Lupaka Gold’s (TSX-V: LPK) Invicta Gold Project is on the brink of production, set to become Peru’s next producing gold mine.  

However, everything is not going to plan…for the better.  

What has been quietly observed is that (1) the grades are coming in higher than the PEA and (2) the company is already making plans to increase production above the PEA throughout rate of 350 tpd.  All this means higher levels of production and cash flow once the actual mining commences later this year.

Recent underground sampling of mineralization is revealing an asset that offers more than originally outlined in the company’s April 2018 Preliminary Economic Assessment (“PEA”) which gives investors additional upside for any increases in mine output, improvement of grade and additional ounces to the overall resource.

The April 2018 PEA for the Invicta Mine outlined a mineral resource of 3 million tonnes of Indicated Mineral Resources at 5.78 grams per tonne (“g/t”) gold equivalent (“AuEq”) ounces using a 3.5-g/t cut-off grade (“COG”), and 600,000 tonnes of Inferred Mineral Resources at 5.49 g/t AuEq.

Within that resource the Company has a PEA that outlines an initial 6-year mine life that will produce produce a total of 669,813 tonnes of mineralized material processing 350 tonnes per day (“tpd”) at an average grade of 8.6 g/t Au-Eq. Lupaka’s grades included estimated metallurgical recoveries, and the true grade will likely be even higher than 8.5 g/t AuEq.

Just to highlight, with an all in sustaining cost (“ASIC”) of $575 per gold ounce equivalent, Lupaka Gold will be one of the lowest cost junior producers.

  Source: AuCu Consulting, Ron Stewart (@RonStew12139302)

As part of the development work to put Invicta into production, Lupaka has been conducting channel sampling every 5 metres on all workings during development.

The results have demonstrated continuity of the high grade mineralization and additional potential that the Aetnea vein hosts.   

In March 2018, the company released preliminary sample results:

  • Sample assay values over the footwall vein averaged 9.86 g/t AuEq over 130 metres, with an average width of 6.1 metres (“m”);
  • Sample assay values over the hanging wall split averaged 7.00 g/t AuEq over 70 m, with an average width of 6 m.

In June, Lupaka released further results from a underground sampling program on the newly developed 3430 production sublevel.  

  • 9.22 g/t AuEq over a strike length of 130 m, with an average sample width of 4.2 m.

The company provided additional results in July:  

  • Channel sample assay values from across the strike of the Atenea vein, within the raise development, returned an average of 23.45 g/t AuEq over a vertical height of approximately 30 m;
  • Sampling returned significant grades such as sample number 2606E which returned 227.77 g/t AuEq over a width of 1.2 m.

In addition to the sampling, development and rehabilitation of the Invicta mine has provided ~6,500 tonnes of mineralized material from the 3400 Level and when sampled on surface returned an average grade of 7.21 g/t AuEq.  

Grade consistency is always a problem with mining. However, it is appearing that the Invicta PEA outlined a muted gold grade on a smaller area of the known mineralization which does not highlight the potential for higher grade zones and the prospectivity of the area.  

Higher grades could improve the bottom line as mining proceeds through the Aetnea vein and into the other zones around the current area of operational focus.    

Past exploration at the Invicta mine property indicates that the property has considerable potential for mineral resource expansion through exploration.   

Structural studies, geophysical and geochemical work conducted to date strongly suggest the potential for mineral resource expansion along existing mineralized structures.

Past sampling around Invicta revealed the exploration potential with many areas reporting grades greater than 6 g/t AuEq.  mine

All in all, the focus on a smaller area for the PEA and initial mine plan reveals that the company’s plan has been to bring production online with a well defined resource with the Aetnea vein through underground mining with minimal capital expenditures, rather than trying to finance and build a large scale operation off the back.

With the commencement of limited toll mining in September, and the beginning of full scale production hopefully in October, Lupaka will have the necessary cash flow to conduct exploration and prove up more ounces in the ground and significantly alter the assumptions of the April 2018 PEA to extend the life of mine.    

The next milestone is the final mining exploitation licence, which requires an inspection by the Peruvian Ministry of Mines and Energy.

The inspection will be performed before the end of October and upon receipt of the exploitation licence, the company will have the go ahead to produce at a rate of 400 tonnes per day, or 12,000 tonnes per month.

However, with the permit to operate at 400 tpd, the company could see its potential production increase by 14% from the 350 tpd production assumption outlined in the PEA, boosting the project’s cash flow.  

