In a bear market that continues to take no prisoners, the junior mining landscape is scattered with companies trading for a fraction of the capital invested in their projects.
Few stand out like Sabina Gold & Silver Corp (SBB - TSX), which is developing the awesome Back River high-grade gold project in Nunavut, Canada. Somewhere between $400 and $500 million has been invested at Back River since discovery roughly 30 years ago. Approximately 400,000 metres of drilling has yielded 5.3 million ounces of gold, Measured and Indicated, and a further 1.8 million ounces Inferred at average grades of over 6 g/t gold. That makes Back River among the largest and highest-grade undeveloped gold projects in the world.
The company has felt the pain along with the rest of the sector, falling from a market capitalization of over C$1 billion in 2011 to its current ~C$77 million. But Sabina is in a much better position than most, and cheaper than its peers. Subtract Sabina’s cash balance of C$22 million (as of June 30) and you get an enterprise value of C$55 million.
In addition to a company fortified by a strong treasury, that price gets you:
- more than 7.1 million ounces of high-grade gold in all categories in a safe jurisdiction: Canada;
- an initial-project feasibility study with positive economics at current gold prices;
- about 75% of permitting completed;
- exploration upside on a vast 120,000-acre district owned 100% by Sabina, with plenty of opportunities for internal growth;
- an accomplished board and management team that has been buying Sabina shares in the public market.
Sabina CEO and mining engineer Bruce McLeod calls it “an opportunity that probably only comes around once in a person’s career.” It’s the reason he took the helm in February.
And McLeod’s career is directly relevant to the task at hand: he’s spent it building junior resource companies and creating shareholder value. He’s accomplished that both in thriving markets as well as struggling markets such as today’s.
“I cut my teeth in an environment where capital wasn’t there, where you had to make more out of less, you couldn’t rely on equity markets,” he says.
Sound familiar? So will some of McLeod’s success stories, which include mine building in Canada’s North.
He cofounded Stornoway Diamonds, which took over Ashton Mining of Canada and is now constructing the Renard diamond mine in Quebec. McLeod was also founder and executive chairman of Sherwood Copper, which built the Minto copper-gold mine in the Yukon. Construction was finished six weeks early, on budget, and Minto is still producing for Capstone Mining who bought Sherwood in 2008.
One of the first things McLeod did when he joined Sabina was commission an “initial project” feasibility study custom-built for a market with little appetite for financing a large mine. Sabina’s first FS had modelled positive economics on a 6,000-tonne-per-day operation producing 350,000 oz annually for 10 years, but the mine came with a C$695-million construction price tag.
The subsequent “initial project” feasibility study was announced on Sept. 14 and initial capex dropped to C$415 million. Using a US$1,150 gold price and a 3,000-tpd mill, the mine would produce almost 200,000 ounces annually (including 244,000 oz a year for the first 8 years) over an 11.8-year mine life. All-in sustaining cash costs came in at US$620/oz, well below the global average. Back River has a 24.2% after tax IRR using a 5% discount rate.
Sabina’s plan is to start smaller and build momentum and cash flow to keep investing and producing on the Back River belt.
“We see this as a viable path for Sabina to start production in the district that will see us mining for many years to come,” McLeod said.
Almost three-quarters of the ounces in the “initial project” FS would be pulled from 6 g/t open pits, one of the features that has McLeod most excited. Virtually all of the other undeveloped high-grade gold projects in North America use only underground mining, which can be more complicated.
“These are the highest-grade undeveloped open pits in North America,” he noted.
Sabina is about 75% of the way through permitting and McLeod says the company will end the year with about $16-17 million. That’s enough of a cash buffer to ensure Sabina can advance permitting, further de-risk the project and create value prudently -- while other juniors hunker down and wait for a higher gold price.
McLeod thinks Sabina’s positives add up to a compelling opportunity, and he’s putting his money where his mouth is. He recently participated in a directors-and-management private placement that raised $1.3 million by selling flow-through shares at 50 cents a share (that was an approximate 25% premium to the market at the time). He’s also been buying stock in the public market, as have other insiders.
“The money is made at the bottom of the cycle,” he said.
