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Ken Stowe - President and CEO

Jon Douglas - SVP and Chief Financial Officer


Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

Elliott Glazer- DuPasquier

Northgate Minerals Corporation (NXG) 3Q 2010 Earnings Call November 10, 2010 10:00 AM ET


Good morning, at this time I would like to welcome everyone to the Northgate Minerals Corporation third quarter results conference call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers’ remarks there will be a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Ken Stowe, President and CEO of Northgate Minerals Corporation. You may begin your conference.

Ken Stowe

Thanks operator and good morning everyone. As Northgate’s CEO it is my pleasure to welcome you to our third quarter 2010 conference call and webcast. Before we get started I want to call your attention to several points. First of all this morning’s third quarter news release can be found in the news release section of our website at

Secondly, for those of you who are using the traditional conference call lines, slides for today’s presentation are also available on our website under the calendar of events tab. Lastly for those of you using the conference call lines who would like to try the webcast instead, you can gain access to it by clicking the conference call and webcast header on Northgate’s homepage and following the instructions.

Jon Douglas, our Chief Financial Officer will begin today’s formal presentation by providing an overview of our quarterly operational and financial results and afterwards I will provide more details on our operations and discuss our exploration and growth initiatives.

As always, at the end of our formal presentation we will welcome any questions you may have. Before we begin please note that in responding to questions and talking about our financial and operating performance, and our exploration and development projects, we may make forward-looking statements. These statements are subject to known and unknown risks and future results may differ materially. For further information on known risk factors I encourage you to review our 2009 AIF and our annual report. And now here is Jon Douglas, Chief Financial Officer.

Jon Douglas

Thank you, Ken. Good morning everyone. I would like to begin my remarks today by briefly summarizing our third quarter highlights, which can be found on page four of today’s presentation. Our three mines in Canada and Australia produced a total of 64,999 ounces of gold and 10.9 million pounds of copper during the quarter, at an average next cash cost of $645.00 per ounce. Financially, this translated into cash flow from operations after changes in working capital of $13.5 million and adjusted net earnings of $1.7 million. Critically important to the future of Northgate, we completed $170 million six-year convertible debt financing for net proceeds of $163.5 million last quarter which provides us with the remaining funds we require to complete the construction of the Young-Davidson mine in Matachewan, Ontario.

At our Kemess underground exploration project, we intersected the highest grade thickness interval ever drilled anywhere on the Kemess property with an interval of 3.37 grams of gold and 0.95% copper over 60 meters and expect to release the remaining holes form this year’s exploration program in the first half of December.

Finally, in Australia, we had some very nice exploration results in the lower Phoenix resource block and some very high grade exploration intercepts in the GG6 lower zone. We had two exciting discovery holes at Stawell where we discovered two new gold-bearing dome structures at our mining leased. The most recent of which had assays in the 13 to 15 gram per ton range.

Turning to slide five of our presentation, you will see the breakdown of gold production and cost by mine, as well as our metal sales and realized prices for the quarter. Our Fosterville mine followed up last quarter’s record production with production of 22,436 ounces of gold, which was slightly less than our guidance. At our Stawell mine, production improved form the previous quarter from 16,530 ounces at a cash cost of $939 per ounce and we expect to see further improvements in the fourth quarter now that we have turned the corner on our recovery plan.

Our Kemess shaft mine continued to operate on plan even as it enters the final months of its life, delivering gold production of 26,033 ounces at a net cash cost of only $347 per ounce as a result of the recent surge in copper prices. Our metal sales, the driver of our financial revenues, were substantially lower than our production for the second quarter in a row, as a result of continued rail car availability issues which have now been complicated by a stratus election to ship Kemess concentrate production offshore through the port of Vancouver for the remainder of the Kemess mine life.

While a stratus election does not affect our realization on concentrate shipments, it does complicate our logistics and makes it more difficult to reduce the inventory that has built up over the last five months. While we do expect to draw down our concentrate inventory form about 12,500 metric tons to slightly under 10,000 metric tons by the end of the fourth quarter, we will not be able to bring concentrate inventory back to normal levels until after milling at Kemess ceases sometime in February of 2011.