Currently, shares in Lupaka gold are trading near year-lows which discounts a years’ worth of work and development that has improved access to the mine, defined a PEA, divestment of non primary assets, cash flow from initial toll mining and on the cusp of full scale mining.   

The company laid out a plan to bring into production the Invicta mine with a small area of operational focus and a humble gold grade in comparison to recent sampling.  

The plan is working and it is starting to reveal that there is more to the story than initially outlined…a good thing for investors.   

*The author of this article was compensated for the creation of this article in cash. The author picked up shares in the public market, ranging from prices of 14 cents to 20 cents over the past year.     This article is meant to serve informational and marketing purposes only and not a technical report and does not constitute a buy recommendation. As always, please do your own diligence.

*The Mineral Resource Statement for the Invicta Project is tabulated to a cut-off grade of 3.0 g/t Au-Eq.  Cut-off grades are based on a price of US$1,250 per ounce of gold, US$17.00 per ounce of silver, US$3.00 per pound of copper, US$1.05 per pound of lead and US$1.20 per pound of zinc. The equivalent gold calculation assumes mill recoveries of 85 percent for gold, 80 percent for silver, 82 percent for copper and lead and 77 percent for zinc

Lupaka Gold Inc. (TSX-V: LPK) has been completing the necessary steps to achieve commercial production at its wholly-owned Invicta Gold project in Peru, located 120 km north of Lima by road.  Recently, I had the opportunity to re-visit the mine site to see how work is progressing towards production.

It is at this point in the life span of a mining company where institutional investors typically invest, and the stock price starts to move back up towards full value, which makes it a good time to invest. Lupaka Gold (TSX-V: LPK) is at this point.


Lupaka secured its necessary financing back in 2016, in order to advance the Invicta gold project through to production, marking an important inflection point for shares in Lupaka Gold (TSX-V: LPK), according to the life cycle of a junior mining share (pictured above).

With financing secured, the company has commenced construction and development work in order to commence production in the second half of 2018, resulting in potential full appreciation for its shares.   The Company’s diligence and hard work is starting to bare fruit through the following recent developments:

  • Fully funded to complete its 6 to 12-month goals, including the start of production at Invicta
  • Produced a positive PEA on the project with an initial 6 year mine plan
  • Community agreement in place
  • Commencement of roadwork to mine site
  • Building out the in-country team with the appointment of Dan Kivari, P.Eng., as Director of Operations
  • Mine rehabilitation and construction
  • Ongoing sampling and surveying

The financing secured in 2016 was through Pandion Finance for a total of $7 million (U.S.), available to the Company in three tranches, all of which have now been drawn.   This forward gold sale agreement is repayable to Pandion by delivering a total of 22,680 ounces of gold over 45 months.

Pandion plays a partnership role in development by receiving payment in gold from the actual mine rather than by way of equity or traditional debt structures. It also does not dilute shareholders as would with a financing in the market.

With money in place, now begins the real work.

On March 1, 2018, Lupaka issued a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) which outlined low capital expenditures, an initial mining scenario of 350 tonnes per day (tpd), and a very quick payback and path to cash flow. The strategy is to commence mining in an area close to existing infrastructure and focus on a small portion of the resources within the Aetnea vein. While the current Environmental Impact Assessment allows for up to 1,000 tpd, Lupaka’s approach is to start small and gradually increase production over the next few years.

The PEA boasts all-in sustaining costs of $575 per gold ounce equivalent (“AuEq oz”) over an initial six-year mine life and an average annual pre-tax operating profit of $12.3-million ($1300 gold assumption), very attractive economics at current metal prices.  There is no need to state the Internal Rate of Return (“IRR”) as it produces meaningful cash flows within the first year.

The updated mineral resource (part of the PEA) outlines 3.0 million tonnes (“Mt”) of Indicated Mineral resources at 5.78 grams per tonne (“gpt”) AuEq oz using a 3.5-gram-per-tonne cut-off, and 0.6 Mt of inferred mineral resources at 5.49 gpt AuEq oz.  The initial six-year mine plan is designed on only a portion of the mineral resource (~0.6Mt at an average head grade of 8.58 gpt AuEq, incorporates existing infrastructure which minimizes capital start-up costs.

The company now has over 24 years of tonnage, in terms of Indicated Mineral resources, mining at the 350 tpd, however management’s goal would be to increase production towards the EIA level of 1,000 tpd, which would increase production from 33,700 AuEq oz/yr up to closer to 100,000 AuEq oz/yr.