Sabina is currently being valued at approximately $6 per ounce in the ground, far below its peers, McLeod pointed out.
“In a market that is normalized, that’s $50 an ounce in the ground. In a market that is at the end of a bull market, that’s $100 to $120 an ounce,” he said. “These are profitable ounces today, at $1,150 US an ounce. There are very few assets in the world that have this quality of deposit.”
Sabina’s challenge now is to increase its share price in order to finance the equity component of the initial-project Back River gold mine. McLeod thinks Sabina may hit a sweet spot to put a mine into production. As the sector has suffered layoffs, experienced qualified people have become available. That human resource capital is vital to building mines on time and on budget, not to mention operating cost-effectively.
McLeod is determined to convey Sabina’s deep value to the investor community.
“The time is right, the asset is right, the people we have involved with this company are right,” he said. “This is a best-in-class asset.”
Note: I have been accumulating a position in Sabina in the public market this year from prices from 32 to 47 cents and they are going to sponsor an upcoming CEO.CA Summit, which makes me even more biased.
Add SBB.TO to your watch list today and talk to your investment advisor about whether a speculative position in Sabina Gold and Silver is suitable for you. Always do your own due diligence as it's your money and your responsibility.
Forward Looking Information
This publication contains "forward-looking information" within the meaning of applicable securities laws (the "forward-looking statements"), including our belief as to the extent, results and timing of the FEIS, the results of the FS, including, but not limited to, gold price, diesel price and exchange rate assumptions, cash flow forecasts, projected capital and operating costs, metal or mineral recoveries, mine life and production rates; the Company's potential plans and operating performance; the estimation of the tonnage, grades and content of deposits, and the extent of the resource and reserves estimates; potential production from and viability of the Company's properties; estimates of future production and operating costs; estimates of permitting submissions and timing, including the anticipated timing for the holding of final public hearings; the timing and receipt of necessary permits and project approvals for future operations, including the timing of the anticipated receipt of a project certificate; access to project funding; and the estimation of cash and equivalents at the end of the year. These forward-looking statements are made as of the date of this publication. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on forward-looking statements, as there can be no assurance that the future circumstances, outcomes or results anticipated in or implied by such forward-looking statements will occur or that plans, intentions or expectations upon which the forward-looking statements are based will occur. While we have based these forward-looking statements on our expectations about future events as at the date that such statements were prepared, the statements are not a guarantee that such future events will occur and are subject to risks, uncertainties, assumptions and other factors which could cause events or outcomes to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Such factors and assumptions include, among others, the ability of the Company to raise sufficient funds to implement the FS; the effects of general economic conditions; changes in commodity prices including the gold price assumed in the FS; increases in input costs; uncertainty of production and cost estimates for the project; changing foreign exchange rates; actions by government and regulatory authorities; and misjudgments in the course of preparing forward-looking statements. In addition, there are known and unknown risk factors which could cause our actual results, performance or achievements to differ materially from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. Known risk factors include risks associated with exploration and project development; the need for additional financing; the calculation of mineral resources and reserves; operational risks associated with mining and mineral processing; fluctuations in metal prices; title matters; government regulation; obtaining and renewing necessary licences and permits; environmental liability and insurance; reliance on key personnel; the potential for conflicts of interest among certain of our officers or directors; the absence of dividends; currency fluctuations; labour disputes; competition; dilution; the volatility of the our common share price and volume; future sales of shares by existing shareholders; and other risks and uncertainties, including those relating to the Back River Project and general risks associated with the mineral exploration and development industry described in our Annual Information Form, financial statements and MD&A for the fiscal period ended December 31, 2014 filed with the Canadian Securities Administrators and available at www.sedar.com. Although we have attempted to identify important factors that could cause actual actions, events or results to differ materially from those described in forward-looking statements, there may be other factors that cause actions, events or results not to be as anticipated, estimated or intended. There can be no assurance that forward-looking statements will prove to be accurate, as actual results and future events could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. Accordingly, readers should not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements. We are under no obligation to update or alter any forward-looking statements except as required under applicable securities laws. This publication has been authorized by the undersigned on behalf of Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.