Articles tagged with: Cashflow Model

45. Do Any Junior Producers Model a Gold ETF?

junior mining company
I have often wondered if any of the smaller gold producers have ever considered modelling their business plan similar to a gold Exchange Traded Fund (“ETF”).
This hybrid business model may be a way for companies to provide shareholders a way to leverage themselves to physical gold rather than leveraging to the performance of a mine.

Let me explain further

Consider two identical small mining companies each starting up a new mine. Their projects are identical; 2 million gold ounces in reserves with annual production rate of 200,000 ounces with a 10 year mine life. On an annual basis, let’s assume their annual operating costs and debt repayments could be paid by the revenue from selling 180,000 ounces of gold. This would leave 20,000 gold ounces as “profit”. The question is what to do with those 20,000 ounces?

Gold Dore

Company A

Company A sells their entire gold production each year. At $1200/oz, the 20,000 oz gold “profit” would yield $24 million. Income taxes would be paid on this and the remaining cash can be spent or saved.
Company A may decide to spend more on head offices costs by adding more people, or they may spend money on exploration, or they could look at an acquisition to grow the company. There are plenty of ways to use this extra money, but returning it to shareholders as a dividend isn’t typically one of them.
Now let’s jump forward several years; 8 years for example. Company A may have been successful on grassroots exploration and added new reserves but historically exploration odds are working against them. If they actually saved a portion of the annual profit, say $10M of the $24M, after 8 years they may have $80M in cash reserves.

Company B

Company B only sells 180,000 ounces of gold each year to cover costs.  It puts the remaining 20,000 ounces into inventory. Their annual profit-loss statement shows breakeven status since their gold sales only cover their financial commitments. In this scenario, after 8 years Company B would have 160,000 gold ounces in inventory, valued at $192 million at a $1200 gold price.
If you’re an investor looking at both these companies in the latter stages of their mine life, which one would you rather invest in?
Company A has 400,000 ounces (2 years) remaining in mineral reserves and $80M cash in the bank. Company B also has 400,000 ounces of mineral reserves and $192 million worth of gold in the vault. If I’m a bullish gold investor and foresee a $1600/oz gold price, then to me Company B might theoretically have $256M in the vault (160k oz x $1600). If I’m a super bullish, their gold inventory could be worth a lot more..theoretically.

Which company is worth more?

I assume that the enterprise value (and stock price) of Company A would be based on its remaining reserves at some $/oz factor plus its cash in the bank. Company B could be valued the same way plus its gold inventory. So for me Company B may be a much better investment than Company A in the latter stages of its mine life. In fact Company B could still persist as an entity after the mine has shutdown simply as a “fund” that holds physical gold. If I am a gold investor, then Company B as an investment asset might be of more interest to me.
If Company A had good exploration results and spend money wisely, then it may have more value but not all companies are successful down this path.

Conclusion

It appears that most of the time companies sell their entire annual gold production to try to show profit on the annual income statement. This puts cash in the bank and shows “earning per share”.
My question is why not stockpile the extra gold and wait for gold prices to rise?  This might be an option if the company doesn’t really need the money now or doesn’t plan to gamble on exploration or acquisitions.
This concept wouldn’t be a model for all small miners but might be suitable for a select few companies to target certain types of gold investors.
They could provide an alternative mining investment that might be especially interesting in the last years of a mine life. Who really wants to buy shares in a company who’s mine is nearly depleted?  I might buy shares, if they still hold a lot of gold.
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44. Higher Metal Prices – Should We Lower the Cut-Off Grade?

When metals prices are high, we are generally told that we should lower the cutoff grade. Our cutoff grade versus metal price formula tells us this is the correct thing do. Our grade-tonnage curve reaffirms this since we will now have more ounces of gold in the mineral reserve.

But is lowering the cutoff grade really the right thing to do?

Books have been written on the subject of cutoff grades where readers can get all kinds of detailed logic and calculations using Greek symbols (F = δV* − dV*/dT). Here is one well known book by Ken Lane, available on Amazon HERE.
Recently we have seen a trend of higher cash costs at operating mines when commodity prices are high. Why is this?
It may be due to higher cost operating inputs due to increasing labour rates or supplies. It may also be partly due to the lowering of cutoff grades.  This lowers the head grade, which then requires more tonnes to be milled to produce the same quantity of metal.
A mining construction manager once said to me that he never understood us mining guys who lower the cutoff grade when gold prices increase. His concern was that since the plant throughput rate is fixed, when gold prices are high we suddenly decide to lower the head grade and produce fewer and higher cost ounces of gold.

