Alacer Gold Corp. (OTCPK:ALIAF) Q4 2015 Results Earnings Conference Call February 9, 2016 4:00 PM ET
Lisa Maestas - Director, Investor Relations
Rod Antal - President and CEO
Mark Murchison - CFO
Michael Slifirski - Credit Suisse
Cathy Moises - Evans & Partners
Dan Rollins - RBC
Andrew Knuckey - Commonwealth Bank of Australia
Thank you for standing by. This is the conference operator. Welcome to the Alacer Gold's 2015 Year End Operating and Financial Results Conference Call and Webcast. As a reminder, all participants are in a listen-only mode and the conference is being recorded. After the presentation there'll be an opportunity to ask questions. [Operator Instructions].
I would now like to turn the conference over to Lisa Maestas, the Director of Investor Relations of Alacer Gold. Please go ahead.
Thank you and welcome everyone. Thank you for joining us today for Alacer Gold's year end 2015 operating and financial results conference call. Joining me on the call are Rod Antal, our President and Chief Executive Officer; and Mark Murchison, our Chief Financial Officer. You will find Alacer Gold listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange as ASR and on the Australian Stock Exchange as AQG.
This conference call is available via webcast and the link and slides to accompany our remarks can be found in our earnings press release and on our website at alacergold.com. You can access all documents that we released yesterday on the company's website and on SEDAR.com. Telephonic replay of this call will be available for one month and an archived webcast will be available for three months following today's call. Following today's presentation, we will open up the call for Q&A.
If I could please direct you to Slide 2 of the presentation. This call will include forward-looking statements. Please refer to the forward-looking language included in our presentation, press release and MD&A. Additionally, all dollar amounts in this presentation are expressed in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted.
I will now turn the call over to Rod. If you could please turn to Slide 3.
Thanks, Lisa. First let me just say that we are all a bit hoarse around here after the Super Bowl weekend. So, we'll do our best to get through this with what voices we have -- we still have remaining. Last year we met our production and cost guidance. This has been a consistent theme for the company and one we are proud of. Some of the highlights. Çöpler produced 205,000 ounces with total cash costs of $483 per ounce and all-in sustaining costs was $690 per ounce. Çöpler continues to deliver strong operating margins generating a $108 million in operating cash flow for the year.
A total of 6 million tonnes of oxides was stacked on the heap leach pad at an average grade of 1.23 grams per tonne. And stockpiles continue to grow. At the end of the year there was 5.1 million tonnes of ore on the stockpile at 3.67 grams per tonne with over 600,000 ounces that contain gold. One of our most important accomplishments was working 8 million man-hours without a lost-time injury. However in January this year we experienced our first lost-time injury in over a 1,000 days when a contractor injured his hand while operating a drill rig. Safety remains one of our core values and we will continue to work diligently to ensure everyone goes home safely every day.
On the oxide, grades decreased in the second half of the year as mining continued in the Main Pit. Mining of lower grade ore occurred as we mined near the Redox boundary. The mining of high grade oxide ore in the Marble Pit was deferred to allow a layback to be mined. This will mitigate the mine localized pit wall instability that occurred late last year. For full year 2015 we experienced a negative gold reconciliation of about 15% for the oxides. This was evenly driven by lot of tonnes and growth. The negative reconciliation is primarily due to the Redox boundary, which is much sharper than we anticipated.
We are in effect re-categorizing oxide ore into the sulfide ore waste depending it is above overlay of the economic cutoff. Moving forward we expect this variability to be localized at the Redox boundary in the Main Pit and will most likely not be required in the manganese nor Marble Pit due to the different geology. The sulfide ore continues to show positive reconciliation. In 2015 it was about 47%. This was due to an increase in tonnes and higher grade. Some of this positive reconciliation is a result of the Redox boundary and re-classifying oxide ore to sulfide as I have just mentioned a moment ago.
Now, I'll hand the call to Mark for an overview of the financial results. You could also turn to Slide number 4.