At the main portal, the company recently announced sample assay values over the footwall vein averaged 9.86 gpt AuEq over a strike length of 130 metres, with an average width of 6.1 metres.  The average sampled grades are in-line, or higher, than grades within the mine plan, based on the PEA. With a combined average width of over 12 metres, the sub-vertical Invicta deposit extends for over 130 metres in strike length on the 3400 level and will be immediately accessible for extraction when the Invicta mine becomes operational in the second half of 2018.

The start small approach also allows the Company to reinvest into exploration in surrounding areas, in order to gain confidence to increase the mine plan, and to prove up new resources to potentially extend production for years to come.


The Invicta mine site is well situated with access to local infrastructure. There is an existing 66 kV transmission line within 29 km of the Invicta property. Additionally, S.N. Power Peru S.A. has a 220-kV electrical transmission line under construction that could provide a backup power source to the 66-kV line. The mine contractor may even choose to supply their own power.

Lupaka has been granted a water use permit from the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture. Surface rights have been attained, a well has been constructed, and testing studies have concluded it can supply water up to 60 liters per second during the dry season, which should be sufficient supply for an onsite mill in the future.

As part of the agreement that was completed with the community of Lacsanga in July/2017, Lupaka was to undertake and complete certain improvements to the roads, including widening and creation of bypasses around the communities.   The company signed a contract with local operators to expand, enhance and modify 27 kilometres of road commencing from the paved Huacho-Churin-Oyon Highway, located at approximately 1,500 metres above sea level, up to the Invicta project located at approximately 3,500 metres above sea level.


This new road will provide access to Invicta for heavy machinery and trucks that can transport large loads of material, reduce travel time, significantly increase safety and minimize the operational impact on local communities.  The road will be widened from four metres up to six metres, and a safety berm will be created.

Work is ongoing to ensure that 30-tonne trucks can operate safely and efficiently using North American standards. This involves proper safety berms, passing stations, water drainage, widening hard rock areas using explosives and community by-passes routes.

There is a camp to house workers on site that was built by previous operators. It currently can house about 60 to 70 people, but it is already looking like they will have to expand the camp to accommodate a growing team.

Lupaka announced that development would begin with rehabilitation, preparation at Invicta with three crews, a new adit and 3430 level to be constructed. The Invicta project has approximately of 1.2 kilometres of existing adits, cross-cuts and underground workings.

As you can see below, the cross cut at the 3430 level is in the process of rehabilitation and construction.  Over the past few months, work has been advancing to the point the cross cut has approached the main vein wall.  Two 4.2-yard PLH Scoops have arrived on site along with a single boom jumbo drill in preparation of accelerated development and stope preparation.

At the lead of operations on site is recently appointed Dan Kivari, P.Eng. (picture in the centre above).  He has more than 30 years of international experience in metallurgy, engineering and management of mineral projects throughout various stages of development. Most recently, Mr. Kivari held the position of chief operating officer at Stellar Mining Corp., a privately held mining company in Peru.

Mr. Kivari’s previous work experience includes several senior operating roles such as regional manager for Agnico Eagle Ltd.’s Western and Nunavut operations, where he was responsible for the development of the Meadowbank gold project, and vice-president of operations with Yamana Gold (TSX: YRI) overseeing the development of the Chapada copper-gold project.  Throughout this experience, he has picked up the skills necessary to build a team for the Invicta Project.

There is still plenty of work to be done to meet the company’s goal to de-risk and evaluate the suitability of a plant by the second half of 2018.  New bulk samples need to be extracted and sent to toll milling facilities to test and optimize metallurgical recoveries and concentrate quality.

A previous run-of-mine bulk test in February 2016 achieved good recoveries in concentrate streams — returning 87.5% gold, 91.2% silver, 91.5% copper, 90.03% lead and 90.1% zinc.   The sample was a blend of approximately 80% run-of-mine material and 20% from a low-grade stockpile derived from development.

Looking forward, the company and the geology suggests that there is plenty more to be mined and there is the potential for the construction of a mill which would further reduce the company’s costs and improve any future valuation of the Invicta mine.

From six months ago, the Invicta Gold project is now a completely different scene. Today the roads have and continue to be widened (making them safe), staff and operating equipment is on site and the newly created 3430 Level cross cut has hit the main zone of mineralization.