Do the opposite

His point was that we should do the opposite.  When prices are high, we should produce more ounces of gold, not fewer. In essence, periods when supply is low (or demand is high) may not be the right time to further cut  supply by lowering head grades.
Now this is the point where the grade-tonnage curve comes into play.
Certainly one can lower the cutoff grade, lower the head grade and produce fewer ounces of gold.  The upside being an extension in the mine life.  A company can report more ounces in reserves and perhaps the overall image of the company looks better (if it is being valued on reserves).

What if metal prices drop back?

The problem is that there is no guarantee that metal prices will remain where they are and the new lower cutoff grade will remain where it is. If the metal prices drop back down, the cutoff grade will be increased and the mineral reserve will revert back to where it was. All that was really done was accept a year of lower metal production for no real long term benefit.
This trade-off  contrasts a short term vision (i.e. maximizing annual production) against a long term vision (i.e. extending mineral reserves).

Conclusion

The bottom line is that there is no simple answer on what to do with the cutoff grades.  Hence there is a need to write books about it.
Different companies have different corporate objectives and each mining project will be unique with regards to the impacts of cutoff grade changes on the orebody.
I would like to caution that one should be mindful when plugging in new metal prices, and then running off to the mine operations department with the new cutoff grade. One should fully understand both the long term and short term impacts of that decision.
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42. Global Tax Regimes – How Do They Compare?

mining economics
Update: This blog was originally written in Feb 2016, but has been updated in Dec 2018.
As a reminder for all QP’s doing economic analysis for PEA’s, don’t forget that one needs to present the economic results on an after-tax basis.
Every once in a while I still see PEA technical reports issued with only pre-tax financials.  That report is likely to get red- flagged by the securities regulators.  The company will need to amend their press release and technical report  to provide the after tax results.    No harm done other than some red faces.

Taxes can be complicated

When doing a tax calculation in your model, where can you find international tax information?  PWC has a very useful tax-related website.  The weblink below was sent to me by one of my industry colleagues and I thought it would be good to share it.
The PWC micro-site provides a host of tax and royalty information for selected countries.  The page is located at http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/energy-utilities-mining/mining/tax.html
On the site they have a searchable database for tax information for specific countries.
The PWC tax and financial information includes topics such as:
  • Corporate tax rates
  • Excess profits taxes
  • Mineral taxes for different commodities
  • Mineral royalties
  • Rates of permissible amortization
  • VAT and other regulated payments
  • Export taxes
  • Withholding taxes
  • Fiscal stability agreements
  • Social contribution requirements
PWC has a great web site and hopefully they will keep the information up to date since tax changes happen constantly.   It would be nice to see them add more countries to their 23 country database but it’s already good.  Check it out.

 

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38. Claim Fees Paid for a Royalty Interest – Good Deal or Not?

mineral property acquisition
In 2016 I read several articles about how the junior mining industry must innovate to stay relevant.    Innovation and changing with the times are what is needed in this economic climate.
One company that was trying something new is Abitibi Royalties.  They were promoting a new way for them to acquire royalty interests in early stage properties.  They were offering to fund the claim fees on behalf of the property owner in return for a royalty.
Their corporate website states that they would pay, for a specified period of time, the claim fees/taxes related to existing mineral properties or related to the staking of new mineral properties.
In return, Abitibi Royalties would be granted a net smelter royalty (“NSR”) on the property.  It may be a gamble, but it’s not a high stakes gamble given the relatively low investment needed.