Thanks, Rod, and hello everyone. Slide 4 provides a breakout of earnings by quarter but I will focus comments on the full year numbers. The Corporation generated consolidated earnings of $66 million which equated to attributable earnings of $47 million or $0.16 per share. The result was driven by [cheerful] strong production of 205,000 ounces of gold with a continuing low cost per ounce. As expected cost trends did increase in the second half of 2015 due to the decline in grade profile and a higher strip ratio.
DD&A for the year was $49 million or $240 per ounce, combined, this generated a mining gross profit of $89 million. Exploration and evaluation charges remained steady throughout the year. On a 100% basis, $17 million was spent on exploration with $6 million attributable to Alacer. G&A was $11 million for the year reflecting the reduction efforts from previous years. Other costs of $11 million are made up of share based compensation, foreign exchange revaluations and exploration joint venture expenditures.
A few comments on tax. Accounting tax, the Corporation generated $1 million income tax credit for accounting purposes. This credit was driven from the recognition of incentive tax credits under the Third Incentive Certificate for qualifying expenditures related to the Sulfide Project in heap leach pad expansion. The cash tax in 2015, the Corporation paid tax of approximately $9 million, which was related primarily to tax payable on unrealized foreign exchange gains on U.S. dollar denominated cash balances held in Turkish entities that are unable to be shielded by incentive tax credits. There is also a component of tax payable from the operation as a minimum tax raise of 2% applied under the incentive certificate.
Finally, I would like to reiterate previous guidance provided regarding tax. The effective accounting tax rate is expected to be accretive during the years of Sulfide construction as incentive tax credits are recognized. The effective tax cash rate is expected to be around 5% for the Life-of-Mine and this assumes a stable Turkish lira to U.S. dollar FX rate.
Now moving onto Slide 5 and an overview of the cash costs metrics. Total cash costs or C2 costs were $482 per ounce were in line with guidance. The C2 costs trended higher in the second half of 2015 due to the low grade profile and higher strip ratio. All-in sustaining costs were $690 per ounce which was slightly below guidance. All-in sustaining costs increased in the fourth quarter due to an increase in capital expenditures for the heap leach pad expansion and the higher C2 costs. The balance sheet continued to strengthen and at year end the Corporation had cash of $360 million, no external debt and an undrawn $250 million finance facility.
Now please to turn Slide 6 for a review of the 2016 guidance released in January. Çöpler is expected to produce 150,000 ounces to170,000 ounces of gold. Production is expected to be higher in the second half of the year due to lead oxide tons at a lower grade than stacked in Q4 last year and mining of higher grade oxide ore in the Marble and Manganese Pits we scheduled for the second half of the year. Overall we expect to mine approximately 37 million tonnes in 2016 which will include 4.8 million tonnes of oxide ore at 1.2 grams per tonne and 2 million tonnes of sulfide ore that will be added to the Sulfide stockpiles. It is also forecasted approximately 9 million tonnes of waste will be utilized in the construction of the Tailing Storage Facility for the Sulfide Project.
Moving onto costs and CapEx, total cash costs or C2 costs are expected to be between $575 per ounce to $625 per ounce and all-in sustaining costs between $790 per ounce and $830 per ounce. The all-in sustaining cost metrics includes approximately $65 per ounce for the heap leach pad expansion. On a 100% basis, the Corporation will spend mining CapEx of $13 million of which $10 million is for the heap leach pad expansion. Growth CapEx for the Sulfide Project is subject to receiving land use permits and subsequent final Board approval. Forecast spend is currently $315 million or $250 million attributable. The spend total for the project will be upside and relates with the overall project upside in the coming months.
Now please turn to Slide 7 and I'll hand the call back to Rod, to provide an overview on exploration.
Thanks Mark. We remained committed to our exploration programs and are becoming excited about the potential in Çöpler district. To advance these efforts we have dedicated $8 million of attributable spend to the Çöpler district this year. We have been focused on the [drilling] exploration targets close to the Çöpler mine that will allow us to utilize the existing processing infrastructure at Çöpler, including any excess capacity on the heap leach pad. Out of the criteria for progressing in these prospects is they must be shallow oxide targets with favorable metallurgy and have the potential for fast development. Efforts in this district are focused on four key cost bids that have met this criteria, in Yakuplu at southeast, east and north and also at Bayramdere.