As a result of all of this, our revenues in the third quarter were $14 million less than our production should have generated and we have about $25 million tied up in concentrate inventory, having already spent the cash to produce it. Needless to say, CN did not score highly on the customer satisfaction survey that they sent to us last month to have us fill out.

Turning to the next page, you will find a summary of our financial results for the third quarter of 2011. Revenues for the quarter were $88 million, which was significantly lower than the same quarter last year as result of concentrate inventory issues that I just reviewed at a $14.8 million unrealized hedging loss on copper that we recorded in the quarter and the declining rate profile at Kemess compared to one year ago as the mine approaches the end of its life.

Operating cash flow for the quarter, as I said before, was $13.5 million and after backing out the unrealized hedging loss, our adjusted net income was $1.7 million. After many months of work we finally executed the financing that will allow us to complete the construction of our Young-Davidson mine, which began this past August. As you all know, this financing was not a project loan which we had originally intended to enter into, the one I spoke to about in August on this call, but rather it was a convertible debenture issue underwritten by UBS. Our decision to switch gears was made quite swiftly but not without a lot of thought and analysis. I wanted to take some time to explain the logic behind our decision.

Turning to slide seven, you will see a summary of the terms from the issue. The convertible debentures have a six-year term so that we can redeem them using free cash flow from the Young-Davidson mine even in the case of Northgate’s down-case gold price assumption of $900 per ounce. The debentures fixed coupon rate of 3.5%, or approximately 2.5% after tax, represents a low-cost source of long-term funding for our company.

Initially, after we announced the convertible financing there seemed to be a lot of concern in the marketplace about the nature of the conversion options on these debentures and what that could potentially mean to shareholders. I would like to take this opportunity to try to clarify the situation. If you look at slide 8, I will take you through it.

First of all, I want to reiterate that these debentures are not immediately diluted to shareholders and are given the option to repay any conversion in cash rather than issuing common shares. We hope that in fact they will never be diluted. In essence, there are three main cases or scenarios to consider. The first case, the debentures will remain outstanding until maturity and are never converted in which case we will redeem them for cash and there will be no dilution and the debentures would have been an excellent source of long-term, low-cost, fixed-rate debt.

In the second case, our common share price will rise above the conversion price of $4.08 per share and the debenture holders will trigger a conversion towards the end of the term, in which case Northgate will have the option and the intention and the cash resources from the Young-Davidson production to respond to that conversion in cash rather than by issuing shares. This is a highly probable case because early conversion of the debentures results in a loss of option value to the holder and the holder would be much more likely to simply sell the debenture in the secondary market that than convert it if they wanted to realize the gain imbedded in it.

Finally, the third case, the price of Northgate’s common shares rises to more than $5.30 per share for an extended period and the holders, for one reason or another, choose to exercise their early conversion option. In this case, we may not have amassed sufficient cash to respond to the conversion solely in cash, but at least the dilution that will result will occur at a price that is 35% higher than our current share price.

With respect to our choice of convertible debentures over a project loan, I have listed the benefits in the presentation on the next slide. They are a lower coupon rate, a fixed rate versus a floating rate tied to LIBOR, much more limited covenants and ratios which lead to more flexibility and a lower risk of default, unsecured debt versus secured debt, which is less onerous for the company, a larger principal amount that was available which reduces are reliance on other sources of financing, and lastly, there is absolutely no gold or foreign exchange hedging requirements.

In conclusion I want to assure you that we analyzed the net asset value per share under a variety of gold price scenarios for the financing options that included common equity, warrants, project debt, gold royalties and convertible debentures and corporate bonds, and settled on the convertible debenture issue that we just completed as the best source of funding for Northgate.

Lastly, before I turn to the presentation over to Ken, I would like to take a moment to update our 2010 production guidance and cash cost guidance, details of which can be found on page nine of our presentation.