From an investors perspective, mines moving to production present the greatest investment opportunity because each advancement the company makes de-risks the project and it becomes a question of the operating team to achieve goals on budget and proving the business model works.  Lupaka is at this stage and its shares present an opportunity right now.

The hard work is underway at Invicta and the team is already in place to bring it into production, just in time for improving metal prices and the renewed interest in gold.  The company appears to be well positioned to bring the project online during the second half of 2018 and meet its objective of becoming cash flow positive in its inaugural year.

Investors can look forward to the following positive catalysts:

  • Bulk sample results from prospective toll mill facilities
  • Toll milling agreement
  • Offtake agreement
  • Exploration plans and results
  • Obtaining commercial production at 350 tpd
  • Engineering and trade-off studies for building a plant onsite

With an all-in-sustaining cost of $575 per AuEq oz over initial six-year mine life, and plenty of resources not yet announced with permits in place to increase production, Lupaka Gold (TSX-V: LPK) is a company to watch.

It is at this stage where investors could see the greatest share price appreciation as the company is on task and working towards becoming a producing gold mine.

Lupaka Gold Inc. (TSX-V: LPK)

www.lupakagold.com


Canada’s North is a mysterious and forbidding land. There are stories of European explorers disappearing without a trace and place names such as Deadman’s Island. Native legends from the original occupants – not to mention strangely colourful lights that often dance across the night sky – add to the intrigue. I saw the Northern Lights for the first time during the site visit. The scientific explanation does little to diminish their mystique.

Sabina Gold & Silver’s Goose camp, Nunavut

Flying over the barren lands of Northwest Territories and Nunavut gave me a renewed respect for Chuck Fipke and all the other Northern pioneers who identified mineral deposits there. Between Yellowknife and Sabina Gold & Silver’s Goose camp, the plane travelled over hundreds of kilometres of waterlogged tundra with nary an interruption. Then, rather suddenly, an open-pit diamond mine – a mineralized pin prick in a pin cushion measuring millions of square kilometres. The diamond mine was Diavik; Ekati is nearby.

This is about as far from “civilization” as it’s possible to get. For perspective, driving from Billings, Montana to Edmonton, Alberta, a major Canadian northern outpost, takes about 11 hours – roughly akin to driving from Durango to Los Angeles. It takes another 15 hours to drive from Edmonton to Yellowknife — the equivalent of travelling from Los Angeles to Portland. Sabina’s Back River project is a further 520 kilometres beyond Yellowknife, to the northeast.

As for Sabina, the main mystery on the company’s vast Back River property may be just how many high-grade ounces are buried under the Arctic tundra. It’s a puzzle this summer’s drill program should go some way to solving. A single early result from the 10,000-metre summer exploration program was promising. The first drill hole, 17GSE516B – released the morning I flew into Yellowknife en route to the site visit – intercepted 9.48 g/t gold over 38.55 metres in a down-plunge extension of the Llama deposit. Not bad for a 460-metre step-out hole.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Our plane of analysts landed at the Goose camp on a high-quality air strip made from gravel produced on-site. The camp gets its name from adjacent Goose Lake, which serves as the winter landing strip for 737s that come in laden with fuel. The well-run camp felt more like a mining operation than an exploration camp.

Inside, we were briefed on the objectives of the summer drill program and the path forward by CEO Bruce McLeod, VP Exploration Angus Campbell and Exploration Manager Jamex Maxwell. The broad outlines of the mine were established by the initial project 3,000-tonnes-per-day Feasibility Study (3KFS) McLeod commissioned when he took over in February 2015. At US$1,150/oz gold, C0.80 exchange and a 5% discount rate, the FS showed:

  • 240,000 oz annually for first 8 years, about 200,000 oz for 12-year life of mine;
  • $415 million initial capex, $185M sustaining capex;
  • 6.3 g/t Au average head grade, 93% recovery;
  • life-of-mine, all-in cash costs of US$763/oz (incl initial & sustaining capex & closure costs)

VP Ex Campbell spoke about uber-high-grade exploration upside (more on that later), while derisking was the major theme for McLeod: “We can’t afford to make mistakes in this part of the world.” Sabina has spent about $5.5 million on basic engineering since the completion of the Feasibility Study, he said, and is now into detailed engineering.