A key objective this year is to report a resource on these prospects and we recently released the initial drill results in December. These drill results indicate there is potential for these areas to be connected at digs through a larger mineralized system. Through the company's disciplined and systematic approach to its exploration program, I'm becoming more confident that we can realize these organic growth potential. Outside of the district all of the dozen chemical work streams that we were working on last year including metallurgy were completed at year end. And they're currently being evaluated so we can provide a full project update.
And now if you can turn to Slide 8 for the update on the Sulfide Project. The progress we have made on the Sulfide Project last year and we announced two key outcomes in January. Firstly the decision to move forward with the installation of twin horizontal autoclaves to process the sulfide ore and secondarily we are going to proceed on an EPCM basis. The Sulfide Project is significantly more advanced since it being in effect back in June 2014. Our process flow diagrams including the twin horizontal autoclaves have been locked down. The pricing and instrumentation diagrams have been issued for detailed design and the site layout is conserved.
Having this advanced definition completed allows us more accurately -- to more accurately estimate the material quantities to be used in the project construction. The progress on procurement has allowed us to update equipment crossing and lead times. The resulting cost control estimate developed from this work will be used by the Board to make the final construction decision. I'd also like to comment on the decision to install twin horizontal autoclaves instead of the vertical autoclaves published within the DFS. Our preference has always been to install a horizontal autoclave. However when we completed the DFS there was no approach identified that provided us with an acceptable risk. Early project teams working with Amec Foster Wheeler have provided a solution to install twin horizontal autoclaves, employing methods widely used in the oil and gas industry.
All in all this is a terrific outcome. The delay in receiving land use permits as well as the result of the work I just noted will be included in the construction schedule update. This schedule will not be changed and once we receive all the necessary approvals we will incorporate this into the final project schedule. We have come a long way since the DFS in terms of project definition. This is important as it has provided us with the much more robust prices to complete our capital and operating cost estimates. A good example of this is material quantity where materials required to construct the plan are based on detailed plant surveying models.
I just want to make one more point on the construction industry. We've seen recent commentary that there is a market expectation that the construction industry has become very competitive with a world-wide downturn for construction projects. This might be true in parts of the world, but contractors in Turkey and the Middle East are still extremely busy, and while competitive we are not yet seeing a downward pressure on costs.
Now in summary, while there is still some work for us to complete, we intend to provide a thorough and comprehensive update on the Sulfide Project in the next few months.
I'm now going to wrap up. Let's go to Slide 9. 2015 was a good productive year. We met production and cost guidance. We advanced the Sulfide Project and we're starting to see sizeable exploration results in the Çöpler district. Çöpler is a cornerstone asset and it continues to produce results and at attractively high margins through low cost production and generates strong operating cash flows as shown by our $360 million in cash. Stepping back, our vision is to become a sustainable growing company centered on mining quality assets that will deliver attractive financial returns.
The building block for this is quite simple. We're aggressively pursuing needful and growth opportunities that will provide an increase to the upside gold production. The Sulfide Project will provide medium to long-term growth. It is a robust project with healthy returns that's at 22 years of production and 3.7 million ounces of gold.
With that, this now concludes our prepared remarks. I'd like to open up the conference call to questions.
We will now begin the question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions]. The first question is from Michael Slifirski of Credit Suisse. Please go ahead.
First of all with respect to the unrealized FX guidance and the tax that you have to pay on those, how do we model that? Can you point to what we should actually model and it is a point-to-point FX change on what dollar number? I would like to understand that. What happens if FX goes the other way and there's losses that, you get a cash tax refund for that?
I'll let Mark answer that. Mark, do you want to do one at a time?
Look whatever suits you.
We will do one at a time.
So the unrealized FX is the U.S. dollars that we hold in Turkey that's not in the project entity that’s exposed. We had a balance in the range of $170 million, that's in one of the holding companies in Turkey. So any movement in the FX rate's unrealized gains exposes that to tax. So in Turkey the unrealized gain that you've generated is a taxable item. So the incentive credits that we generated in the project company are unable to offset that portion of cash that we hold in Turkey.
Okay. That's one so.
