Dominion Diamond Corporation (NYSE:DDC) Q1 2017 Earnings Conference Call June 9, 2016 8:30 AM ET
Kelley Stamm - Manager, Investor Relations
Brendan Bell - Chief Executive Officer
Ron Cameron - Chief Financial Officer
Chantal Lavoie - Chief Operating Officer
Jim Pounds - Executive Vice President, Diamonds
Elliot Holland - Vice President, Projects
Des Kilalea - RBC
Edward Sterck - BMO Capital Markets
Richard Hatch - RBC Capital Markets
Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Dominion Diamond Corporation's Fiscal 2017 First Quarter Earnings Results Conference Call. My name is Candace and I will be your operator for today's call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode and we will conduct a question-and-answer session towards the end of today's conference. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded for replay purposes. I would now like to turn the call over to Kelley Stamm, Manager, Investor Relations. Please go ahead.
Thank you, operator. Good morning everyone and welcome to our fiscal 2017 first quarter results conference call. On the call today is Brendan Bell, Chief Executive Officer; Ron Cameron, Chief Financial Officer; Chantal Lavoie, Chief Operating Officer; Jim Pounds, Executive Vice President, Diamond's; and Elliot Holland, Vice President Projects, all of whom will be available to answer questions after the presentation.
Before we begin, I would like to point out that this conference call will include forward-looking information. Various material factors and assumptions were used in arriving at this information and actual results could differ materially. Additional information about these factors and assumptions and the risks that could cause actual results to differ materially from our current expectations are detailed in our most recently filed annual information form and MD&A, which are publicly available. Our most recent results also include a reconciliation of certain non-IFRS financial measures to the most directly comparable IFRS measures.
And with that I’ll hand the call over to Brendan Bell.
Thanks Kelley. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the earnings call for the first quarter 2017 financial year. I'm going to cover some of the key highlights from the quarter and then I’ll pass the call to the rest of the senior management team to give more detail from their respective areas.
We are extremely happy to have been able to declare the commencement of commercial production at the very rich Misery Main Pipe in May, which is ahead of our expectations. The positive impacts on our cash flow and earnings will be evident in the second half of the year, so we look forward to the end of this transitional period at Ekati that has undoubtedly continued to weigh on our earnings results.
The low value production from the transitional period impacted margins, earnings in the first quarter at Ekati. Cash flow was further impacted by some normal seasonal working capital movements, which Ron will come on to discuss. However, we generated positive adjusted EBITDA in the quarter, and our balance sheet remained strong with $227 million of unrestricted cash, no significant debt, and $210 million of undrawn credit available under our current facility.
As Elliot and Chantal will detail later, we progressed further down the twin tracks of growth at Ekati, Sable construction is progressing well on time and on budget, and we recently received a key ministerial approval for the Jay project. We are now completing the feasibility study based on a revised mine plan at Ekati and expect to release those results very shortly.
Looking beyond our existing reserves, we also have completed a drilling campaign at Fox Deep and are looking at plans to mine below the currently planned pit depth at Misery. Finally, we are encouraged by the improved conditions in the diamond market thus far this year. Jim will take you through those.
Let me now hand you over to Chantal to comment on the company's Q1 production.
Thank you, Brendan, and good morning, everyone. We’re pleased to report that the first quarter was a very good one operationally at both Ekati and Diavik with some significant milestone reached during the period. But before I give more details about our operational performance, allow me to first address the impairment charge taken against inventory in the quarter.
Ekati once again produced majority of low value Misery satellite carats. As we stated many times before, this was always part of the plan as we finished the transitional period preparing Misery Main for production. Similar to the inventory carried at year-end, these low value carats had a significant impact on the total value of carats produced and ultimately led to the $19.6 million impairment charge.
As Brendan mentioned earlier, I'm happy to announce that commercial production of Misery Main was declared in May, ahead have of schedule, and we now look forward to turning the next page of the Ekati story. Ekati's operational performance in the first quarter was strong with both total material mine and ore processed ahead of plan. This was driven by good performance from the underground surface mining and processing team.
Ore mine was behind a surface mining focus on waste material at both Misery and Pigeon to bring total material mine ahead of plan. We do not expect this shortfall of ore mine to affect overall production as we have built up a significant ore stockpile of over 1 million tons as of June 1. The stockpile includes a majority of Pigeon ore, which will help give flexibility to the ore blend going forward.
We have also started to stockpile material from the other low value sources to make room for the earlier delivery of the high value ore from Misery Main, combining it with the high value of Koala kimberlite. Carat recovery from Ekati were impacted by high level of dilution from the top benches of Misery Main and Pigeon open pit. As a reminder, we were into clean kimberlite at Pigeon in April and expect the same for Misery this month.
