terraco also retains a 2% NSR on the large 35-square-km Moonlight property adjoining Spring Valley to the north, which Waterton picked up as part of the deal.

TENroyalties

Terraco Gold is run by Todd Hilditch, not Lassonde and Schulich. The company’s royalties are on a deposit that is not yet producing. And the deal just closed on June 17. Terraco Gold is a minnow, Franco-Nevada a whale.

But Hilditch doesn’t have to duplicate Franco-Nevada’s success to make Terraco shareholders a lot of money. The stock trades at 14.5 cents, giving the royalty upstart a market capitalization of just $20.8 million, including more than $3 million in the treasury. Terraco also owns the Almaden-Nutmeg Mountain gold deposit in western Idaho, which has a NI 43-101 compliant resource of 864,000 ounces Measured and Indicated (near-surface) and 84,000 Inferred.

The debenture deal with Waterton, subject to a conversion into equity at 18 cents, hints at the value embedded in Terraco’s shares. Put differently, the group that is developing Spring Valley (and knows the most about it) has assigned a value to Terraco stock 25% higher than current levels.

Do the math on Terraco’s enterprise value and the picture gets even more interesting. A share price of 14.5 cents means a market capitalization of about $20.8 million. Add in debt of US$12 million ($15.6 million Canadian) and subtract Terraco’s cash — about $3.3 million — and the enterprise value comes to $33.1 million.

That works out to about 23 cents a share. And it doesn’t factor in rising gold or any blue-sky potential, including Hilditch’s plan to use the cash and/or stock to bolt on more royalties. He thinks Terraco stock is undervalued and has been accumulating in the public market. He’s purchased more than 1.6 million shares in the past year (between $0.07 and $0.13 a share), including spending more than $15,000 on shares in the past month at 13 cents. Hilditch owns more than 7.5 million shares, a 5.25% stake.

“Some people call me crazy, but I’ve never sold a Terraco share and I’ve added plenty,” he says of the company he co-founded 20 years ago as an oil and gas play. “This is my first-born.”

Terraco’s portfolio now includes:

  • 3% NSR on the majority of current resources of Spring Valley (the “Schmidt claims”);
  • 1% NSR on an additional portion of Spring Valley;
  • a right of first refusal relating to a 1% NSR on certain lands within one-half mile of the Schmidt claims;
  • 2% NSR on the Moonlight Project;
  • the Almaden-Nutmeg Mountain Gold Project located in Western Idaho;
  • about $3.3 million Canadian in cash.

According to a 2014 resource estimate, Spring Valley hosts 4.37 million ounces of gold Measured and Indicated at average grades of .55 g/t, as well as 1.07 million ounces Inferred at a grade of .47 g/t. The deposit is located north of and along trend with Coeur Mining’s Rochester silver-gold mine, which has produced 1.47 million ounces of gold and 134 million ounces of silver.

Hilditch’s plan is to build a royalty company with the Spring Valley gold royalties as the flagship. And while the Vancouver mining executive keeps a low profile, his track record shows he’s no rookie when it comes to creating shareholder value in the mining space.

A lithium score

Hilditch’s biggest score was in the lithium space, well before lithium plays became the TSXV’s hottest commodity. The financial crisis had taken the wind out of gold’s sails, and Hilditch was looking around for other opportunities. He co-founded and became president and CEO of Salares Lithium, which structured a deal on 7 lithium brine salars in Chile. Salares IPOed at 16 cents (included a concurrent 2 for 1 rollback from 8 cents) and was taken over by private lithium giant Talison Lithium just 17 months later, in 2010, for $1.25 a share.

ToddHilditch

Terraco Gold CEO Todd Hilditch

For Salares shareholders, the gains didn’t end there. Talison, which produced hard-rock lithium in Australia, used the Salares listing to go public. In 2012 Talison sold for $850 million ($7.50 a share) to Chengdu Tianqi, a Chinese company that outbid Rockwood Lithium (which itself later sold to Albemarle).

“Salares helped pay the bills while Terraco was on the back burner during a tough market time from 2008,” Hilditch says. But gold — specifically, royalties in Nevada — beckoned.

A passion for hockey is a thread woven through Hilditch’s life — he was drafted in 1988 by the Washington Capitals and later played pro in Europe. He now coaches his own kids. And it was through hockey that he got into the gold mining business.

Hilditch grew up in Vancouver and co-founded Terraco (with a junior hockey teammate and good friend) as an oil and gas play after studying business and economics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York. He also played defence at RPI, a NCAA Division 1 university whose most famous mining graduate is probably Western Copper and Gold chairman Dale Corman.

One of Hilditch’s grandfathers was a miner who worked at Bralorne and Britannia, two legendary British Columbia mines. Bralorne was a storied underground gold mine that was a rare employment bright spot during the Great Depression and Britannia, now a mining museum, used to be the largest copper mine in the British Empire.

But it was an encounter at a hockey tournament in the early 2000s that got Hilditch started in gold. He was relaxing poolside one evening playing cribbage with a teammate who ran a gold company with Nevada projects. The CEO’s phone was buzzing non-stop. Conversation turned to business and Hilditch’s oil and gas play, which was struggling with its Saskatchewan properties.

Hilditch pivoted to gold and optioned two Nevada gold projects, including one from a mining veteran named Paul Schmidt. Schmidt had also optioned the Spring Valley gold project to Midway Gold. Hilditch broke his pick on the two Terraco projects, but impressive drill results from Spring Valley began to capture his attention. Terraco picked up the Moonlight property, adjoining Spring Valley on the north, in 2006. And he kept in touch with Schmidt, who had retained valuable royalties on the Spring Valley properties.

