Articles tagged with: Cashflow Model

Are Engineers Too Pessimistic

Geological colleagues have often joked that engineers are a pessimistic lot; they are never technically satisfied. The engineers will fire back that geologists are an overly optimistic lot; every speck of mineralization makes them ecstatic. Together they make a great team since each cancels the other out.
In my opinion engineers are often pessimistic. This is mainly because they have been trained to be that way. Throughout my own engineering career I have been called upon many times to focus on the downsides, i.e. what can happen that we don’t want to happen.

It starts early and continues on

This pessimism training started early in my career while working as a geotechnical engineer. Geotechnical engineers were always looking at failure modes and the potential causes of failure when assessing factors of safety.
Slope failure could be due to the water table, excess pore pressures, seismic or blast vibrations, liquefaction, unknown weak layers, overly steepen slopes, or operating error. As part of our job we had to come up with our list of negatives and consider them all. The more pessimistic view you had, the better job you did.
This training continued through the other stages of a career. The focus on negatives continues in mine planning and costing.
For example, there are 8,760 hours in a year, but how many productive hours will each piece of equipment provide? There will delays due to weather conditions, planned maintenance, unplanned breakdowns, inter-equipment delays, operator efficiency, and other unforeseen events. The more pessimistic a view of equipment productivity, the larger the required fleet. Geotechnical engineers would call this the factor of safety.
In the more recent past, I have been involved in numerous due diligences. Some of these were done for major mining companies looking at acquisitions. Others were on behalf of JV partners, project financiers, and juniors looking at acquisitions.
When undertaking a due diligence, particularly for a major company or financier, we are not hired to tell them how great the project is. We are hired to look for fatal flaws, identify poorly based design assumptions or errors and omissions in the technical work. We are mainly looking for negatives or red flags.
Often we get asked to participate in a Risk Analysis or SWOT analysis (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) where we are tasked with identifying strengths and weaknesses in a project.
Typically at the end of these SWOT exercises, one will see many pages of project risks with few pages of opportunities.
The opportunities will usually consist of the following cliches (feel free to use them in your own risk session); metal prices may be higher than predicted; operating costs will be lower than estimated; dilution will be better than estimated; and grind size optimization will improve process recoveries.
The project’s risk list will be long and have a broad range. The longer the list of risks, the smarter the review team appears to be.

Investing isn’t easy

After decades of the training described above, it becomes a challenge for me to invest in junior miners. My skewed view of projects carries over into my investing approach, whereby I tend to see the negatives in a project fairly quickly. These may consist of overly optimistic design assumptions or key technical aspects not understood in sufficient depth.
Most 43-101 technical reports provide a lot of technical detail; however some of them will still leave me wanting more. Most times some red flags will appear when first reviewing these reports. Some of the red flags may be relatively inconsequential or can be mitigated. However the fact that they exist can create concern. I don’t know if management knows they exists or knows how they can mitigate them.
It has been my experience that digging in a data room or speaking with the engineering consultants can reveal issues not identifiable in a 43-101 report. Possibly some of these issues were mentioned or glossed over in the report, but you won’t understand the full extent of the issues until digging deeper.
43-101 reports generally tell you what was done, but not why it was done. The fact I cannot dig into the data room or speak with the technical experts is what has me on the fence. What facts might I be missing?
Statistics show that few deposits or advanced projects become real mines. However every advanced study will say that this will be an operating mine. Many projects have positive feasibility studies but these studies are still sitting on the shelf. Is the project owner a tough bargainer or do potential acquirers / financiers see something from their due diligence review that we are not aware of?   You don’t get to see these third party reviews unless you have access to the data room.
My hesitance in investing in some companies unfortunately can be penalizing. I may end up sitting on the sidelines while watching the rising stock price. Junior mining investors tend to be a positive bunch, when combined with good promotion can result in investors piling into a stock.
Possibly I would benefit by putting my negatives aside and instead ask whether anyone else sees these negatives. If they don’t, then it might be worth taking a chance, albeit making sure to bail out at the right time.
Often newsletter writers will recommend that you “Do your own due diligence”. Undertaking a deep dive in a company takes time. In addition I’m not sure one can even do a proper due diligence without accessing a data room or the consulting team. In my opinion speaking with the engineering consultants that did the study is the best way to figure things out. That’s one reason why “hostile” due diligences can be difficult, while “friendly” DD’s allow access to a lot more information.