Not just anywhere

Abitibi were specifically targeting exploration properties near an operating mine in the Americas. They were keeping jurisdiction risk to a minimum.   Abitibi stated that their due diligence and decision-making process was fast, generally within 48 hours.  No waiting around here but likely this is possible due to the low investment required and often the lack of geological information to do actually do a due diligence on.
To give some recent examples, in a December 14, 2015 press release, Abitibi state that the intend to acquire a 2% NSR on two claims in Quebec and will pay approximately $11,700 and reimburse the claim owner approximately $13,750 in future exploration expenses. This cash will be used by the owner towards paying claim renewal fees and exploration work commitments due in 2016.   Upon completion of the transaction, these will be the ninth and tenth royalties acquired through the Abitibi Royalty Search.  For comparison, some of their other royalty acquisitions cost were in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 each (per year I assume).   I think that those NSR interests are being acquired quite cheaply.
The benefit to the property owner may be twofold; they may have no other funding options available and they are building a relationship with a group that will have an interest in helping the project move forward.  The downside is that they have now encumbered that property with a NSR royalty going forward.
The benefit to Abitibi Royalties is that they have acquired an early stage NSR royalty quite cheaply although there will be significant uncertainty about ever seeing any royalty payments from the project.   Abitibi may also have to continue to make ongoing payments to ensure the claims remain in good standing with the owner.
It’s good to see some degree of innovation at work here, although the method of promotion for the concept may be more innovative than the concept itself. Unfortunately these Abitibi cash injections investments are not enough to pay for much actual exploration on the property and this is where the further innovation is required, whether through crowd funding, private equity, or some other means.   I’m curious to see if other companies will follow the Abitibi royalty model but extend it to foreign and more risky properties.
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26. Cashflow Sensitivity Analyses – Be Careful

cashflow sensitivity
One of the requirements of NI 43-101 for Item 22 Economic Analysis is “sensitivity or other analysis using variants in commodity price, grade, capital and operating costs, or other significant parameters, as appropriate, and discuss the impact of the results.”
The result of this 43-101 requirement is typically the graph seen below, which is easily generated from a cashflow model.  Simply change a few numbers and then you get the new economics.  The standard conclusions derived from this chart are that metal price has the greatest impact on project economics followed by the operating cost.   Those are probably accurate conclusions, but is the chart itself telling the true story?
 DCF Sensitivity GraphI have created the same chart in several economic studies so I understand the limitations with it.   The main assumption is that sensitivity economics are based on the exact same mineral reserve and production schedule.
That assumption may be applicable when applying a variable capital cost but is not applicable when applying varying metal prices and operating costs.   Does anyone really think that in the example show, the NPV is $120M with a 20% decrease in metal price or 20% increase in operating cost?
Potentially a project could be uneconomic with such a significant decrease in metal price but that is not shown by the sensitivity analysis.  Reducing the metal price would result in a change to the cutoff grade.  This changes the waste-to-ore ratio within the same pit.  So assuming the same the  mineral reserve is not correct in this scenario.
These changes in economic parameters would impact the original pit optimization used to define the pit upon which everything is based.  A smaller pit size results in a smaller ore tonnage, which may justify a smaller fleet and smaller processing plant, which would have higher operating costs and lower capital costs.
A smaller mineral reserve would produce a different production schedule and shorter mine life.  It can  get quite complex to do it properly.
Hence the shortcut is to simply change inputs to the cashflow model and generate outputs that are questionable but meet the 43-101 requirements.
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25. Junior Mining – Are People Still Investing?

small mining companies
Update: This blog was originally written in June 2015, however many of the observations made then still hold in late 2018.
The general consensus over the last couple of years is that the junior mining sector is still in a state of flux.
I briefly touched on this in a previous article “12. Financings – It Helps to Have a Credible Path Forward”.
It is still difficult for junior miners to get funding and the stock prices of have been on a downward trend.   Some observers say this just a temporary phase and the stock prices will cycle, as they have in the past.   I’m not convinced that this will be the case, although I am hoping.

Metal prices may recover, but will stock prices?

I am reasonably confident that metal prices will improve over time, but I am not sure that alone will result in the junior mining sector invigorating.  I think there is a long term shift in how personal investments are being made and how the mining industry is being viewed.  The following blog has some personal opinions on the present and the future.
Mining companies are constantly in the media with stories of cost over-runs, mine shutdowns, fatalities, strikes & protests, and environmental incidents.
In addition, the junior mining sector has had a few notable scams that nobody ever forgets about.
In some instances management were over promoting sub-optimal projects simply for the purpose of raising the stock price and cashing out.  Not many companies fell into this category, but enough to create an unfavorable image of the industry.
I think it will take time to recover from the image being created by the events described above. Unfortunately new incidents only build on the perceived legacy.
The implementation of sustainable and green mining practices is an attempt to rehabilitate the image of mining, but is anyone out there listening?

Are investment practices changing?