The CEO describes the Back River project as a straightforward mine in a complex environment. From a geotechnical perspective, McLeod says Back River is probably the simplest project he’s been involved with. His assertion was confirmed by a visit to the nearby mill site, the helicopters landing on flat bedrock terrain. One of the benefits of a vast property is the ability to choose exactly where the mill will be. Standing on the flat terrain of scrub and bedrock, with a 360-degree panorama view, it was easy to visualize a mine taking shape.

Author at the site of proposed Goose plant

I found an analogy McLeod used in his recent presentation at the Beaver Creek precious metals summit useful: “To a layperson, a feasibility is a concept, basic engineering is a plan and detailed engineering is a blueprint.” As Sabina constructs the blueprint, the focus is on investing upfront to avoid problems down the road. During the site visit, McLeod talked about his love for technology and some of the high-tech toys at his house, which he said “has lots of gizmos and bells and whistles and shit that breaks down all the time. It won’t happen here.”

It’s not typical CEO bluster: McLeod has already built a mine in Canada’s North. That was Capstone’s Minto copper mine in the Yukon, built by Sherwood Copper and the first hard-rock mine constructed in the territory in a decade. Sherwood was founded and run by McLeod and later bought by Capstone for $244 million. Minto was built on time and under budget – no small feat in Canada’s North.

CEO Bruce McLeod talks the nuts and bolts of a mining operation at Back River.

Recent problems experienced by Nunavut neighbour TMAC Resources (TMR-T) at its recently opened Hope Bay gold mine illustrate the importance of “doing it right the first time.” TMAC recently slashed its annual guidance in half – from 100,000 to 120,000 ounces of gold to 50,000 to 60,000 ounces – due to processing issues and recovery problems. Sabina is paying close attention to metallurgy and a potential processing change from whole ore leach to flotation is one of the optimizations Sabina is studying.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Some background on Back River: Sabina Silver became Sabina Gold & Silver with its 2009 purchase of the high-grade gold project from Dundee Precious Metals (DPM-T). Prior to that, the flagship was the silver-rich Hackett River VMS deposit 45 kilometres to the west, which Sabina sold to Xstrata (now Glencore) in 2011 for $50 million cash and a significant silver royalty. That transaction put Sabina into the rare category of well-funded junior, where it remains. More on the silver royalty later.

Sabina has since added about 5 million ounces, bringing the Back River resource to 7.2 million ounces in all categories. Most of the added ounces were drilled in the first two years, followed by a lull in drilling during the 2011-16 bear market. The most recent drill program has taken the number of metres drilled above 500,000.

The scale of the core-cutting facility at Goose is an indication of the size of previous programs. It can comfortably handle 85,000 metres in a single season, so is not stretched at 10,000 metres, McLeod noted. It may seem like a minor detail, but is another box ticked for any major that buys the district-scale project (Goldcorp, for example, is carrying out an aggressive exploration drill program at Coffee).

The Back River project is a banded iron formation project that consists of 10 high-grade gold deposits on Sabina’s 53,000-hectare properties. It’s an 80-kilometre district. Llama is one of four deposits at the main Goose project area, the focus of the 3KFS that McLeod commissioned. (An earlier FS modelled a 6,000tpd operation producing 350,000 oz over a 10-year mine life.) Three of the four Goose deposits are part of the 3KFS: Goose main pit, Umwelt open pit and underground and the Llama open pit. The Llama underground, including hole 17GSE516B, is not.

ECONOMICS OF EXPLORATION

One of the objectives of Sabina’s drilling is to determine if there are enough high-grade ounces underground to define a “treasure box” that could be mined up front. If the company is successful, that would involve shifting sustaining capex into the front end of the mine plan. But it could significantly improve already strong project economics, especially at the front end of the mine life. An increase of just 500 tonnes per day – to 3,500tpd – could vault Sabina into 300,000 oz/year territory.

Angus Campbell, Sabina’s VP Exploration, shed some light on how rich some of the exploration potential is on Sabina’s ground. Being the guy in charge of running exploration programs in a gold-rich 80-kilometre belt must have a kid-in-a-candy-store feel to it. But with McLeod in charge of the candy allocation, Campbell’s targets must be chosen wisely and justified. Despite 500 kilometres of drilling, there remain multiple opportunities for resource expansion, both at existing deposits and at deposits not included in either Feasibility Study.

Consider Sabina’s George deposits, about 50 kilometres away from Goose. George hosts about 2.1 million gold ounces included in the 6KFS but NOT in the 3KFS. Drilling there in the 1980s, outside the resource envelope, also hit several wide, shallow intersections of 6 and 7 g/t Au, McLeod said – rich ore by any standard. Sabina geologists were puzzled why these near-surface intercepts were not followed up at the time.

