Q2 2019 Earnings Conference CallSeptember 16, 2019
Stuart McDonald, President
Good morning everyone. Thanks for dialing into our second quarter earnings call. We have changed the format slightly this time. I will start with a review of the second quarter activity and also give an update on our financing progress at Florence. Bryce will then review the Q2 financials in more detail and Russ will wrap-up and talk about the bigger picture and our strategy going forward.
Operationally we had a solid performance at Gibraltar this quarter, producing just under 35 million pounds of copper. Average head grade was 0.256%, a notch below our life of mine average grade. Mill throughput was right around the design capacity of 85,000 tons a day and recoveries were a bright spot at 87% which is slightly better than normal. But overall at 35 million pounds of quarterly production, we are back to where we should be in terms of average production rates.
We were coming off two lower-grade quarters and if you look back over the last few years, we have had some quarterly ups and downs in terms of production, but that variability always evens-out over time and our annual production has been fairly stable. For the second half of this year, we see fairly stable production rates and we are reiterating our annual production guidance of 130 million pounds plus or minus 5%.
Second quarter earnings from mine operations were C$19 million and adjusted EBITDA was C$15 million. The Gibraltar mine continues to generate positive cash flow, which is funding the rest of our business.
Our financial results were certainly impacted by the decline in copper prices, but a lot of that impact is being offset by improved moly-production and moly revenues are significantly higher than they were a year ago. The price remains in the US$12 per pound range and so we expect good by-product credit going forward.
On the cost side, we continue to have fairly consistent spending levels at the mine site, although with some variability depending on mining rates and timing of maintenance activities.
Site operating costs net of by-product were US$1.71 per pound, which is 10% lower than the prior quarter. Quarterly changes in our cost per pound continued to be driven by copper production and also our capital strip allocation.
This quarter, we capitalized a smaller amount of stripping cost. If you remember, we had a lot of capital strip in 2017 and 2018 for the new Granite pushback, but we are now into that ore and we will mine out Granite pit over the next year or so. That brings some accounting implications in terms of amortization of the previously capitalized amounts and we saw that this quarter with higher depreciation expense, which affected earnings by about C$0.04 per share. Bryce can talk more about that in a minute.
The lower copper prices were certainly affecting our margins in recent months and we face the same situation, as many of our peers. But we continue to believe that current prices are not sustainable and sooner or later the supply-demand fundamentals will take over and move prices higher. We just need to continue running our operation well managing our balance sheet properly to see those better times.
Adding a second operation and one with low operating costs, continues to be a priority and in that respect we made good progress at Florence this quarter. In April, we produced first copper from the Production Test Facility. And in June, we announced that leach solutions being recovered from the wellfield had reached commercial grades. So the test facility is going well and the experience we are gaining will be valuable, as we move to the commercial scale operations.
Project permitting is advancing as expected, as a reminder, the project is located on privately owned fee simple land and also state land. We need two key permit amendments to move from our current PTF operation to the full scale commercial operation – one from the ADEQ and another from the federal EPA. Given the performance of the PTF wellfield to-date, we don’t anticipate any issues in permitting
the commercial scale facility. We are also in active dialogue with town of Florence. We had an important legal ruling there in January and believe we are very close to putting those issues behind us and moving forward in a constructive way.
I wanted to now take a minute and provide some further color on our financing plans at Florence. First-off, I think, it is important to note that we are aiming to fully fund the project prior to the start of construction. We are targeting to raise in a range of US$200 million of new capital. A key aspect of that will be debt financing. Based on our initial discussions with lenders, we see a high level of interest and we expect to be able to raise up to approximately US$125 million. Our expectation is that will be project-level debt secured by the Florence Project, but with no additional security granted on Gibraltar.
Florence is a project with very strong economics in a good jurisdiction. We will produce pure copper cathode on site and in terms of mining, it is actually a very green project with low impact in terms of surface disturbance, energy consumption and carbon emission. We know ESG is a big focus in the investment community and that aspect actually may also help us in terms of lender interest as well.
The second aspect of our financing strategy is partnering. As we have noted in the past, if we can get the right type of deal, with the right partner, we’d be prepared to sell a minority stake in the project. Something in the range of 10% to 20% potentially. We are advancing discussions on that front and there is a good level of interest from potential JV partners. With investment funds potentially coming in after permitting and with the technical side de-risked, we should be able to attract a good valuation.