In the fourth quarter of 2010, we now expect to produce a total of 67,500 ounces of gold at a cash cost of $570 per ounce. This will bring our total annual production for 2010 to 274,000 ounces of gold and a net cash cost of $640 per ounce. Implicit in this projection is a continued production improvement in Stawell, as our turnaround plan progresses, a slightly lighter than average production quarter at Fosterville, and more of the same from Kemess which in its last full quarter of production is projected to produce 25,500 ounces of gold at zero cost assuming a copper by-product credit calculated at $3.75 per pound. Now I would like to turn the presentation back over to Ken.

Ken Stowe

Thanks, Jon and now I would like to turn to an overview of each of each of our assets in turn. If you move to slide 12, I will first talk about Young-Davidson, which has now moved from a feasibility study to a full-scale construction. We actually started construction on the ground in August. We had a ground-breaking ceremony in September, but there have been lots of activities going on. Slide 12 gives you an overview of how the project has been advancing, most importantly to our shareholders and to financing the company. We have now done our engineering control budget for the project. We have got 37% of the detailed engineering and the project is still coming in line with the original feasibility study estimate without touching any of the contingency. We have actually done a considerable amount of engineering now. We have awarded over 15% of the contracts on the project and purchased over a third of the actual equipment that will be bought for the project. On average, all of the equipment is coming in well below the feasibility study estimate. The contracts are generally coming in also below the estimate in the feasibility study. We feel very comfortable now with our schedule and the project cost and also feel assured that our project contingency still remains untouched in case some issues do pop up as we go through the next year.

Moving on to slide 13, we are busily working underground now. We have our own mining team underground in addition to some contractors doing over ten meters a day of development, extending the ramp and doing various infrastructure projects underground to get ready to start deepening the existing Matachewan consolidated #3 shaft and also start raise boring the new shaft, but the work is going on. We should have the new permanent hoist in place on the #3 Matachewan consolidated shaft within the next month. We are actually getting ready to start drilling the pilot hole for the new production shaft we put in place. We should start erecting the mill building. We just started closing the process plant before the end of this year. We are working on various other parts of the project. We are still contemplating starting commission in the mill before the end of 2011 and having gold production coming out in the first quarter of 2012, from initially the open pit and then moving on to the full underground production in 2014.

We have also included in the presentation a few slides on page 14, 15, 16 and 17, some of the activities on site. There are a considerable number of people working on the site now doing a lot of activities and getting as much done as we can before the onset of winter up in Matachewan. The project has been advancing very well and we are very pleased so far with the progress that the team has been able to carry out.

Moving on to slide 18, an update on some of our exploration, we put out a few months ago on the Y-D West zone with a very significant intersection at depth. We have been following up on that with two drills, one that can drill shallow holes. Those holes have shown that the geology higher up is—although we have had some cyanide which carries the gold generally—it has been relatively low end gold higher up and much more complicated geology. We are still trying to figure out exactly what we have higher up and we are eagerly awaiting two holes that are closer to where the original discovery was down at depth. These deeper holes take longer to drill and we are waiting on two results of holes that are in relatively close proximity to that original discovery hole. It is apparent that this zone, we still do not know how big, or exactly how it lies, but it is certainly more complicated than it is to the east of the fault that has dropped this mineralization or offset it. We are still trying to figure out what we have. It still does not mean that there is not something considerable there, but it will take some time to better find what we have there.

Certainly the mineralization that we have identified at depth is of interest in 15 years after the mine starts up. Our hope is that we can find something closer to surface that we can bring into the mine plan earlier on. That is what we are focused on with those two drills.

A bit of an update, we still do not know exactly what we have there and as we continue drilling over the next several months, we should start to get a better idea and certainly once we have those two deeper holes into what we are really focusing on here.

The next slide just gives an update on additional open fill resources that we could feed into the plant in the early part of the open pit part of the Young-Davidson operation. We have looked just to the east of the planned open pit and have identified an indicator resource of over one half million tons of just under two grams per ton. When we update our reserves as we do with our annual report, sometime in the first quarter of 2011, we will create some reserves and we will see how much we actually add into the mine plant. There will be some reserves here and we will identify through the pit optimization. We are going through now.