Regarding today’s investment practices, I have three general observations:
  1. Yield Investors: When many of us baby boomers were younger with a steady job, we were willing to speculate on the mining stocks hoping for the big payoff.  At the time there were some well publicized payoffs. Also there wasn’t much else to speculate on.
    Now those same baby boomers are moving into retirement and financial planners are push them into fixed income and dividend paying investments.  Be happy with a 2% to 5% yield.  The risk tolerance for many of these investors has shifted from speculation / growth to income / capital retention.
    I’m not sure how many of these people will ever re-enter the mining stock market.  The majority of miners don’t pay any significant yield.   Looking at the yield for Barrick (2%), Goldcorp (0.8%), and Yamana (0.85%), their yields are lower than those for the more conservative bank stocks (4%-6%).
  1. Where to speculate now?  Where might the 30 to 40 year old’s speculate today? Younger people today may still speculate with their free cash, but they are not hoping to be investors in the next Voisey’s Bay, Kidd Creek, or Hemlo.  They have never even heard of them.
    They are hoping to be investors in the next Apple, Google, or Facebook.  The dot.com bubble of 1999–2000 were  case of junior mining speculators jumping into technology.  It was a bust.  However currently several of the new breed of dot.com companies that have IPO’d are getting huge share price increases.  Is it still a tech bubble? Not so much anymore.
    I don’t know whether the younger speculators will ever have interest in the mining sector since they never heard of it.  There is so much other investing activity happening out there.
  2. The perception of mining: The mining and energy news shown in the media is not helping the industry by focusing mainly on the negative aspects. The resource business appears to be somewhat analogous to the meat industry. Everyone likes their nicely packaged rows of chicken and beef at the grocery store but nobody wants to see how it actually gets to the store.  Everyone also loves their metallic gadgets and the energy used to power them, but please don’t show how it actually gets from mine to store shelf.  It can be quite upsetting.

Can mining companies provide more yield?

An interesting group of companies are the mid tier producers that have operating mines and generate profits, but do not pay a dividend.  I will be curious to see how these companies shares will perform since they don’t satisfy the yield investor nor may they satisfy the pure speculator looking for order of magnitude capital gains.
The larger mining companies will always have their investors like pension funds and mutual funds, however the junior miners may be a different story.
Possibly private equity and equity-based crowdfunding will be one of the long term solutions.
I have heard of one geological consulting firm that was trying to foster a plan to help crowdfunders with their 43-101 report even though they don’t yet have the money to pay for the report.
I also understand that Canada now has a few private equity stock exchanges that allow PE to change hands, which may facilitate more private equity involvement.

Conclusion

The bottom line is the mining industry needs to have a self-examination with respect to what the future holds.
The changing population demographics, competition for equity funding, and society’s urbanization may result in fundamental, and permanent, changes to how the financial side of the junior mining industry can function.  Just my opinion.
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23. Project Economics – Simple 1D Model

mining desktop study
In a previous article I outlined my thoughts on the usefulness of early stage financial modelling (“Early Stage “What-if” Economic Analysis – How Useful Is It?”).     My observation was that it is useful to take a few days to build a simple cashflow model yourself to help you understand your project.

By “simple” I mean simple.

This blog describes one of the techniques that I use to take a quick look at any project; whether it is for a client wishing to understand his project at a high level; or whether it is a project that I have read about.  There is no study nor production schedule available yet.
It takes about 10 minutes to plug the numbers into my template to get quick results.  The image below is an example of the simple model that I use, which anyone can build for themselves in no time.

1D Cashflow Model

I term this a one dimensional (“1D”) model since it doesn’t require the typical X-Y matrix with years across the top and production data down the page.   The 1D model simply relies on life of mine (“LOM”) totals to estimate the total revenue, total operating cost, and total profit.  This determines how much capital expenditure the project can tolerate.  I do this analysis on a pre-tax basis to keep things simple.
Using estimated metal prices and recoveries, the first step is to calculate the incremental revenue generated by each tonne of ore (see a previous article “11. Rock Value Calculator – What’s My Rock Worth?”).   Next that revenue per tonne is multiplied by the total ore tonnage to arrive at the total revenue over the life of mine.
The second step is to determine the life of mine operating cost, and again this simple calculation is based on estimated unit operating costs multiplied by the total tonnages being handled.
The third step is to calculate the life of mine profit based on total revenue minus total operating cost.
The potential net cashflow would be calculated by deducting an assumed capital cost from the life-of-mine profit.  The average annual cashflow is estimated based on the net cashflow divided by the mine life.  An approximate NPV can be calculated by determining the Present Value of a series of annual payments at a certain discount rate.