So we expect to see grades return to normal levels going forward. We are confident that the changes we made to the maintenance and operating strategy at the process plant will continue to deliver good results as we introduce more higher value material. On the cost side, we continue our efforts to ensure the long-term viability of the mine. Operating costs per ton mine were roughly 5% lower than planned for the quarter led by a partially strong effort to reduce energy costs and improve productivities beyond the savings already included in the plan.
Our safety record was also excellent in the quarter. In early March, the team reached an impressive performance with over 1.2 million hours worked since October 2015 before we had our first reportable injury. Our lost time injury frequency rate was 0.21 versus 0.24 in Q1 last year. Now that we have covered the present, I would like to turn to the future. While Elliot will provide an update on Sable and Jay later in the call, I’m happy to report a couple of important milestones for Ekati.
First, during the annual planned four-day maintenance shutdown completed in May, we successfully connected the Misery powerline to the main power plant. This is an important step to provide sufficient power to Misery and eventually Jay infrastructure. Second, we completed the drilling program at Fox Deep and successfully recovered 925 tons of sample from testing. Two-thirds of the samples have already been sent to a research processing facility in Saskatchewan and results are expected to be received during our third quarter. There is a 35 million tonne resource under the Fox pit and we are eagerly awaiting the results of the drilling to help us further define that material.
Finally, we completed commissioning of equipment brought up the winter road for helping with the pre-stripping and links and is now essentially back on schedule with the first ore expected in Q4 as planned. The fine DMS circuit is on track for commissioning in Q4. Turning to Diavik, first-quarter performance was very good producing at or above plan in ore mine or process in carats recovered. Costs were lower than planned and A-21 is continuing to progress on schedule and on budget.
I would also like to congratulate Diavik on achieving the significant milestone of 100 million carats recovered. This is a fantastic achievement and reflects well on the team, both current and past and speak to the contribution that Diavik has made to Dominion and the North over time. We expect to receive an updated mine plan, including the newly added reserve from A-154 North from Diavik in the coming months and we will provide an update shortly thereafter. Thank you.
I will now pass the call to Elliot to provide an update on our projects.
Thanks, Chantal, and good morning, everybody. On the Jay project, we reached a number of significant permitting milestones over the last month. On May 19, the Minister of Lands of the Government of the Northwest Territories accepted the recommendations of the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board that the Jay project be approved subject to the measures described in the report of environmental assessment.
The fact that the Minister confirmed the recommendations without any modifications was a major sign of support for the project. This week, we filed our water license and full land use permit applications with the Wek'eezhii Land & Water Board, which kicks off the final phase of the environmental approval process. We expect to receive the water license and land-use permit in early 2017.
On May 31, we announced an update to the Jay project schedule, which we are currently building into the feasibility study. This is driven by the good work that the operations and project teams have done to get more value from each ton processed so we can operate steadily at the process plant and bring in additional sources of mills feed ahead of Jay such as Sable, a deeper Koala underground, and potentially a Misery deep operation.
This allows us to push back the start of major construction at Jay by a year during which time we can finish project permitting and complete the assembly and commissioning of the crusher and associated equipment. There is not much more work to do in order to build this change into the Jay feasibility study, but we feel it’s important to present an up to date picture of our capital and production plans. We expect to release the results shortly.
Turning briefly to Sable, we continued construction of the all season access road to the project site. Construction is progressing well on budget and on schedule to complete the road by September. With a longer construction scheduled for Jay, Sable mining will be accelerated relative to the Sable prefeasibility study mine plan. So finishing the infrastructure development and starting the pre-stripping on time in February 2018 will be essential. So far we are very happy with the progress of the project. Thank you.
And I will now pass you on to Ron.
Thank you, Elliott. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As always on our quarterly earnings call, I'm going to focus on a few of the highlights from our press release. As we’ve highlighted before, Ekati has been in a transitional phase as Misery Main is prepared for commercial production. As a result, production in the first quarter as well as the end of the fourth quarter was once again dominated by the lower value Misery Satellite material and that has led to a $19.6 million or $0.15 per share after-tax impairment charge related to the available for sale inventory.
This was offset by a positive $21.6 million or $0.25 per share of foreign exchange impact on income taxes in the quarter. Adjusted EBITDA of $54.3 million was slightly below the same quarter of the prior year, but remains positive which shows that we are continuing to generate cash from our mining operations despite the transitional phase impact on Ekati.
As expected, free cash flow was negative $90 million for the quarter, which was impacted by a payment of $47 million of cash taxes and a significant investment of $108 million in capital expenditures as we continue to invest in the growth of the company through the development projects described on the call by Chantal and Elliot.
Operating cash flow was $65 million before deducting taxes and interest paid. The going difference between cash flows was from our mining operations and earnings is driven in large part by an increase in depreciation cost at Ekati.