Conclusion

Sometimes studies that I have been involved with have undergone third party due diligence. Most times one can predict ahead of time which issues will be raised in the review. One knows how their engineers are going to think and what they are going to highlight as concerns.
Most times the issue is something we couldn’t fully address given the level of study. We might have been forced to make best guess assumptions to move forward. The review engineers will have their opinions about what assumptions they would have used. Typically the common comment is that our assumption is too optimistic and their assumption would have been more conservative or realistic (in their view).
Ultimately if the roles were reversed and I were reviewing the project I may have had the same comments. After all, the third party reviewers aren’t being hired to say everything is perfect with a project.
The odd time one hears that our assumption was too pessimistic. You usually hear this comment when the reviewing consultant wants to do the next study for the client. They would be a much more optimistic and accommodating team.
To close off this rambling blog, the next time you feel that your engineers are too negative just remember that they are trained to be that way.  If you want more positivity, hang out with a geologist (or hire a new grad).

 

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Pre-Concentration – Maybe Good, Maybe Not

A while back I wrote a blog titled “Pre-Concentration – Savior or Not?”. That blog was touting the benefits of pre-concentration. More recently I attended a webinar where the presenter stated that the economics of pre-concentration may not necessarily be as good as we think they are.
My first thought was “this is blasphemy”. However upon further reflection I wondered if it’s true. To answer that question, I modified one of my old cashflow models from a Zn, Pb project using pre-concentration. I adjusted the model to enable running a trade-off, with and without pre-con by varying cost and recovery parameters.

Main input parameters

The trade-off model and some of the parameters are shown in the graphic below. The numbers used in the example are illustrative only, since I am mainly interested in seeing what factors have the greatest influence on the outcome.

The term “mass pull” is used to define the quantity of material that the pre-con plant pulls and sends to the grinding circuit. Unfortunately some metal may be lost with the pre-con rejects.  The main benefit of a pre-con plant is to allow the use of a smaller grinding/flotation circuit by scalping away waste. This will lower the grinding circuit capital cost, albeit slightly increase its unit operating cost.
Concentrate handling systems may not differ much between model options since roughly the same amount of final concentrate is (hopefully) generated.
Another one of the cost differences is tailings handling. The pre-con rejects likely must be trucked to a final disposal location while flotation tails can be pumped.  I assumed a low pumping cost, i.e to a nearby pit.
The pre-con plant doesn’t eliminate a tailings pond, but may make it smaller based on the mass pull factor. The most efficient pre-concentration plant from a tailings handling perspective is shown on the right.

The outcome

The findings of the trade-off surprised me a little bit.  There is an obvious link between pre-con mass pull and overall metal recovery. A high mass pull will increase metal recovery but also results in more tonnage sent to grinding. At some point a high mass pull will cause one to ask what’s the point of pre-con if you are still sending a high percentage of material to the grinding circuit.
The table below presents the NPV for different mass pull and recovery combinations. The column on the far right represents the NPV for the base case without any pre-con plant. The lower left corner of the table shows the recovery and mass pull combinations where the NPV exceeds the base case. The upper right are the combinations with a reduction in NPV value.
The width of this range surprised me showing that the value generated by pre-con isn’t automatic.  The NPV table shown is unique to the input assumptions I used and will be different for every project.

The economic analysis of pre-concentration does not include the possible benefits related to reduced water and energy consumption. These may be important factors for social license and permitting purposes, even if unsupported by the economics.  Here’s an article from ThermoFisher on this “How Bulk Ore Sorting Can Reduce Water and Energy Consumption in Mining Operations“.