Keep in mind, the NPV value of a 20% interest would be US$150 million, based on our Feasibility Study. So this could be a significant part of our overall funding package.
The third financing track that we are working on is royalties and metal streams. Florence will be a low-cost producer with a US$1.10 per pound operating cost. So it’s a high-margin project with a lot of capacity for additional royalties and streams.
We’re advancing discussions with several parties on that front and there is strong interest for a copper stream or royalty – for both Florence and Gibraltar. We are reviewing our options there and we may do something this year in advance of the full project finance package. That would bolster our cash position and be a first step towards the construction funding for Florence.
So overall, between debt, partnering and royalties, we think we are very well positioned with respect to Florence financing, and confident that we will have the funding ready for when we receive permits in the first half next year. It will be a matter of finding the right balance between the different alternatives and getting the best deal we can for the Company.
And in terms of our liquidity for this year, we are still working on restructuring of our Gibraltar reclamation bonding. You can see on our balance sheet, we have about C$37 million of cash tied up for reclamation bonding within the Gibraltar JV. We are working on a surety bond transaction, which would release that out of JV and allow it to be used for general working capital purposes at the Taseko level.
So if we are successful with that initiative and a potential royalty transaction, we could end the year with well over C$100 million of cash on our balance sheet.
Engineering work continues on our Yellowhead copper project, which we acquired earlier this year. We are now re-engineering the project, and have commenced discussions with local First Nations and regulators. The work that’s been done so far is very encouraging. When you benchmark Yellowhead against other recent transactions under the copper projects that are being sanctioned, you can see the value. And Russ will talk more about that in a minute. In the meantime, we continue to move the
project forward for a very low cash outlay – around C$1 million this year.
We understand the market is focused on quarterly EBITDA and Gibraltar production, and rightly so, and that is important for us as well. But we also have a great portfolio of development projects that isn’t being given value in the capital markets. Recent transactions have shown that long-life copper projects in good jurisdictions are very valuable assets and we have four of them. We will continue moving forward within our means to unlock that value.
I would like to now hand the call over to our CFO, Bryce Hamming. Bryce joined Taseko about a year ago now and he’s been a valuable addition to our senior management team. He brings 20 years of broad experience in banking, corporate finance, tax and accounting. He was appointed CFO in June this year, so this is his first quarter in the role. So over to you Bryce.
Bryce Hamming, CFO
Thanks, Stuart. Good morning. I would like to cover in further detail of the second quarter financial results that were released yesterday. We reported earnings from mining operations before depletion and amortization of C$18.6 million on a quarterly basis, bringing our year-to-date earnings to C$34.4 million.
Earnings from mine operations were impacted by two main factors in the quarter. First, the copper price decreased to a realized price of US$2.69 per pound, a notable 14% decrease from the same quarter last year, when it was at a realized price of US$13 or C$3.13 per pound. Second, we capitalized only C$2 million of mining costs for capitalized stripping in the quarter, compared to C$7.7 million in the same quarter last year. In the current quarter, ended June 30th, we also began to recognize higher levels of depreciation of previously capitalized stripping cost for the Granite pit, as we transition to more ore mining in this pit. This resulted in C$30 million of depreciation expense in the quarter, an increase of C$10 million or C$0.04 per share compared to C$20 million in Q1 and C$18 million in Q2 of 2018. This greater depreciation expense of approximately CAD30 million per quarter is expected to continue over the next year.
Revenue in the quarter was C$86.5 million, a 23% increase over the first quarter, primarily due to the increased copper production to 35 million pounds on a 100% basis that was noted by Stuart. On a year-to-date basis, revenue is C$157 million and overall in-line with the first half of 2018 which saw C$158 million in revenue.
Realized copper prices were US$0.28 per pound less in the first half of 2019 compared to last year. This this was offset by both a weaker Canadian dollar and increases in moly revenue due to higher moly production. 708,000 pounds of moly sold compared to only 424,000 pounds in Q2 last year and moly prices prevailing over US$12 this quarter.
Cash from operating activities was C$11.1 million for the quarter and C$18.3 million on a year-to-date basis. Operating cash flow continues to fund our capital expenditures at Gibraltar and Florence copper and also contributed to our improved cash position, which ended the quarter at C$42 million, up C$7 million from the end of Q1.
Our copper concentrate inventory was 5.5 million pounds at the end of June which was higher than normal and typically in the 2 million pounds to 3 million pounds range.