In 2010 Terraco picked up the Almaden-Nutmeg Mountain gold project in Idaho through a takeover of Western Standard Metals. Hilditch built a strong team at the operational and board levels. One of Terraco’s directors is William Lamb, the Lucara CEO whose company is preparing for Wednesday’s live auction of its historic 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona diamond. Lamb was a Salares Lithium director at the time of the Talison Lithium takeover.

Securing the Spring Valley royalties

In 2011, Hilditch was reminded of Schmidt’s Spring Valley royalties while watching the ounces build at Spring Valley through Barrick’s joint venture program with Midway Gold. He went to visit the veteran geologist at his Colorado home in the fall of 2011 to see if Schmidt would part with the NSR royalties he owned. Schmidt was skeptical.

“I said to him, Paul, I’m interested in doing a deal here,” recalled Hilditch, who had come to the meeting prepared. “He said, well, I’ve got somebody coming to see me tomorrow and besides Todd, you and Terraco can’t afford these royalties!”

“I don’t think he expected me to drop a $20-million term sheet on his kitchen table.”

On the way back to the Denver airport, Hilditch broke into a sweat wondering how he was going to pay for the royalty options. Schmidt had given him a 45-day term to come up with the cash, which he managed to secure and got the deal done. For Hilditch, the June 17, 2016 royalty financing agreement with Waterton represented the conclusion of a journey that began in Schmidt’s kitchen in Evergreen, Colorado five years ago.

Securing the option to exercise NSRs on Spring Valley over the past five years gave Terraco a toehold in a royalty space occupied by much larger players. The market, on the other hand, provided a few hurdles to full valuation for the company. Firstly, the NSR royalties were under an option and not full ownership yet.

“The market clearly gave us a discount for ‘leasing the car’ … not owning it,” Hilditch said. The junior bear market didn’t help, especially for companies with several different asset types, including royalties, advanced-stage and exploration projects. What was Terraco going to be when it grew up?

“Terraco went into stealth mode to ride out uncertainty in the junior mining space, we were very quiet,” Hilditch explained. “The Spring Valley project itself was garnering a lot of attention based on its results, so we felt that riding the quiet period out until we could exercise the royalty options was priority #1 — and it worked.”

The intercepts at Spring Valley, by now a Barrick-Midway Gold joint venture, had become even more eye-catching. In June 2013, for example, Barrick drilled 361 metres of 1.47 g/t gold. Through their option deal with Midway Gold, Barrick upped their interest in Spring Valley to 70% by spending US$38 million as of February 2014. Including earlier private placements, Barrick spent more than $70 million at Spring Valley. The pre-feasibility-stage project was one of four flagship Nevada development projects (pre-feasibility) for Barrick.

And that’s where things stood when Barrick’s JV partner, Midway Gold, went bankrupt last year. It had nothing to do with Spring Valley — the problems were at Midway’s Pan project, also in Nevada. Barrick was grappling with a few problems of its own — most significantly, a crippling debt load of more than $10 billion.

That’s when Waterton Global Resource Management swooped in. The Toronto-based private equity giant paid US$25 million for Midway’s 30% stake in Spring Valley (through bankruptcy court) and another US$110 million to purchase two projects from Barrick — 70% of Spring Valley and the Ruby Hill gold mine.

Gold in Nevada — it’s been a company maker for Franco-Nevada and Barrick Gold and it’s a major focus for Waterton as well. Several of their deals have been for Nevada assets, with the Spring Valley transactions among the most significant. As other mining companies struggled through the bear market, Waterton has put a strong technical team (many of them ex-Barrick employees) to work with money raised from sovereign wealth funds, university endowments and foundations.

And the private equity giant isn’t done yet. After raising $1 billion in 2014, Waterton just announced another US$725-million fund for mining investments in stable jurisdictions.

That gives Waterton an estimated US$2-billion-plus under management — and ensures Terraco Gold shareholders have a serious, deep-pocketed mining group advancing Spring Valley.

There are few small- to medium-sized players in the royalty space with high-quality, safe-jurisdiction assets that don’t become targets of the majors. Mid-tier royalty companies like Sandstorm Gold and Osisko Gold Royalties need to acquire or expand organically in order to maintain and grow their stature. So do the biggest players in the space, including Franco-Nevada and Royal Gold.

Terraco’s new royalty platform, starting with the 3% NSR on a multi-million-ounce Nevada gold deposit, gives the company a solid base for growth. It could also put a target on Terraco’s back before long.

Terraco Gold
Price: 14.5 cents
Shares outstanding: 143.6 million
Market cap: $20.8 million
Cash: $3.3 million

Disclosure: Author owns shares of Terraco Gold and the company is one of a small number of Resource Opportunities sponsors, who help support the subscriber-funded newsletter. The work included in this article is based on SEDAR filings, current events, interviews, and corporate press releases. It may contain errors, and you shouldn’t make any investment decision based solely on what you read here. This publication contains forward-looking statements, including but not limited to comments regarding predictions and projections. Forward-looking statements address future events and conditions and therefore involve inherent risks and uncertainties. Actual results may differ materially from those currently anticipated in such statements. This publication is provided for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Always thoroughly do your own due diligence and talk to a licensed investment adviser prior to making any investment decisions. Junior resource companies can easily lose 100% of their value, so read company profiles on www.SEDAR.com for important risk disclosures. It’s your money and your responsibility.