You need to understand your project

One can easily evaluate the potential impact of changing metal prices, changing recoveries, ore tonnages, operating costs, etc. to show what the economic or operational drivers are for this project.  This can help you understand what you might need in order to make the project viable.
The bottom line is that a 1D economic calculation is very simplistic but still provides a conceptual vision for a project.  The next step in the economic modelling process would use a 2D model based on an annual production schedule, but the 1D approach is a first step in looking at a potential project.  It doesn’t take a lot of time.
Update:  Interestingly there is a Mining Intelligence website that provides an online calculator for evaluating mining project economics.   It is a black box approach, in that you simply input your parameters and it outputs the results.   I have not used it nor do I know what the cost is.  Unfortunately the website does not provide information on the qualifications or backgrounds of the people who have built the model but it seems to be affiliated with InfoMine.  If anyone has experience using the economic modelling service, please share your thoughts.
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11. Rock Value Calculator – What’s My Rock Worth?

rock economic value
The two key nature-driven factors in the overall economics of a mining project are the ore grade and the ore tonnage.  In simplistic terms, the ore grade will determine how much incremental profit can be generated by each ore tonne processed.   The ore tonnage will determine whether the total profit generated all the ore will be sufficient to pay back the capital investment for the project plus provide some reasonable financial return to the investor.

Does the Ore Grade Generate a Profit ?

In order to understand the incremental profit generated by each ore tonne one must first convert the ore grade into a dollar revenue value.   This calculation will obviously depend on metal prices and the amount of metal recovered.  For some deposits with multiple metals, the total revenue per tonne will be based on the summation of value from each metal, some of which may have different process recoveries and different net smelter payable factors.
To help calculate the value of the insitu rock, I have created a simplistic interactive spreadsheet at this link (Rock Value Calculator).  A screenshot is shown below.  The user simply enters their data in the yellow shaded cells and the rock values are calculated as a “$ per tonne”. One can zero out the values for the metals of no interest.

 

Rock Value Calculator Pic

Price: represents the metal prices, in US dollars for the metals of interest.
Ore Grade: represents that head grades for the metals of interest in the units as shown (g/t and %).
Process Recovery: represents the average percent recovery for each of the metals of interest.
Payable Factor: represents the net payable percentage after various treatment, smelting, refining, penalty charges.  This is simply a rough estimate depending on the specific products produced at site.  For example, concentrates would have an overall lower payable factor than say gold-silver dore production.
Insitu Rock Value: this is the dollar value of the insitu rock (in US dollars), without any recovery or payable factors being applied.
NSR Rock Value: this represents the net smelter return dollar value after applying the recovery and payable factors.  This represents the actual revenue that could be generated and used to pay back operating costs.

Profit = Revenue – Cost

The final profit margin will be determined by subtracting the operating cost from the NSR Rock Value.  These costs would include mining, processing, G&A, and offsite costs.  Typically large capacity open pit operations may have total costs in the range of $10-15/tonne while underground operations could be much higher.
The bottom line is that very early on it is important to understand the net revenue that your project’s head grades may deliver.
This will give sense for whether you are a high margin project from an operating cost perspective or whether the ore grades are marginal and higher metal prices or low operating costs will be required by a project.
The earlier one understands the potential economics of the different ore types, the better.
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4. Four Study Stages (Concept to Feasibility) – Which Should We Do?

Over my career I have been involved in various types of mine studies, ranging from desktop conceptual to definitive feasibility.    Each type of study has a different purpose and therefore requires a different level of input and effort, and can have hugely different costs.
I have sat in on a few junior mining management discussions regarding whether they should be doing a PEA or a Pre-Feasibility Study, or a Feasibility instead of a Pre-Feasibility Study.    Everyone had their opinion on how to proceed based on their own reasoning.   Ultimately there is no absolute correct answer but there likely is one path that is better than the others.  It depends on the short term and long term objectives of the company, the quality and quantity of data on hand, and the funding available.

Four basic types of studies

In my opinion there are four basic levels of study, which are listed below.  My objective to simply provide an overview of them.  Detailed comparison tables are readily available, and anyone can contact me for an a full copy of the table  shown below).