As I mentioned last quarter, the amortization of capitalized stripping cost for Misery and Pigeon has taken on a unit of production basis. As production for these areas increase, there is a proportional increase in the depreciation and amortization charges taken in the period. And this can be seen in the increase in non-cash production costs from $33 million in Q1 of fiscal 2016 to $35 million in Q1 fiscal 2017.
Cash operating costs, however, continue to move in the opposite direction as we continue to benefit from both a focus on improving the mine's cost profile and a comparatively weak Canadian dollar. Cash operating costs were down from $83 million in Q1 of fiscal 2016 to $74 million in Q1 of fiscal 2017. In spite of the transitional period's impact on earnings, we continue to have a strong balance sheet with $227 million of unrestricted cash on hand in addition to a $210 million credit facility, which remained undrawn as of the end of the quarter.
As I mentioned earlier, the weak Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar continues to benefit our operations. During the quarter, we completed the shipping of our periodic inventory to sites via the winter road and, as a reminder, this periodic inventory is made up of items such as diesel, ammonium nitrate and other storage inventory and typically represents about a quarter of our total operating costs. These items were primarily purchased in the latter part of fiscal 2016 or early 2017 and as the dollar is drawn down, the impact of the weak Canadian dollar at the time of purchase will be reflected in our cost of production and ultimately in our earnings.
While the benefit of the weak Canadian dollar has been built into the company's outlook for fiscal 2017, a $0.01 movement in the average Canadian/U.S. dollar FX rate in the quarter is expected to result in approximately a $500,000 change in cash production costs for the quarter. In addition to the weakened Canadian dollar, we are now seeing the operational benefit of the decreased diesel price. The rack rate in the first quarter was 20% lower in Canadian dollars than the average rack rate in fiscal 2016.
Looking to the remainder of fiscal 2017 you will note that our expected Ekati cash cost production is about $43 million lower than development capital forecasts is $47 million lower than the previous plan and changes in both forecasts are primarily due to changes in expectations to reflect the timing of the commencement of commercial production of Misery Main and changes in timing of ore blend.
As Chantal mentioned earlier in the call, we are very pleased to announce that we’ve declared commercial production for Misery Main in May ahead of schedule. We now expect the first sales of pre-commercial production from Misery Main at the end of the second quarter after completing the sorting and sales process on that production.
Thank you and let me hand you over to Jim.
Thanks, Ron. Good morning or good afternoon. I just got back from the Las Vegas jewelry show, possibly the most influential show in the diamond industry calendar and I am pleased to report that the show met the expectations of resilient demand both from a loose stone and a jewelry perspective. Predictably loose stone demand was very focused on the U.S. commercial ranges where there continues to be restricted availability, but there is also an active interest in the better ranges.
On the jewelry side, the innovation and creativity developed by using smaller and various ranges of brown and colored diamonds versus [indiscernible] is truly exceptional and a major shift from the somewhat stayed approach taken in the past.
We completed two sales in the first quarter. In fact it wasn't a traditional sales process during the quarter as we tended a number of our sales parcels in order to gauge the improvement in the rough market that was evident from the end of last quarter. The decision to tender was in line with our strategy of selling some of our rough parcels through this method twice a year to ensure our parcels are aligned with the market.
The tender resulted in the sale of a large volume of lower priced sales parcels and as a result, the average price per carat was very low at $69 per carat despite quarterly revenue being broadly in line with Q1 of last year. The tender also allowed us to test new sales parcels and attract a client base that will allow us to maximize the change in Ekati production profile that we will see this year. Consequently, we will be in a position to offer new contracts to our clients in the near future for a longer period than the previous ones.
Rough prices in all but the cheapest ranges improved significantly in the first quarter as manufacturers rebuilt their stock from the minimal levels at the end of fiscal 2016. The result was a reversal of fortune inspired by a good end of year retail season where the demand for diamond jewelry increased substantially particularly in the commercial ranges of polished, the diamonds that go into the classic and American bridal diamond jewelry.
The new confidence from the retail sector was led by the U.S. jewelry market, which is at the forefront of demand growth during the period. Elsewhere, despite the impact of uncertain economic growth on sentiment, sales in mainland China remained reasonably steady helped by the repatriation of tourist demand, a factor that severely depressed the Hong Kong and Macau markets.
The Indian retail market seems to be suffering along impeded by a lengthy strike in the jewelry trade and other markets are mixed with some more resilience in local currency terms, but adversely impacted by the strength of the U.S. dollar. It is becoming increasingly evident that the business continues to do well for jewelers who do not operate in the commoditized stones business, but rather in a design and creativity led segment meaning mainly brands.