Let me. I will cite a few more main points just to help triangulate it a little bit more. It is the point-to-point calculation. So it's really the FX change from starting into the end of the year. So yes, during the year when we do have our quarterly financials, we'll obviously do an estimate based on the FX we have found and that's obviously the volatility on it. But that is year-end calculation as the way that's done. In terms of if it goes the other way as an unrealized loss? Sorry Mark if you could finish on that there.
Yes, there is no -- we carry that loss forward in the relevant entity, there is no carry backs.
Thank you. And in that $170 million can we see that somewhere and is that the total number that's in the entity for the duration of project?
You have to -- mark me because you only say consolidated cash, we'll utilize that cash as the project timeline will determine for the spend profile.
Okay thank you. Secondly with respect to the exploration sulfide pit, I am sorry the exploration satellite pits if successful, when do you have to start thinking about permitting? And so do you have to get a reserve on those before if you can apply for a permit and then how do you think about that whole time line and risk?
Look it's firstly a bit it's a stacked effect. We could have had the first drill results in December which I think started to get us a little excited. The drilling continued from the point where we put the close off until to the end of December before the snow came in and we had to stand down the exploration drilling. So we're going through that work now to start to walk through all of that. So we are trying to quickly advance it and then we'll obviously get the drills back up there again as soon as we can this year, it's in the -- we decided to do that. In terms of the permits and all the important things around it, from an EIA perspective which you remember if you got right back that's the first stage in Turkey to move these toxic things along. We've done the full definition around the reserves or already seen from 43-101 to start that process, because the EIA requirements are very broad. We do need however some pipeline data around water, around dust, et cetera, to put into the EIA application. So we can start that process as soon as we think, it's worthwhile starting that process. And then we move into the actually getting land use permits. I think the other thing to realize here if we're successful and the objectives are clear that we want to utilize the facility that we already have built at Çöpler. We've already got a processing plant and we've already got a heap leach pad. So the hurdles from a permitting perspective are much lower because really what we'll be doing is we're having some satellite oxide pits at the mines and really not a lot else in terms of the infrastructure up around the Çöpler. So, as I said last time it was in terms of what we have to go and apply for.
Okay. Thank you. And then finally with respect to the Sulfide Project, you have focused -- made it abundantly clear that you don't expect the live rates to decline in any significant way. But if I am [wrong], correct me. When the final estimates for capital came out and it was higher because of multiple autoclaves and that was one of the explanations. So going from multiple to two, less plumbing, less interconnections, less specialty metals, do you anticipate a significant saving from that move?
Look I think you're right. We want to wrap it all up and do a full project out there because I think just picking out one piece of the plan is not really a true representation of the amount of work that's going through last season's detailed engineering. So, it's, I think it's, the way that we like to operate is to make sure we've got every hold of our phase costs. I started before we even did the full project update and really the autoclave circuit is one component of it. But we thought it important enough to at least advise the market that shift has happened because we had so many discussions previously on the use of verticals versus horizontal. So, to answer your question long way Michael it's all going to be in the update. I'll just caution you that it's a pool circuit, so yes you take away the plumbing between the vertical autoclaves, but you replace them with a lot more plumbing around the twin horizontal autoclaves. You got two motors upfront. You got two gear pumps. You got more agitators. You got other infrastructure that replaces some of the more exotic metals that we would had to use on the vertical autoclave circuits. So you can be patient and we will do the full project update here as soon we're down going through the Q&A process.
The next question is from Cathy Moises of Evans & Partners. Please go ahead.
Just wondering if you can give us any indication what the SKU production is first half versus second half? In your guidance?
We are expecting around about 60% of production into the second half, so 40% first, 60% second half.
I'm not sure, I think there was a second part, Cathy, was it cash flow that is when I cut you.
That will be it. Thanks.
The next question is from Dan Rollins of RBC. Please go ahead.
I was wondering if you could just give an update on the permanent situation with respect to the land use permits for the Sulfide Project? I know when you guys were [through] and in December you were still pretty confident that things were moving forward. I know there's been some change over with the bureaucracy given the recent elections. But are you starting to see things continue to improve with permits being authorized in Turkey and what are your people on the ground say on potential timing on getting the land use permits?