Conclusion

The objective of this analysis isn’t to demonstrate the NPV of pre-concentration. The objective is to show that pre-concentration might or might not make sense depending on a project’s unique parameters. The following are some suggestions:
1. Every project should at least take a cursory look at pre-concentration to see if it is viable. This should be done on all projects, even if it’s only a cursory mineralogical assessment level.
2. Make certain to verify that all ore types in the deposit are amenable to the same pre-concentration circuit. This means one needs to have a good understanding of the ore types that will be encountered.
3. Anytime one is doing a study using pre-concentration, one should also examine the economics without it. This helps to understand the  economic drivers and the risks. You can then decide whether it is worth adding another operating circuit in the process flowsheet that has its own cost and performance risk. The more processing components added to a flow sheet, the more overall plant availability may be effected.
4. The head grade of the deposit also determines how economically risky pre-concentration might be. In higher grade ore bodies, the negative impact of any metal loss in pre-concentration may be offset by accepting higher cost for grinding (see chart on the right).
5. In my opinion, the best time to decide on pre-con would be at the PEA stage. Although the amount of testing data available may be limited, it may be sufficient to assess whether pre-con warrants further study.
6. Don’t fall in love with or over promote pre-concentration until you have run the economics. It can make it harder to retract the concept if the economics aren’t there.

 

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Climbing the Hill of Value With 1D Modelling

Recently I read some articles about the Hill of Value.  I’m not going into detail about it but the Hill of Value is a mine optimization approach that’s been around for a while.  Here is a link to an AusIMM article that describes it “The role of mine planning in high performance”.  For those interested, here is a another post about this subject “About the Hill of Value. Learning from Mistakes (II)“.
hill of value

(From AusIMM)

The basic premise is that an optimal mining project is based on a relationship between cut-off grade and production rate.  The standard breakeven or incremental cutoff grade we normally use may not be optimal for a project.
The image to the right (from the aforementioned AusIMM article) illustrates the peak in the NPV (i.e. the hill of value) on a vertical axis.
A project requires a considerable technical effort to properly evaluate the hill of value. Each iteration of a cutoff grade results in a new mine plan, new production schedule, and a new mining capex and opex estimate.
Each iteration of the plant throughput requires a different mine plan and plant size and the associated project capex and opex.   All of these iterations will generate a new cashflow model.
The effort to do that level of study thoroughly is quite significant.  Perhaps one day artificial intelligence will be able to generate these iterations quickly, but we are not at that stage yet.

Can we simplify it?

In previous blogs (here and here) I described a 1D cashflow model that I use to quickly evaluate projects.  The 1D approach does not rely on a production schedule, instead uses life-of-mine quantities and costs.  Given its simplicity, I was curious if the 1D model could be used to evaluate the hill of value.
I compiled some data to run several iterations for a hypothetical project, loosely based on a mining study I had on hand.  The critical inputs for such an analysis are the operating and capital cost ranges for different plant throughputs.
hill of valueI had a grade tonnage curve, including the tonnes of ore and waste, for a designed pit.  This data is shown graphically on the right.   Essentially the mineable reserve is 62 Mt @ 0.94 g/t Pd with a strip ratio of 0.6 at a breakeven cutoff grade of 0.35 g/t.   It’s a large tonnage, low strip ratio, and low grade deposit.  The total pit tonnage is 100 Mt of combined ore and waste.
I estimated capital costs and operating costs for different production rates using escalation factors such as the rule of 0.6 and the 20% fixed – 80% variable basis.   It would be best to complete proper cost estimations but that is beyond the scope of this analysis. Factoring is the main option when there are no other options.
The charts below show the cost inputs used in the model.   Obviously each project would have its own set of unique cost curves.
The 1D cashflow model was used to evaluate economics for a range of cutoff grades (from 0.20 g/t to 1.70 g/t) and production rates (12,000 tpd to 19,000 tpd).  The NPV sensitivity analysis was done using the Excel data table function.  This is one of my favorite and most useful Excel features.
A total of 225 cases were run (15 COG versus x 15 throughputs) for this example.

What are the results?