Moving down to Australia and to Fosterville first, you have the operating numbers on slide 21, solid cash flow for Fosterville of almost $9 million in the quarter with slightly less production, just normal ups and downs in the mine production as the areas we are actually mining at any point in time.

We have taken the opportunity today at the same time we released our financial results to put out a separate press release on our exploration efforts in Australia. In particular, so far this year, to date, we have spent about $13 million in total between Fosterville and Stawell. We will spend about $17 million this year in Australia. we thought is it was appropriate to update our shareholders on what has been going on and we have had a number of successes from that program.

Slide 22 shows some of the things we have now been discovering at Fosterville and, more importantly, in the footwall area below where we are presently planning to mine, in the slide, anything that is magenta or pink color is blocks that are already in reserve and just below that you see we have discovered some significant intersections of good grade and thick material and the footwall of the Phoenix zone, most importantly it is easily accessed from our planned mining of the reserves in the future. We get down there and we will add more ounces per vertical meter. Some very interesting hits and we are following up on that just to see how extensive that zone is beneath the main Phoenix ore body. Very positive and we all have an impact on creating reserves when we come up with that statement first quarter of 2011.

Moving on to the next slide, which is Harrier, the Harrier project itself is advancing very well. We are actually within a hundred meters of touching the Harrier north zone. As we continue drilling through this year, the Harrier zone has increased in size. On the slide to the left in the magenta color, shows you the Harrier reserve at the beginning of this year and obviously, given some of the drilling we have done this year we expect there will be a significant growth of that reserve when we do the new reserves in Q1 2011.

Importantly, we now have the vent rise which will service the Harrier deposit has now been completed. The raise boring has been completed and we are just creating that raise as we speak. It will now become our main ventilation source for a lot of the workings underground this operation. We have also continued to drill on some other targets from the decline to Harrier and on this slide, you can see the Harrier decline, a few areas of mineralization, on the way to the main Harrier, some intersection. We will add some production, perhaps as early as next year from some of these zones.

We have been very pleased by some of these results we have at Fosterville and we hope that once we have these two productions fonts in place, we can start to extend the life and, perhaps, the size of the operation.

Moving on to Stawell, on page 25, continued improvements at Stawell and you see the bars of July, August and September recovering from a very bad May and June due to some production issues underground. Steady progress and we see this mine retuning to its former historical production rate of about 25,000 ounces a quarter. In particular, we are just now touching the G6 ore body, which is the first new ore body we will have had since we have taken over the mine. That is a higher grade zone and it will start to produce significant amounts of gold in 2011 and continuing on through the next couple of years after that. Very significant source for the short-term at Stawell.

The next slide, slide 26, is a very important one to reflect back on, we have shown this slide over the last year and it shows the production at Stawell, historically has come from two main areas, which total over two million ounces, produced in March of this year from Stawell. In the beginning of the year we put out what we call two Big Fish Targets with what we thought were plus half a million ounce potential. The Northgate gift is below the wild cat periphery at the bottom right of the page. The Wonga gift sitting out in higher elevation, higher in the mine, but also having significant potential.

We are now pleased to report that we have done some drilling, both our holes have been successful. We have confirmed that we have the Bethel dome which typically hosts the gold in the Stawell mine. We have hit significant gold also. A couple of weeks ago we announced our intersection on the Wonga Big Fish Target, a very significant intersection with grades of 13 to 15 grams per ton in the first hit. This is what we call a medium-term target for the mine. It is closer to surface, easier accessed from existing mine workings. This has become our number one priority as we could see putting enough holes into this by next year to start drifting over from our existing mine and bring this into the mine plan to extend the mine life in the medium term.

The other gift is what we are calling the Northgate Gift and it is a deeper target, but potentially a larger target. We see this as more of the long-term potential of Stawell, plus five years, to really get a handle on what we have here. It could be large. It was a very significant technical achievement by the team identifying the possibility and also drilling over almost two kilometers and hitting the dome, plus getting some gold intersections on the first hole.

We will be following up on this, but now that we have the Wonga gift target from surface, it will move into our number one priority and we will continue to drill towards to get a better idea of how it is oriented and we have our second hole going towards that as we speak now. It will be our longer-term target to keep the operation going for plus five years.