The answer, from people directly involved in the drill programs: the predecessor company was looking for higher Lupin-like grades of 9 and 10 g/t material. The nearby Lupin mine produced about 3.35 million ounces of gold between 1982 and 2004 at an average head grade of 9.27 g/t.

Under the 6,000tpd plan, George ore was slated to be trucked to the mill at Goose. But McLeod believes George is destined to become a second standalone mine once Goose is put into production. It’s a strategy both Agnico Eagle (Amaruq) and TMAC Resources (Boston) are following with their multi-deposit Nunavut gold districts.

EXPLORING A VAULT

The greatest upside potential, however, is probably where Sabina is drilling now – at the Llama extension and the Umwelt Vault zone. Particularly the latter. Vault assays are outstanding from the summer drill program, which included about 4,000 metres of Vault drilling. A spring hole there hinted at the richness, returning 16.86 g/t gold over 13.5 metres, including 27.11 g/t over 7.95 metres.

The Vault targeting is follow-up from rich 2011-12 intercepts, including 17 metres of 49.24 g/t Au. For perspective, that grade is roughly equal to GT Gold’s (GTT-V) recent intercept that helped send that Golden Triangle focused play to a $200 million market cap briefly (Sabina’s market cap is $517 million. Except Sabina’s 2012 hole was 17 metres, compared to 6.95 metres for GTT. I asked VP Ex Angus Campbell why the rich hits weren’t followed up on at the time – he said the focus then was on building open-pit ounces.

On the infrastructure and development front, Sabina plans to truck supplies to the mine via a 157-km winter road built every year at a cost of $8 million. The CEO described it as a “fairly simple” road, logistically. Sabina will have about 45 days to truck supplies from the marine laydown area, in southern Bathurst Inlet, to the Goose camp.

Sabina is not banking on it, but a Northern road plan that has been decades in the making could also intervene to lower costs for the project. That’s the Grays Bay port and road initiative, a plan for an all-season 230-km road from a deep-water Arctic port that connects to the Yellowknife winter road. With the buy-in of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, which also strongly supports Back River, this iteration of the plan looks closer to reality than it has for some time. The road would be closer to the George deposit than Goose, but could result in significant savings.

THE PATH FORWARD

Resource Opportunities initiated coverage on Sabina Gold & Silver on May 18, 2015, during the bear market. The catalyst for coverage was McLeod’s hiring. When I met him and Sabina’s VP Communications Nicole Hoeller in a Vancouver coffee shop, McLeod gave me a taste of his tenacity: “My philosophy is like the Italian rule of driving: you rip the rear-view mirror off, put your foot on the gas and it doesn’t really matter what’s behind you but you’re moving forward … You’re not going to let your foot off the gas.” The line implies recklessness, but it’s more about a single-minded focus on advancing projects.

McLeod could not have foreseen the dark days of summer 2016, but the philosophy served him well during that period. That’s when the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) recommended to the federal government the rejection of the Back River project as currently constituted, despite widespread Inuit and community support. The reasons given were concern over caribou and climate change implications. Ottawa flipped the tables, rejecting the NIRB’s conclusions and ordering the regulatory agency to re-examine its findings. That resulted in a positive recommendation. A final ruling from the federal government is expected before year-end.

The number of high-quality gold discoveries in recent years has dropped along with the exploration budgets of the majors. Ore grades have steadily fallen and the miners are more reliant than ever on junior exploration companies to fill the supply gap. There are precious few district-scale, high-grade gold projects in safe jurisdictions. Sabina’s Back River fits the bill and has no fatal flaws. I expect Sabina to be acquired by a large gold mining company, at prices well above the current levels. In a rising gold price environment – not a given, a bidding war could well be the outcome.

CONCLUSIONS

I have described Sabina previously in the newsletter as a kind of triple leverage play, and it still holds true. The shares were at bear market levels of 39 cents when I initiated coverage, and Sabina had 194 million shares outstanding. Importantly, the share count has risen only 30 million since then as the stock has increased sixfold.