The results are shown below.  Interestingly the optimal plant size and cutoff grade varies depending on the economic objective selected.
The discounted NPV 5% analysis indicates an optimal plant with a high throughput (19,000 tpd ) using a low cutoff grade (0.40 g/t).  This would be expected due to the low grade nature of the orebody.  Economies of scale, low operating costs, high revenues, are desired.   Discounted models like revenue as quickly as possible; hence the high throughput rate.
The undiscounted NPV 0% analysis gave a different result.  Since the timing of revenue is less important, a smaller plant was optimal (12,000 tpd) albeit using a similar low cutoff grade near the breakeven cutoff.
If one targets a low cash cost as an economic objective, one gets a different optimal project.  This time a large plant with an elevated cutoff of 0.80 g/t was deemed optimal.
The Excel data table matrices for the three economic objectives are shown below.  The “hot spots” in each case are evident.

hill of value

hill of value

Conclusion

The Hill of Value is an interesting optimization concept to apply to a project.  In the example I have provided, the optimal project varies depending on what the financial objective is.  I don’t know if this would be the case with all projects, however I suspect so.
In this example, if one wants to be a low cash cost producer, one may have to sacrifice some NPV to do this.
If one wants to maximize discounted NPV, then a large plant with low opex would be the best alternative.
If one prefers a long mine life, say to take advantage of forecasted upticks in metal prices, then an undiscounted scenario might win out.
I would recommend that every project undergoes some sort of hill of value test, preferably with more engineering rigor. It helps you to  understand a projects strengths and weaknesses.  The simple 1D analysis can be used as a guide to help select what cases to look at more closely. Nobody wants to assess 225 alternatives in engineering detail.
In reality I don’t ever recall seeing a 43-101 report describing a project with the hill of value test. Let me know if you are aware of any, I’d be interested in sharing them.  Alternatively, if you have a project and would like me to test it on my simple hill of value let me know.
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Benchmarking – Let’s See More Of It

Benchmarking is the process of measuring performance of a company’s attributes against those of another. Ideally the benchmarking comparison is made against what are considered to be the best in the industry.  Sometimes however the comparison is simply made between industry peers.
We often see junior mining companies benchmarking themselves against others. Sometimes corporate presentations provide graphs of enterprise value per gold ounce to demonstrate that a company might be undervalued.
We also see cash cost charts (an example to the right) benchmarking where a company’s production cost will rank among its competitors.
I view benchmarking as a great thing. The information can be very insightful, but with the caveat that it takes effort to ensure the comparative data is accurate.

Can we see more benchmarking?

Given the benefits of benchmarking, another area that might warrant such effort is related to capital cost estimates.
When a project moves into the development stage, the first two observable metrics are the construction progress and the capital cost expenditures. The capital cost trend is generally given very close scrutiny since it is a key indicator describing where a project is heading.
Lenders may have observers at site monitoring both construction progress and cash expenditures. Shareholders and analysts are watching for news releases that update the capital spending. Their concern is well founded due to several significant cost over-run instances.
Some of these over-runs have been fatal whereby the company has been unable to secure additional financing for the extra costs. There are others instances where a financing white knight has come in and essentially wrestled company ownership away from current shareholders.
Some industry people also feel that capital cost performance can foreshadow a project’s performance once it goes into commercial production.
Capital cost over-runs may be caused by poor execution and/or unforeseen events, or due to inaccurate cost estimation to begin with.  Many investors still have apprehension with capital cost estimates from advanced studies. This is where benchmarking may play a role. Mining company shareholders may want to see a comparison of their project capital cost with other similar projects.

Project databases

It would be a good thing if the mining industry (or other concerned parties) work together to create open source project databases. These would incorporate summary information and cost information for global mining projects.  The information is already out there, it just needs to be compiled.
One nice thing is that younger workers coming into the mining industry exhibit an interest in collaboration and information sharing. Hence maintaining the databases could be done by interested parties, industry experts, and/or crowd sourcing.
The databases would be public domain accessible to everyone and  could be used to benchmark a project against other similar projects.  The Global Tailings Portal (tailing.grida.no/about) is working to build a freely accessible database for the thousands of tailings dam globally. Its the same idea.
I realize that many mining projects are unique with site specific features and conditions. However many projects are also very similar to one another. For example West African gold projects in many cases can be replicates of one another with similar capital costs.
Published technical reports could include a chapter on benchmarking, whereby a project is compared with other similar projects. A company could provide rationale why their project will be costlier (or less expensive) than the others.