Thanks Dan. A bit disappointed that question came up. Look just as a general comment on permits, the same line as what we've always said all along. We've had absolutely no indication at all that we're not going to receive the permits. We were always getting positive responses from everyone we were talking to in terms of progressing them through the process. But it is in a government process and right now we're doing our best to ensure that people understand as many people as will listen to us understanding the importance of getting the permits to us as a company. But right now we're sort of stuck in the bureaucratic process and we'll letting that run its course. There hasn't been -- since the government were elected the bureaucrats, there's been some reshuffling. There's been some new ministers appointed into some of the key portfolios that will impact us and we're very happy with those appointments. The bureaucrats under them have changed somewhat but the majority have actually stayed in place. So, that's good. But they are working through a significant backlog for permits in general, it's not just the mining premises, it's a lot of other stuff that's being caught up in the slowness of the political process here over the last year. So, things are coming up. We're seeing some batches come out for other minerals over the last few months, but we're still waiting patiently for ours at this stage.
Well if you remember -- you asked me, I am sorry, about permits as well, Dan. In terms of the schedule and how that will impact the schedule for the construction. Really the starting point for us to be able to do any more construction other than some of the side earthworks that you see. I think actually on my presentation we are going to slide out some of these side earthworks that we've been doing, for preparation of doing the construction for the plant. It really will affect our ability to do anything else besides that. So, getting the permits is sort of the starting point for the schedules, so the more it's delayed then that will delay or actually stop the [original] schedule.
Just with respect to the move to the twin autoclaves, I remember when you guys looked at the single autoclaves, you looked at a lot of different ways of getting the beast up at the site and this wasn't logistically possible given the roads upgrade, the real upgrade. You looked at potentially manufacturing them on site at one point in time and I believe you guys decided to go against that given the precision welding. Has there been any change to the technology that allows you and gives you the confidence and again Amec Foster Wheeler the confidence to say let's build them off site, take them apart and then reassemble them with all the wells and everything in place on site?
It's a good question. It's -- what we have ultimately here in terms of the pathway forward is a bit of a hybrid of what we looked at before. So we anticipated through the DFS when we're looking at the options, a full fabrication at Çöpler, so building a engineering workshop, putting in all of the infrastructure required and then constructing and fabricating the actual autoclaves themselves fully outside itself. This is a little bit of a hybrid model, again its used very widely within the oil and gas industry where the autoclaves will actually be constructed offsite in a controlled environment and in an engineering shop. Then they will be cutting the three portions using high water pressure. So in other words there will be less distortion on the cuts themselves, remember it's only mild steel that we're talking about of about some 80 millimeters. So it's not terribly thick. But using the water will mean that we get a distortion or warping on the cuts. They are then dressed and then they're shipped to site. So basically the autoclaves at this stage will be cut into sections of two cuts, three sections when we ship it. Then that will be put into situ back at site rolled in situ and re-welded. The heat treatment that's required to ensure we can put the pressures and the temperatures through the autoclave it's a very localized heat treatment. So it's not affecting the overall vessel itself. So that' a simple description of the difference to what we had anticipated before to what we've done now. Importantly the autoclaves will be certified both at the workshop where they are built to European standards for pressure vessels and also once they are reassembled back at site. So it's a high level of integrity that goes into the process and it's a different approach to what we were thinking about before, but an important one that provides us with a risk profile we can live with.
Okay that's great. Just to clarify, any change to the oxidation or recovery factors with the different system or the bases are same?