In addition to that, on the next slide, slide 29, below our present ore body we are just getting into right now, the GG6, we know we have mineralization below that and we have a number of intersections into that and we have released some of those in the press release today. We fully expect that as we mine through G6, we head into G6 lower, we will supply feed for us in the short- to medium-term also.

I think the future of Stawell looks a lot brighter after our discoveries over the past two or three months, but also we think there is potential within closer to the mine workings to keep that going while we evaluate what we have in those bigger-fish targets.

Moving on to Kemess South, slide 31. It continues to operate in exemplary fashion. The upcoming Q4 quarter, we expect it will make over $25 million of free cash flow, solid production. The cash balance will go below zero. In all likelihood, given that the copper production is expected to be higher and with the higher copper prices we are seeing. Very good operation.

As we have said and Jon said in his production, we will finish mining in the Kemess south pit probably around the end of this year. The mill will continue to operate for a couple of months after that on remaining material they have. By mid-year we will have done most of the putting some of the weigh stones back into the pit and we will start to moth-ball the mill operation. Once of the ball mills from Kemess will, once it stops turning on Kemess ore in February, we will start being dismantled and shipped over to be refurbished and installed at Young-Davidson.

Moving on to the last section on the Kemess underground project, slide 33, we have completed our diamond drill program. We spent about $3 million this year, drilled 26 holes, been very successful; the drilling went exceptionally well, in terms of just getting it completed. We are just completing in the analysis both the assays and the geo-technical data collection on that that we require for our block caving and mining studies. We should be releasing, as Jon indicated, the remaining drill-hole data by the end of the year. Then, we can do our new resource and do a trade-off/sculpting study on how we propose to mine this, moving into a full feasibility study on this project.

A very positive slide 34 shows you where the drill holes that we have already issued are. Generally, have been running those holes have exceeded the previous estimates from the block model by about 20% for gold and copper. Obviously that has a very positive impact on the economics of the project. And interestingly, we seem to have a high grade area developed fairly significantly and we did put in, as Jon mentioned, the highest grade, thickness hole ever in the database in the Kemess property, including Kemess South,

Slide 35 shows you where those drill holes have gone and we will be completing a resource estimate on that which we can then feed into our sculpting study on the project.

Slide 36, we just want to indicate that we do have other targets if the Kemess underground project makes sense. There are other things in close proximity that we do have drill holes in, which look like similar type mineralization and on slide 36, you can see the offset zone, the ora zone and the altus zone. We do have holes in all of those. There is a similar mineralization to which we have at the main Kemess north deposit and obviously, if the Kemess underground project makes sense, we will be putting an exploration program to follow up on those interesting results. You could see potential for having more material to feed into the operation from those zones. There is exploration upside also at the Kemess underground project.

In conclusion, before we open it up for questions, on slide 38, upcoming highlights you can see in Fosterville and Stawell. We have some very interesting exploration results from the spending of our $17 million this year. At both Stawell and Fosterville, different types of exploration results. At Stawell, we have identified two new big targets, which we can follow up on in addition to some more shorter term targets like the GG6 lower. At Fosterville, we are continuing to expand our knowledge of the Phoenix ore body and also getting very close to being into the Harrier zone and starting to develop and mine that next year, another mining front at Fosterville.

At Kemess, we continue to generate cash flow through next February which will then conclude most of our major exploration efforts by June of next year. Then we will moth-ball the mill as we wait for the results of our feasibility study on the Kemess underground project.

At Young-Davidson, we continue moving the project along, keep it on schedule and budget and then, hopefully, get more definition on what we have sitting at the Y-D west zone.

With that I would like to open it up to any questions that may be out there.

Question-and-Answer Session


(Operator Instructions)

Your first question comes from the line of Anita Soni with Credit Suisse

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

Thank you Ken and Jon. With regards to the redesign of the stopes at Fosterville, what was that involving and will it have any further impact into the fourth quarter?

Jon Douglas

Redesigning of the stopes?

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

Correct, there was redesign that was required on several levels.