Conclusion

Benchmarking can be a great tool when done correctly. Benchmarking  capital costs might bring more transparency to the project development process. It may help convince nervous investors that the proposed costs are reasonable.
We already see corporate presentations using benchmarking, so why stop at production costs and share price valuation.
One could expand the reach to include operating costs but internal confidentiality may be an issue.  Furthermore operating costs are longer in duration and subject to change with global influences.
Capital cost accuracy is one of the primary concerns in the development of new projects. Possibly more benchmarking is part of the solution.

 

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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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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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Global Tax Regimes – How Do They Compare?

mining economics
Update: This blog was originally written in Feb 2016, but has been updated in Aug 2019.
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 https://www.ey.com/gl/en/services/tax/global-tax-guide-archive
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.  The website also has a guide related to the rules for the treatment of capital expenditures.   Check it out.  https://www.ey.com/gl/en/services/tax/global-tax-guide-archive
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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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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.
Note: If you would like to get notified when new blogs are posted, then sign up on the KJK mailing list on the website.  Otherwise I post notices on LinkedIn, so follow me at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kenkuchling/.
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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 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, or a cannabis company.  The dot.com bubble of 1999–2000 was a case of junior mining speculators jumping into technology and 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.
  3. Complexity:  To invest in a mining stock or understand a mining IR presentation, one needs a basic understanding of mining and geology.   To understand a tech stock or bank stock, one does not need to be an expert in that industry. People will intuitively have a better comfort level with them.

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.  There is talk that mining needs to change its business model, but very little suggestion regarding what changes to make.
The growing population changing 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.
Note: If you would like to get notified when new blogs are posted, then sign up on the KJK mailing list on the website.  Otherwise I post notices on LinkedIn, so follow me at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kenkuchling/.
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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 really 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, but anyone can build one for themselves.

Screenshot of Simple Economic 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.
The only caveat is that you need to have some sense for operating and capital costs for similar projects. The analysis can be on both a pre-tax and simple after-tax basis.
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.
The reasonableness of the 1D model will be examined via benchmarking and this will be summarized once completed.  I will include a link to that future blog here.

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.
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.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that a 1D economic calculation is very simplistic but still provides a vision for the project.  The next step in the economic modelling process would be a 2D model based on an annual production schedule.  The 1D approach is just a quick first step in looking at a potential project.  You can do it even when you just know the head grades and some generalized orebody information.
The two ways you can apply the simple 1-D model are:
  1. evaluate the potential of early stage projects using cost inputs from other studies,
  2. examine a project’s sensitives (units costs, recoveries, prices) by calibrating your simple model to the published study (i.e. use the same parameters and make changes as needed.
Note: If you would like to get notified when new blogs are posted, then sign up on the KJK mailing list on the website.  Otherwise I post notices on LinkedIn, so follow me at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kenkuchling/.
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Rock Value Calculator – What’s My Rock Worth?

rock economic value
In my view, one of the most important things you need to understand about your orebody is the insitu rock value.  Its a key driver in shaping the project for you.
The two main nature-driven factors in the 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 tonne processed.
The ore tonnage will determine whether the cumulative profit generated all the ore will be sufficient to pay back the project’s capital investment 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 revenue dollar 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 simple cloud-based spreadsheet at this link (Rock Value Calculator).  An example screenshot is shown below.  Simply enter your own data in the yellow shaded cells and the rock values are calculated on a “$ per tonne” basis. One must zero out the values for 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 an 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 output is the dollar value of the insitu rock (in US dollars), without any recovery or payable factors being applied.
NSR Rock Value: this output 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 conventional underground operations would be much higher.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that very early on you should 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 your different ore types, the better you will be able to visualize, design, and advance your project.
Note: If you would like to get notified when new blogs are posted, then sign up on the KJK mailing list on the website.  Otherwise I post notices on LinkedIn, so follow me at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kenkuchling/.

 

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