Basically, some junior to intermediate base metal miners have a bunch of cash sitting around they don’t need to spend on their own projects that can only really go to one thing: new acquisitions. All miners almost always talk of being on the lookout for new assets that are, as it is so often put, “accretive to shareholders.” Yet such talk is not always matched with means by either cash, equity financing or debt. Increasingly, though, there are a number of juniors and intermediates – a couple new ones especially – that can back up their talk with cold, hard cash. Of particular note from recent quarterlies: Capstone Mining reported C$509 million in cash (and access to C$200 million in possible debt) while Nevsun Resources said it had C$379 million on hand.
More importantly, these two mountains of moola are now largely unspoken for; Nevsun and Capstone are relatively unencumbered by near term capital spends. While Nevsun is in the midst of building a copper plant as it transitions from gold production to copper production at its Bisha copper-zinc-gold mine in Eritrea, this copper plant is now mostly paid for, meaning Nevsun won’t have to cannibalize its cash to fund existing capital projects.
The unspoken-for-ness of Capstone’s cash comes as a bit of surprise. This quarter it signalled a delay in the development of its massive Santo Domingo copper project in Chile as it can’t get access to cheap power from the south of Chile until later than thought – possibly 2018 instead of the previously assumed 2016. Santo Domingo is a billion dollar-plus project – 30-percent owned by joint venture partner Korean Resources – and the assumption was that Capstone would have to save a sizeable chunk of its cash to fund the equity portion of Santo Domingo above and beyond debt financing, which Korea Resources is to arrange. But the delay has forced Capstone to reconsider. As Capstone president and CEO Darren Pylot made clear in a quarterly conference call this week, acquisitions are very much on the table now.
“M&A will become more of a focus,” he said.
You can bet both Nevsun and Capstone will soon part with all or part of their cash in making an acquisition (assuming of course they aren’t taken over or merged with something else first.) Nevsun is nebulous about its intentions but still looking with real intent. Over a year ago, just as Nevsun was ramping up Bisha and starting to spin of heady amounts of cash from early gold production, Scott Trebilcock, its vice president of business development told Mineweb, “We can’t see how we’re going to spend all the money we’re going to generate on Bisha.” He said acquisitions were top of mind for Nevsun. Yet, a big acquisition for Nevsun has yet to occur; the most it has done so far is to acquire concessions nearby to Bisha from NGEx. What an acquisition for Nevsun will look like exactly is hard to say, but Nevsun’s Cliff Davis has said in media reports that Nevsun was not only interested in Eritrean assets and that, despite early gold production, base metals were still the focus. In its latest quarterly conference call this week Nevsun was not exactly using a fine brush to depict buying habits, but Trebilcock reiterated the point that ultimately Nevsun would deploy cash on hand to build or otherwise acquire a new copper-gold operation. He said, “We’ll buy something when we see good accretive value to shareholders.”
That word again.
Capstone was more forthcoming in its quarterly conference call about what it wants, indeed what it is already considering. Capstone’s Pylot said it was after producers primarily churning out copper with production in the range of 40 million to over 100 million pounds a year. “We are looking at several assets that are currently in production,” Pylot said. Though Nevsun hasn’t said what its looking for, it’s not unreasonable to suggest it might be considering assets of similar type and size.
And of course Nevsun and Capstone are not the only mid-sized miners that might be shopping in the base metal sector for mid-sized assets. For instance, I recently noted Lundin Mining was on the lookout for zinc and copper mines producing between 30,000 to 70,000 tonnes metal a year (roughly between 60 million to 150 million pounds in production). Indeed, Nevsun and Capstone were on the list of potential candidates for Lundin. Others active buyers in the field include Cupric Canyon, Barclay’s copper acquisition vehicle which, in fact, recently bid C$67 million for non-producing junior Hana Mining. Notably, Hana’s Ghanzi copper project in Botswana is in the aforementioned production ballpark – designed to produce 66 million pounds copper a year. The point being: a number of miners, or would be miners, flush with cash – idle cash – are shoppers with tastes for the same kind of base metals projects. This, in turn, could bode well for a select few base metal juniors that make the cut as potential acquisitions for intermediates hungry to grow. That is these bigger fish could end up fighting over the tastiest morsels.