No. If you look at the process again, we go back to while we're comfortable with verticals against horizontals, it's still exactly the same process. The other question that I've been asked a lot is why you're just putting one autoclave, well, it would have been exciting to have the biggest autoclave in the world, that wasn't a risk that we really wanted to take. So we went for the twin autoclaves design and those things are about 30 meters long. So they're not terribly big. If we went for a single autoclave that's where we get the same throughput rates that we would have to have, it would have been incredibly large and we probably would have been uncomfortable. So the twin design is good for it because it actually does give us a little bit of redundancy, because you do have to take those things down for maintenance as we all know for inspections and also ad hoc re-bridging that will be required over the life of the project. So once we are one down we can still have throughput going through the other one. So there is a little bit of redundancy that's built into it. So operationally it will give us -- it means we will get a higher utilization of that plant overall, so that's good. But it's more about the just the size, we didn't want to have such big autoclave on site. We actually through the study, so I was going to elaborate one more thing, through this work that we have been doing with the detailed engineering, if you remember me talking about, we did another pilot plant test and at another laboratory and we did another one on the composite sample across the ore body. All of that learning and in fact there was nothing different in any of the other pilot plant tests so that's awesome. From that perspective we haven't had anything change in terms of recovery or any other significant things that we're seeing in terms of the mineralogy that might affect the autoclave operations. So that's very, very assuring for us, but all of the mech models in terms of underflow densities and all of the resonance [parts] within the autoclaves will all be confirmed and put into the final locked down process flow sheet. So we can get on and finish all that detailed engineering and all specification around all the infrastructure required around the autoclaves itself. A long-winded answer, Dan, sorry about that. But I think there is a lot of detail that's going through these -- into the update where we are about to come out with.
Great and just one last question before you go hoarse celebrating the Super Bowl victory, congrats on that by the way. Mark, how much have you spent of the $633 million of the original CapEx for the project, in the design stages here?
To the end of year Dan, we have spent about $35 million of it, so some $600 million left.
The next question is from Andrew Knuckey of Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Please go ahead.
Just three questions on milestones we should expect going forward. Can you just clarify with the oxide pits when you might have that or where we might expect that resource you spoke about? And then with regards Sulfide Project, right, you've mentioned the coming months, what should we be expecting with the quarter results we should see that update or is it likely to extend in the second quarter? Then finally as you sit here now, is there any change to first production as you previously signaled in the schedules that you've provided?
Yes, I'll start with the first one, Andrew and then we'll work through each one of them. So, from the oxides perspective around Çöpler and the other areas we're looking at, look it's probably -- not probably, it will be second half of the year. We'll do our best to get things done as quickly as we can to do a main resource. But I want to have as much definition in drilling in areas we can from where we are today. So as I said when we closed off the drilling, the drilling that we put out in those results in December, we did some more until the end of December. So, that's all being assayed and put into the models now. And then we're going to continue some of the drilling as soon as we can get those rigs back up there, post the winter, say post the snow that we've experienced up around Çöpler is normal. We will try to get as much of that in there as well. But it's really -- I want to make it meaningful as we start to do that update for any top of mine resource. So, it will probably be second half of the year as early as we can.
From the Sulfide Project the target is during the quarter as we sit in the MD&A. We are just working through a lot of detail as you could imagine to get the most accurate, up-to-date outcome of all the work that's been going on. So, that's our target and we'll work to that. If it moves into April --we have moved into April but we've targeted the end of the quarter. And the last piece is I think just you asked about that the original schedule. Yes look at -- I think I've said in the beginning of the script [a moment ago] that and I doubt there will be some impacts. I mean not getting the permanent -- not been able to start any construction in that and that includes it's -- we always think about construction being the plant only. But not even being able to build camps and other things to get ahead of the actual process plant will impact us because it starts to push out the start date. That we can actually get some physical equipment on the ground. So, there will be an impact in terms of the permits. As soon as we get them we will know. We will know when we can start and then the rest of the schedule update will come from more of the work we just talked about with the Sulfide Project itself.
Appreciate it. The scope's changed a little bit, but how far behind your original works program are you now due to those permitting issues?
Well we've said -- we've said originally through the -- when we did the DFS and all of last year, we wanted to start the physical efforts of building some of that infrastructure at the end of last year. So, from a permitting perspective it's really day-to-day at the -- beyond the end of last year.
This concludes the question-and-answer session. I would now like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Rod Antal. Please go ahead.
Okay. Thanks very much. Thanks everyone for attending today, I appreciate it. Well lastly, it was a good year for us. We hit our targets and continue to hit our targets. That holds us in good stead moving into 2016. We have a lot of news flow coming out this year which we are very excited about and are working diligently to get all that done and look forward to updating in due course. Thanks very much everyone.
This concludes today's conference call. You may disconnect your lines. Thank you for participating and have a pleasant day.
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