Ken Stowe

As we get more information we do the definition drilling, the design of the stope, as we get into greater density is changed from what the plan was originally. Some of the areas have changed from what their plan was.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

That had an impact to your production in the third quarter, is that something that we would expect to be ongoing or just a one-time thing?

Ken Stowe

You get swings and ups and downs. In some areas you get better news. Some places, just a little bit less. That is why you do the definition drilling before you mine it.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

At Stawell, I guess you were saying that the stopes were not blasting as per design, is that something that you would consider would be an issue going forward or was that a one-time thing?

Ken Stowe

We are still working on relatively remnant areas and as they get in, some of the ground conditions are more challenging. I know they were also having some issues with the emulsion explosive. They were having some problems that they have since resolved. That was giving us some problems in controlling their blasting also. It is a number of factors, but it is all a part of that recovery and the key thing for this operation is to get into the G6 area. As you go forward, like this year we have been mining from about eight different mining zones, as we move forward through next year, we will be mining in only two. Obviously this gives you--and drilled off better and not going after remnants. When you try to go after the fringes of the ore body you have more issues. They are transitioning to a better mining plan.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

How do you see that proceeding over the course of the year? Should that be something in the first quarter that we should look at or more spread over toward the back-end of the year?

Ken Stowe

G6 comes into production over next year. We are at the top of the ore body, we are starting to develop it now, but obviously you will be going down into it and developing it as you go. It will really be the backbone of the operation in 2012 and 2013.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

Can you just remind me what the grades are in G6 ore?

Ken Stowe

6.3 grams is the reserve grade. That is the as-mined grade estimate.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

Is that the overall for the entire ore body or just the G6?

Ken Stowe

The G6.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

Thank you very much.


Your next question comes from the line of Elliott Glacier with DuPasquier.

Elliott Glazer- DuPasquier

At Kemess, if we are going to finish production at the end of the year, are there any tentative plans for the truck fleet and the second mill?

Ken Stowe

We are going to be producing at Kemess, the mill will be turning through February sometime. We are going to stop mining in the Kemess pit. The Kemess mining fleet will be needed through June. We are going to be moving some potentially assay-generating rock back into the pit through June at which time the operation will basically go into care and maintenance and moth-balling of the parts we need. The parts we don’t need, like the mobile equipment, we will be pursing the different initiatives trying to maximize the return from those assets. We will not need the Kemess mining equipment past June of this year and we do not need it for the Kemess underground project.

Elliott Glazer- DuPasquier

Is there any way of placing a tentative depreciated value on the equipment that you will not need past June?

Jon Douglas

We have gone out and received valuations on this equipment and as Ken said, we are looking at a couple of different ways to monetize that value of the equipment that we do not need.

Elliott Glazer- DuPasquier

Can you mention a range of values or at least the lowest value on this equipment?

Jon Douglas

The lowest value on the mobile equipment? I would hesitate a guess that it is somewhere between $10 and $20 million.

Elliott Glazer- DuPasquier

Okay. Thank you very much.


Your next question is a follow up from Anita Soni with Credit Suisse, your line is open.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

A question with respect to the additional reserves that you are looking towards—I guess you are doing a study on extending the open pit there—when would you get that study out?

Ken Stowe

This is at Young-Davidson you are talking about?

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse


Ken Stowe

We would release it as we do our yearly reserve update, which comes in sometime late in first quarter of every year.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

Your $14 million in revenue coming from the unsold ounces, I calculate that to be about 6,000 unsold ounces this quarter and about 3 million pounds of copper, is that correct?

Jon Douglas

That sounds about right.

Anita Soni - Credit Suisse

Thank you very much.


As there are no further questions, I will turn the call back over to Mr. Stowe for any closing comments.

Ken Stowe

Since there are no more questions, I would like to thank you all for attending our third quarter conference call. For those of you who wish to review our remarks through our conference replay, please dial (416) 849-0833 or 1-800-642-1687 using the passcode 14439779 followed by # or please visit our website at Thanks and have a great day.

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Source: Northgate Minerals Corporation 3Q 2010 Earnings Call Transcript

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