As in Q1, we had a further unrealized foreign exchange gain on our US dollar-denominated debt of C$6.3 million in Q2 or C$12.9 million on a year-to-date basis due to closing rates at the quarter end compared to December 31st, despite the overall weakening trend of the Canadian dollar.
GAAP net loss for the period was C$11 million and after adjustments for the unrealized foreign exchange and derivative gains, we’re reporting an adjusted net loss of C$17.5 million or C$0.07 per share.
We also continue to optimize our borrowings against our equipment fleet at Gibraltar. In particular, we executed refinancings on equipment with finance banks at attractive rates and tenures between four years to five years, beyond the maturity of our bonds. Net proceeds from both transactions totaled C$22.2 million for Taseko’s 75% share and assisted with financing the semiannual interest payment of C$14 million on our bonds which is paid in mid-June. We continue to work on this equipment refinancing initiative on Gibraltar’s remaining equipment, given that it is covenant light and some of our lowest cost of capital.
We also continued to make progress on releasing the restricted cash and the reclamation deposits on our balance sheet into working capital. As at June 30, the total amount we are looking to restructure and make available is C$37 million as noted by Stuart. This initiative will substitute cash held in trust and backing letters of credit held by the BC government, with alternative forms of security that is more cost effective to us.
With copper production expected to be stable in the last half of the year, we now expect our cash and liquidity position to significantly grow over the next few quarters, as Stuart highlighted, as we secure external finance as part of our preparation for the Florence project commercial scale capital program.
I will now turn it over to Russ.
Russell Hallbauer, Chief Executive Officer and Director
Thank you, Bryce. Good morning, everyone. Thanks everybody for being here in the middle of a long hot summer, we appreciate your attendance.
I know, most of the folks on the call today are focused on how Gibraltar is performing – and that’s important. But generally speaking, Gibraltar has been very consistent with respect to cost and production for the last 4-5 years and really it’s true economic impact for the company is when copper prices take a run up by 10%, 20%, 30% then the financial returns really accelerate. And as the pundits say, and a lot of analysts, that time will come again soon, we believe in the not too distant future.
In the interim, however, our management team is really focusing on how we grow our business, executing our strategic plan and creating increased value for our shareholders in difficult times.
So we have both short-term goals and long-term goals in that respect.
- Short-term is to ensure Gibraltar continues to generate cash, pay the bills and allow us to advance our projects.
- We have worked for the past decade or so to acquire reserves that would grow our reserve base with minimum shareholder dilution and use our core strengths of engineering and operations to advance those reserves towards production.
Presently, our executive and operational teams as Stuart indicated, are intensely focused on advancing Florence to production.
While we have had numerous challenges on the permitting front, not because of the environmental issues, but a result of the ability in the US, as in many jurisdictions throughout the world, to challenge permits as a result of local opposition. In our case, this has resulted in a number of legal impediments to us advancing the project as quickly as we would’ve liked. Those legal challenges were primarily not against the company per se, they have mostly been against the government agencies overseeing permitting.
Suffice to say, those are now behind us and we prevailed, and the government has prevailed in seven legal proceedings and we now have been operating the PTF for the last six months in full compliance with those permit requirements.
Moving forward, we just have to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the ADEQ, a permit amendment for the Aquifer Protection Permit and this week John and his team submitted to the EPA the amendment for the Underground Injection Control Permit. As important as those have been, we have been in discussions with the town to determine a path forward, so that any future litigation efforts will end. I believe it is ultimately in the best interest of both organizations to move forward collectively. I expect a conclusion to those discussions in the not too distant future, as Stuart indicated previously.
In conjunction with the permitting and government relations advancement, the progress by John’s operational team and our understanding of managing of leach solutions in the ore-body is actually exceeding our expectations, although it is not without its challenges. But we’re pleased with our understanding of what is going on at depth in the ore-body. Every day, we are making refinements to our understanding of the process of in-situ extraction and this work will enhance and speed up copper production when we build the commercial facility.
As Stuart indicated, he and Bryce have been diligently discussing all aspects of financing for Florence from project debt to selling the JV interest with municipalities and those are progressing very well. And we expect a plan in place by year-end.
With respect to Yellowhead, we have done a lot of engineering work on refining the mine plan, which will enhance the project economics and NPV. As well, we’re engaged with federal agencies, provincial agencies and the local communities, both regional communities and local First Nations to develop a path forward and that will present itself in the weeks ahead.