Four Studies Table

1. Desktop or Conceptual Study
This would likely be an in-house study, non-43-101 compliant, and simply used to test the potential economics of the project.  It lets management know where the project may go (see a previous blog at the link “Early Stage “What-if” Economic Analysis – How Useful Is It?”.    I recommend doing a documented desktop study.  It doesn’t take much time and is not made public so the inputs can be high level or simply guesses.  This type of study helps to frame the project for management and lets one test different scenarios.
2. Preliminary Economic Assessment (“PEA”)
The PEA is 43-101 compliant and presents the first snapshot of the project scope, size, and potential economics to investors.  Generally the resource may still be uncertain (inferred classification), capital and operating costs are approximate (+/- 40%) since not all the operational or environmental issues are known at this time.   Please do not sell the PEA as a feasibility study.

Don’t Announce a PEA Until You Know the Outcome

I recommend not announcing or undertaking a PEA until you are confident in what the outcome of the PEA will be.   A reasonable desktop study done beforehand will let a company know if the economics for the PEA will be favorable.  I have seen situations where companies have announced the timing for a PEA and then during the study, have seen things not working out as well as envisioned.  The economics were poorer than hoped and so a lot of re-scoping of the project was required.  The PEA was delayed, and shareholders and financial analysts negative suspicions were raised in the meantime.
The PEA can be used to evaluate different development scenarios for the project (i.e. open pit, underground, small capacity, large capacity, heap leach, CIL, etc.).  However the accuracy of the PEA is limited and therefore I suggest that the PEA scenario analysis only be used to discard obvious sub-optimal cases.  Scenarios that are economically within a +/-30% range of each other many be too similar to discard at the PEA stage.
3. Pre-Feasibility Study (“PFS”)
The PFS will be developed using only measured and indicated resources (not inferred) so the available ore tonnage may decrease from the PEA study.  The PFS costing accuracy will be better than a PEA.  Therefore the PFS is the right time to evaluate the remaining development scenarios.  Make a decision on the single path forward going into the Feasibility study.

Use the PFS to determine the FS case

More data will be required for the PFS, possibly a comprehensive infill drilling program to upgrade the resource classification from inferred.  Many companies, especially those with smaller projects might skip the PFS stage  and move directly to Feasibility.  I don’t disagree with this approach if the project is fairly simple and had a well defined scope at the PEA stage.
4. Feasibility Study (“FS”)
The Feasibility Study is the final stage study prior to making a production decision.  The feasibility study should preferably be done on a single project scope.  Try to avoid more scenario analysis at this time.
Smaller companies should be careful entering the FS stage since, once the FS is complete, shareholders will be expecting a production decision.  If the company only intends to sell the project with no construction intention, they now hit a wall.  What to do next?

Sometimes management feel that a FS may help sell the  project.

I don’t think a FS is needed to attract buyers and sell a project.  Many potential buyers will do their own in-house due diligence, and possibly some design and economic studies.   Likely information from a PFS would be sufficient to give them what they need.  A well advanced Environmental-Socio Impact Assessment may give as much or more comfort than a completed Feasibility Study would.

Conclusion

executive meetingMy bottom line recommendation is that there is no right answer as to what study is required at any point in time.  Different paths can be followed but consideration must be given to future plans for the company after the study is completed.   Also consider what is the best use of shareholder money?  Company management may see pressure from retail shareholders, major shareholders, financial analysts, and the board of directors.  Management must decide which path is in the best longer term interests of the company.
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2. Early Stage “What-if” Economic Analysis – How Useful Is It?

Mining study economics
Over the years I have worked with both large and small mining companies and watched how they studied potential acquisitions.
Large mining companies have their in-house evaluation teams that will jump on a potential opportunity that comes in the door and start examining it quickly.  These evaluation teams are experienced at what they do and can provide management with solid advice even if working with only limited data.  This help management decide very early on whether to pursue the opportunity or walk away.
Early stage economics are not right all of the time but more than often they save their company from wasting money on projects unlikely to fly.
If you are a small mining company, what are your options?
You don’t have an in-house technical team sitting around ready to hit the ground running.  Management needs to know if this project has a chance.  If the project is early stage, sometimes management thinks it is better to put money into the ground rather than on early studies.

