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Exploring opportunity

June 17th, 2016

A capacity crowd attends the first annual Vancouver Commodity Forum

by Greg Klein
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A capacity crowd attends the first annual Vancouver Commodity Forum

 

“There’s excitement in the air,” said Cambridge House International founder Joe Martin. That’s the mood he senses as junior explorers emerge from the downturn. And certainly optimism was evident on June 14 as more than 450 people converged on the Vancouver Commodity Forum for an afternoon of expert talks amid a showcase of two dozen companies. Keynote speakers included Martin, Chris Berry of the Disruptive Discoveries Journal, Jon Hykawy of Stormcrow Capital, John Kaiser of Kaiser Research Online and Stephan Bogner of Rockstone Research.

A capacity crowd attends the first annual Vancouver Commodity Forum

Lithium, not surprisingly, stood out as a commodity of interest. While cautioning against over-enthusiasm for the exploration rush, Berry and Hykawy each affirmed the need for juniors to find new sources of the metal. Cobalt and scandium featured prominently too, as did other commodities including what Kaiser called “the weird metals”—lesser known stuff that’s vital to our lives but threatened with security of supply.

Kaiser also noted he was addressing a crowd larger than his last PDAC audience, another indication that “we’ve turned the corner.”

Attendees also met and mingled with company reps. Potential investors learned about a wide gamut of projects aspiring to meet a growing demand for necessities, conveniences and luxuries.

Presented by Zimtu Capital TSXV:ZC, the forum’s success will make it an annual event, said company president Dave Hodge. Berry emceed the conference, holding the unenviable task of “making sure Dave stays well-behaved.”

Read interviews with keynote speakers:

Meet the companies

Most companies were core holdings of Zimtu, a prospect generator that connects explorers with properties and also shares management, technical and financing expertise. Zimtu offers investors participation in a range of commodities and companies, including some at the pre-IPO stage.

After sampling high-grade lithium on its Hidden Lake project in the Northwest Territories earlier this month, 92 Resources TSXV:NTY plans to return in mid-July for a program of mapping, exposing spodumene-bearing pegmatite dykes, and channel sampling. The company closed the final tranche of a private placement totalling $318,836 in April. Hidden Lake’s located near Highway 4, about 40 kilometres from Yellowknife and within the Yellowknife Pegmatite Belt.

With one of the Athabasca Basin’s largest and most prospective exploration portfolios, ALX Uranium TSXV:AL has a number of projects competing for flagship status. Among them is Hook-Carter, which covers extensions of three known conductive trends, one of them hosting the sensational discoveries of Fission Uranium TSX:FCU and NexGen Energy TSXV:NXE. ALX’s strategic partnership with Holystone Energy allows that company to invest up to $750,000 in ALX and retain the right to maintain its ownership level for three years. ALX closed a private placement first tranche of $255,000 last month, amid this year’s busy news flow from a number of the company’s active projects.

A capacity crowd attends the first annual Vancouver Commodity Forum

Arctic Star Exploration TSXV:ADD boasts one of northern Canada’s largest 100%-held diamond exploration portfolios. Among the properties are the drill-ready Stein project in Nunavut and others in the Lac de Gras region that’s the world’s third-largest diamond producer by value. North Arrow Minerals TSXV:NAR holds an option to earn up to 55% of Arctic Star’s Redemption property.

Aurvista Gold TSXV:AVA considers its Douay property one of Quebec’s largest and last undeveloped gold projects. The Abitibi property has resources totalling 238,400 ounces of gold indicated and 2.75 million ounces inferred. Now, with $1.1 million raised last month, the company hopes to increase those numbers through a summer program including 4,000 metres of drilling. Douay’s 2014 PEA used a 5% discount rate to forecast a post-tax NPV of $16.6 million and a post-tax IRR of 40%.

Looking for lithium in Nevada, Belmont Resources TSXV:BEA now has a geophysics crew en route to its Kibby Basin property, which the company believes could potentially host lithium-bearing brines in a similar geological setting to the Clayton Valley, about 65 kilometres south. Results from the gravity survey will help identify targets for direct push drilling and sampling.

A mineral perhaps overlooked in the effort to supply green technologies, zeolite has several environmental applications. Canadian Zeolite TSXV:CNZ holds two projects in southern British Columbia, Sun Group and Bromley Creek, the latter an active quarrying operation.

With a high-grade, near-surface rare earths deposit hosted in minerals that have proven processing, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE takes its Ashram project in Quebec towards pre-feasibility. The relatively straightforward mineralogy contributes to steady progress in metallurgical studies. Commerce also holds southeastern B.C.’s Blue River tantalum-niobium deposit, which reached PEA in 2011 and a resource update in 2013.