That’s in the rear-view mirror, of course, and the key question is what kind of upside exists from current levels. Gold is showing weakness again, following an increase through US$1,300/oz and rapid rise to $1,350. But I expect the precious metal to resume its rise in an easy-money world, and Sabina’s 7.2 million ounces make the company’s shares an ideal vehicle for exposure to gold. I have added to my position at levels above the current share price. The following factors give Sabina multibagger potential from these levels, and tremendous leverage:

1) Exploration – Drill plays have been getting much of the love in recent months. GT Gold Corp and other plays focused on British Columbia’s Golden Triangle plays have been leading the charge, but there have been others. The junior market’s enthusiasm for drill plays and ambivalence towards development plays reminds me of the Benjamin Graham quote: “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine.” Sabina’s recent drill results compare favourably with many drill plays that have added tens of millions of dollars of market cap on favourable assays. In Sabina’s case, the assays are overlain on a very high-grade, FS-stage gold project and potentially have a direct favourable impact on project economics. Votes come and go but the weight remains.

2) Takeover premium. Recent takeover premiums in the gold space have been at healthy premiums (see below). In Sabina’s case, the strength of the project means the premium should at least match the highest-ranking, Integra at about 50%. That offer came from a major (Eldorado Gold) that already owned about 13% of Integra shares. Sabina has no such partner, one of the reasons a bidding war is quite possible. Dundee Precious Metals and Sun Valley Gold are the largest shareholders, each with just above 10%. Here are the takeover premiums a few of the more recent takeovers. The premium to the last close is first, followed by the premium to the 20-day volume-weighted average share price:

  • Eldorado – Integra Gold ($590 million): 46%, 52% (gold at US$1,233/oz)
  • Kirkland Lake Gold – Newmarket Gold ($1 billion): 9.4%, 23% (US$1,318/oz)
  • Goldcorp – Kaminak Gold ($520 million): 33%, 40% (US$1,279/oz).

3) Silver royalty: Sabina retained a valuable royalty when it sold the prior flagship project, the Hackett River polymetallic deposit, to Xstrata (now Glencore). It’s a 22.5% royalty on the first 190 million ounces of silver produced, and 12.5% on the remainder. Hackett River is one of the world’s largest undeveloped VMS deposits and the main price is zinc. Zinc has soared from below US70 cents/lb in January 2016 to about $1.40 today. The royalty was previously assigned a value of $300 million by analysts, and McLeod contends it would trade at a valuation of $300-$400 million in the portfolio of a larger royalty company such as Wheaton Precious Metals or Royal Gold. The silver royalty gets little to no value in Sabina’s portfolio.

Suitors? It’s a long list. Goldcorp has telegraphed its intention to only acquire district-scale projects, and Back River fits the bill. The project is superior on almost every level – grade, size, scalability – to Kaminak’s Coffee project and Goldcorp spent $520 million to purchase that operation. This is pure speculation, but I bet B2Gold CEO Clive Johnson would also love to open a high-grade gold mine in Canada to go with operations in more exciting jurisdictions that include Mali, the Philippines and Burkina Faso.

Management is the single most important ingredient in the junior mining sector, and Sabina’s is impressive. When he took over as CEO, McLeod refocused the company, trimming some fat and beefing up insider skin in the game. Under his stewardship, Sabina has smartly increased the quality of the gold ounces while controlling the share structure. I was impressed during the site visit by both VP Ex Angus Campbell and Exploration Manager James Maxwell.

Finally, a small detail. Sometimes, they tell a tale. There was no swag on the site visit – company shirts, ball caps, pens, etc – and clearly cost considerations were front and centre for Sabina. I’ve seen lots of swag from plenty of lesser projects in my travels. As a shareholder, seeing that kind of focus on the lesser details reassured me that Sabina will pay close attention on the big details, too – such as a fair takeout price.

Sabina Gold & Silver (SBB-T)
Price
: $2.31
Shares outstanding: 224 million (243M f-d)
Treasury: $36.6 million (as of June 30, not including financing proceeds)
Market cap: $517.4 million

Disclosure: I own shares of Sabina Gold & Silver and the company paid for costs associated with the site visit. Readers are advised that the material contained herein is solely for information purposes. Readers are encouraged to conduct their own research and due diligence, and/or obtain professional advice. Nothing contained herein constitutes a representation by the publisher, nor a solicitation for the purchase or sale of securities. The information contained herein is based on sources which the publisher believes to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate, and does not purport to be a complete statement or summary of the available data. Any opinions expressed are subject to change without notice. The author and their associates are not responsible for errors or omissions. They may from time to time have a position in the securities of the companies mentioned herein, and may change their positions without notice. (Any positions will be disclosed explicitly.)

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