I would like to spend a minute and discuss how we view both acquisition cost of reserve and how we ascertain what we can afford to pay and how the overall economics of an operating mine will play-out.
Over six years ago, we invested C$5 million in Yellowhead. At the time, the market cap was roughly $70 million, down from its peak of C$120 million which was probably driven primarily by copper price in those days. We took our position and waited to see what would unfold and once satisfied with the entry point, we moved to acquire the Company.
Ultimately, the total cost to acquire Yellowhead for Taseko was less than C$13 million. And if you take into account the tax pools, that would go against income from Gibraltar, the net cost was significantly below that C$13 million.
We acquired a 700 million tonne orebody with a feasibility study on it and has a resource of 1.3 billion tonnes. That feasibility study completed by Yellowhead showed a pretax NPV at 8% of C$684 million, and an unlevered IRR of just under 17%. Please understand, this isn’t a PEA or PFS, it’s a full-blown feasibility study.
Now simple math, what would a reserve of +3 billion of recoverable copper be worth? Recently there became a very simple metric with Teck-Sumitomo’s deal in Quebrada Blanca. In the Teck deal with Sumitomo, Sumitomo paid a variable payout between C$0.19 and C$0.23 per pound of copper in reserve. That would then allow them to spend total C$2 billion to have access to 180 million pounds of annual copper production in a project that has a 13% IRR. It shows you the dearth of large copper projects out there, as companies are prepared to accept the 13% IRR and pay those kind of dollars.
We spent less than C$0.03 per pound for acquiring the Yellowhead reserves, not C$0.19 to C$0.23.
So you can see right then we have created value. We expect to produce a comparable amount of copper out of Yellowhead. Similar to that which would flow to Sumitomo from QB, which is nominally 180 million per year for 20 years.
We expect to build the mine for the type of dollars we spent on building Gibraltar, i.e. C$10,000 per tonne of installed capacity, which is one-half the amount Sumitomo will spend where you’re talking about
Canadian dollars and they’re talking about US dollars, and we expect the cost structure will be one in the lower half of the cost curve and with an internal rate of return of over 20%.
If you take an acquisition and ultimate buildup of large mining operation, this acquisition is one of the most accretive of any projects in the world for a company of our size. You can’t drill and do a feasibility study, if indeed you have a mine or ore body or something this size, for under C$60 to C$70 million and we acquired it for C$13 million. So we are happy about that, but the market is really not recognizing the inherent value of this asset.
With regards to New Prosperity, we will be undertaking more investigative work on the property. New Prosperity is by no means dead, defending our legal rights and exercising our rights to access the property have never faltered. And I can assure everybody that New Prosperity will be a mine one day, once Taseko, the governments and First Nations figure out a path forward.
So unlike our peers, we have close to nine billion pounds of copper reserves in four advanced assets. We
have 6 million ounces of gold reserves, inside a resource of 13 million ounces, 280 million kg of recoverable niobium reserves and all these are in development stage. They will provide our future growth.
We’ve a path to growth. Most folks don’t really understand, but reserves are collateral. And when you have collateral in the ground, in the reserves you own, you can sell portions of them off, get royalties or cut metal streams or bring in partners to help development – you have a tremendous amount of flexibility. If you don’t have reserves, you don’t have much.
Our balance sheet has cash and we have access to what we require, when we require it as Bryce was alluding to. So we won’t panic. We will manage our balance sheet as we have our mining assets in a slow process keeping in mind shareholder value at all times.
We can’t do a whole lot about our equity at this time, with the trade-off in the metal markets because of the ever-changing trade dispute and issues overhanging supply-demand fundamentals with respect to copper and other metals. What we can do is take care of the things we can control over the next 12 months to 24 months.
A lot is going to happen with this company in the near future and some of it is a result of metal prices, but a lot of it with our growth profile. We have laid the foundation for long-term growth and for every passing day we move down that path.
As a side note, maybe a lot of you won’t know this, but in the big recession of 1982 and 1983, copper rose from US$0.55 to US$0.85 per pound, a 45% increase. In the great financial crisis, which everyone will remember in that period from 2008 to 2009, copper rose from US$1.20 to US$3.20 per pound, a 140% increase. The major difference in both times the world was in a major recession and there was a very large copper surplus and an oversupply. Today, if we are in a recession, the jury is still out. Copper is in deficit and there is an undersupply because very few mines have been built to just keep up with even slowing demand growth. Folks need to consider that when thinking about this business.