It is possible to do both

I feel that you won’t know if you have arrived at your destination if you don’t know your destination.  Early stage financially modelling can help define that destination.
The exploration team and management usually have a vision of the potential project, even those projects with only an early resource estimate.   Each person may have a different opinion on the potential size and scope of what may eventually exist.  However the question is whether any of those vision have sufficient potential to warrant spending more shareholder money on the project.
Some of the junior mining management teams that I have worked with have found it beneficial early on to have a simple internal cashflow model that is simply to tweak to examine “what-if’s” scenarios for the project.  Input the potential deposit size and mine life, potential head grades, expected metallurgy, and typical costs to see what the economic outcome is.  Does this project have a chance and, if not, what tonnage, head grade, recovery, or metal price is required?

Early stage modelling adds value

The tangible benefits to early financial modelling are:
  • It helps management to think about and better understand their project.  If done honestly, it will reveal both the good and the bad aspects.
  • It helps management to understand what parameters will be most important to resolve and what technical factors can be viewed as secondary. This helps guide the on-going exploration and data collection efforts.
  • Periodically updating the economic model with new information will show the if economic trends are getting better or worse.

Its not 43-101 compliant

I must caution that this type of early stage economic analysis is not be 43-101 compliant and hence can not be shared externally, no matter how much one might wish to.
Another caution is that in some cases these early stage un-engineered projections become “cast in stone”, treating them as if they are accurate estimates.  All subsequent advanced studies somehow need to agree with the original cost guesses, thereby placing unreasonable expectations on the project.
The early stage economic models can consist of simple one-dimensional tables using life-of-mine tonnages or two-dimensional tables showing assumed annual production by year.  Building simple cashflow models may take only 2-3 days of effort.  That is not an onerous exercise compared to the overall guidance they can provide.
The bottom line is that it is useful to take a few days to develop a simple cashflow model.  “Simple” also means that management themselves can tweak the models and don’t need a modeling expert on hand at all times.  “Simple” means the model should be well written and understandable (see the article Financial Spreadsheet Modelling – Think of Others).
Most companies have a CFO that can easily undertake this modelling, with the help of some technical input.
To learn more about simple 1D financial models, read my blog “Project Economics – Simple 1D Model” .
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1. Financial Spreadsheet Modelling – Please Think of Others

Mining Cashflow modeling
In my current role as a mining consultant I am often required to review spreadsheet cost models or cashflow models built by others.  Some of these spreadsheets can be monsters, using numerous worksheets, cross-linking between worksheet cells, and having hard wired numbers inside cell formulas.
Some of the models I have reviewed will build the entire operating cost (mining, processing, G&A) in one file.  They will build in the capital cost too and finally provide the economic model… all in one!
This makes the model very complex and difficult to follow the logic.  Sometimes your gut feel says there must be formula or linkage errors in there somewhere but you just can’t find them.  In these types of models more focus is spent trying to figure out the formula logic than actually looking at the validity of the inputs and output.
It seems that only the model developer can really work with these spreadsheets and the rest of us can just hope they have  done everything correctly.

Cleverness is not a virtue

Over the years, I have learned that there is an art to creating a clear, concise, and auditable cashflow model (or cost model). Once in awhile you come across one that is well crafted and is not an example of someone saying “look how clever I am”.
In building the spreadsheet models I have learned to not try to do too much in the same model, especially if several different technical people are involved in its foundation.   Other suggestions are:
  • Color coded input cells differently than formula cells.
  • Carry over values rather than linking to other worksheets.
  • Highlight cells that are carried over from other worksheets.
  • Never hardwire numbers into a formula.
  • Use conditional formatting when possible to help identify errors.
I won’t go into detail on good spreadsheet practices, but you can check out the instructional presentations prepared by Peter Card at Economic Evaluations (http://economicevaluation.com.au).
He has some excellent practical recommendations that all financial modellers should consider.  It doesn’t take long to review his online courses and it’s worth your time to do it.  His recommendations can generally apply to any Excel modelling exercise, whether its costing, scheduling, or economic analysis.

Try to help by building in clarity.

The bottom line is that you must build your spreadsheet models compatible with the way you think.  However not everyone thinks the same way so try to keep all aspects easily identifiable and traceable.  Be consistent in the model format from worksheet to worksheet. Be consistent in methodologies on all worksheets and with all your models.   Your client, colleagues, and reviewers will thank you.
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