Permitted for construction following a 2014 PEA, Copper North Mining’s (TSXV:COL) Carmacks copper-gold-silver project now undergoes revised PEA studies. The agenda calls for improved economics by creating a new leach and development plan for the south-central Yukon property. In central B.C. the company holds the Thor exploration property, 20 kilometres south of the historic Kemess mine.

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Potash in perspective

February 21st, 2014

The long-term outlook and an advanced-stage project bring Asian interest to Western Potash

by Greg Klein

The long-term outlook and an advanced-stage project bring Asian interest to Western Potash

As the world’s population grows, arable land shrinks, causing greater demand for fertilizer.

 

It’s an opportunity best characterized as “a marathon, not a sprint.” That’s how Western Potash TSX:WPX VP of corporate development John Costigan refers to his company’s Milestone project. The high-grade potash solution mine proposed for southern Saskatchewan achieved full feasibility in December 2012 and final environmental approval last April. Then came tumultuous times, with what Costigan calls the “Russian-Belarusian debacle” that took down the commodity’s price. Now, with solid Asian investment and indications of a market revival, the advanced-stage project might be seen as an early-stage opportunity emerging anew.

Understandably, enthusiasm for potash plunged with the price following Uralkali’s breakup with cartel partner Belaruskali last summer. Late last year, however, JP Morgan pronounced a more optimistic outlook for 2014. By January analysts were saying prices might have bottomed in the Chinese contracts signed by Uralkali and Canpotex, the marketing arm of PotashCorp TSX:POT, Agrium TSX:AGU and Mosaic NYE:MOS.

More recent news suggests funding’s picking up. On February 18 Verde Potash TSX:NPK reported significant progress in its application for US$105 million in loans, grants and investment from the Brazilian government for the company’s Cerrado Verde project. Six days earlier came news that fertilizer giant ICL was buying a $25-million stake in Allana Potash TSX:AAA, with potential up to $84 million, along with an offtake agreement for the company’s Danakhil project in Ethiopia. Last June Western got a $31.98-million cash injection from a Chinese joint venture.

The attraction was the full-feas, fully permitted Milestone. The operation calls for solution mining, in which water is pumped into underground caverns and then retrieved as potash-rich brine. A relatively simple but highly effective technique, solution mining would allow Western to build the greenfield operation in about 40 months.

The long-term outlook and an advanced-stage project bring Asian interest to Western Potash

Just 60 kilometres away the same approach is being taken by the giant K+S Group. Now under construction, the Legacy project is scheduled to begin potash solution mining in 2016.

Milestone benefits from Saskatchewan’s mining-friendly policies and rich infrastructure. Two continental railways pass through the 35,400-hectare property, as do roads, power and gas lines. An agreement with the city of Regina, 30 kilometres away, provides a supply of treated waste water to extract the potash—enough water, in fact, to flush out 2.8 million tonnes per year for the mine’s projected 40-year life.

Those benefits have already attracted a $31.98-million investment from CBC (Canada) Holding Corp, a JV comprised of fertilizer producer China BlueChemical and Benewood Holdings, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong investment firm Guoxin International Investment Corp. The deal comes with a 20-year offtake agreement for the lesser of 30% of Milestone’s production or a million tonnes a year.

With a 19.9% stake in Western, CBCHC plays an active role in the strategic alliance. One China BlueChemical appointee serves on Western’s board and another acts as an observer. The alliance has struck two six-person committees, one to study Milestone’s technical, construction and procurement details and another to recommend financing strategies, meet potential financiers and evaluate proposals.

The alliance brings technical synergies. It also offers potential financial flexibility that could help the junior put together the $2.91-billion capex—a considerable sum but substantially less than K+S is spending 60 kilometres away. One possible Milestone scenario could involve Chinese investment banks which, Costigan points out, can structure finance agreements with a 3:1 debt-to-equity ratio. With one or more additional partners, Western could make the transition to a potash producer.

The company already has mining expertise, most notably with project director Richard Lock. In fact his career has been based on projects much more challenging than a southern Saskatchewan solution mine. While with Rio Tinto NYE:RIO, Lock took the Northwest Territories’ Diavik diamond mine from exploration to production. Among other accomplishments, he also acted as project director for Arizona’s Resolution project, now in pre-feasibility and potentially North America’s largest copper mine.

As for potential partners, discussions have picked up, Costigan says. “There’s renewed interest now. People think the market has settled. If we see prices rise, there’ll be even greater interest.”

The commodity’s long-term fundamentals remain strong, he says. Nothing’s stopping population growth. Meanwhile the global decline of arable land calls for ever-higher crop yields.

“Look at the growth in Chinese potash consumption—it’s definitely why our partners came in,” Costigan says. “They recognize they’re going to see big increases in their consumption. China’s ramping up their domestic supplies, they’re in Thailand, Africa, Kazakhstan. But when you look at the projects out there, there’s nothing that compares with Milestone for volume, quality, cost, location, infrastructure and political stability. There’s nothing that compares globally.”