In the midstream of our business, the manufacturers of diamonds who are mainly the customers of our rough are in much better financial shape than they were this time last year when a financial crisis loomed over the industry. Good inventory management of both rough and polished and payments flowing in from the retail market has restored the confidence of the banks who finance the industry and encouragingly, there has been a significant increase in transparency in the industry and the industry realizes now that this is a must have rather than a nice to have option. Although it is not a low risk industry, these factors have encouraged a growing number of other financial institutions to finance the sector.
Despite continued concern in the macroeconomic environment, the mood of the diamond market is positive as it approaches the important midyear period where the retail sector begins preparations for the next season. This bodes well for a more stable pricing environment for the remainder of 2016, which would in turn provide a platform for sustained growth in future years.
Thank you. I will now hand you back to Brendan.
Thanks, Jim. With the commencement of commercial production at Misery Main we are now at the beginning of the next chapter, the Ekati mine. Both of our mining operations are performing well and we are encouraged by the improved conditions we’ve experienced in the diamond market since the beginning of this year.
As the management team has explained earlier on the call, we’ve achieved some significant milestones already this year and we look forward to updating you on the progress of our internal growth opportunities in the coming months.
With Lynx, Sable, Jay, Fox deep and Misery deep in addition to other potential opportunities on the property, the future at Ekati is bright. But we must continue with some difficult initiatives in order to position ourselves for success. This includes the current aggressive effort to reduce operating costs which will continue. We will end the transitional chapter at the Ekati mine with a strong balance sheet putting us in the right place for funding our future.
Thank you very much for coming on the call and listening. We now welcome your questions.
[Operator Instructions] And our first question comes from Des Kilalea of RBC. Your line is now open.
Thank you and good morning. I presume you are all in morning time. And Chantal and team, well done in getting Misery in commercial production ahead of schedule. I'd just like to focus a few questions on Jay, if I may. The disagreement with the JV partner, Archon, have they actually been [indiscernible] the amount by which they will dilute and maybe you could tell us for modeling it would be useful to know what the dilution is and maybe why the dilution?
And then a question I would sort of like to see if I can get an answer, I don't if you can, is when you are doing the feasibility for Jay, does the JV agreement govern Archon's participation in setting the assumptions and is there any minimum acceptable IRR that needs to come out of the work for a JV partner acceptance?
And then finally, on Jay, when you are deferring the rehab at Ekati, there will be a value, which I think has been mentioned. How do you split that value with your partners when you come to the final? And then I suppose lastly, this word shortly seems to be used rather a lot and I’ve looked in several dictionaries I'm not quite sure what shortly means, maybe you could tell us what shortly – when the feasibility study will be out? Thanks.
Some very good questions. Good morning, Des. Maybe a short response on shortly. We are looking at weeks, Des, not months.
And just by way of a brief explanation, we were working hard to meet the deadline of end of May to deliver feasibility study, but probably eight weeks before that Chantal was able to confirm that we did have a better approach, an improved mine plan involving Sable and Koala, and so it seemed to us at the end of the day that to deliver the old schedule and feasibility study at the end of May only to update it six weeks later wasn't going to make any sense and was going to confuse matters. So we took a bit of a departure with this new mine plan, revised the feasibility work, and we are quite close to being able to deliver on that.
In terms of the rehab questions, we will get to that, but maybe Elliot on the discussions, the ongoing discussions with our JV partner, let me just say it, we know that Archon is very excited about the Jay project as are we. We continue to have discussions with them looking forward to delivering a feasibility study imminently, and I think this discussion is somewhat premature before we have done that in many respects.
So Elliot, do you want to comment on the JV approach and the fact that we will deliver a feasibility study shortly?
Yeah. So, Des, Elliot here. First of all on the rehab question, the reclamation obligations for each of our joint ventures, the Core Zone joint venture and the Buffer Zone joint venture are the obligation of the joint venture that created those obligations. So the cost of reclaiming Misery is a Core Zone obligation and the cost of reclaiming Jay would be a Buffer Zone obligation. With respect to the joint venture discussions, we have the obligation to deliver a positive feasibility study to the joint venture ahead of the development expenditures at a particular project and that is our main obligation to the joint venture.
Sorry if I could interrupt you right there. So when you say a positive – positive could be anything from one to any number, an infinite number. Is there a cutoff below which it is not positive? Is there a comparison with some other benchmark? And then if you have diluted Archon, and I am presuming that it is all Archon, could you tell us how much they are diluted?
We would rather not get into the details of the JV agreement at this moment with ongoing discussions, but there is no bar in terms of what is deemed a positive study if that answers the question. As far as dilution, we’ve signaled our intent but we are very hopeful that ongoing discussions can resolve this matter. I think at the end of the day, we know Archon is very keen to be involved in the Jay production and the Jay build, and we are eager and keen to have them on board. So we will progress this further. I think the main thing now is that we've got to deliver this feasibility study so that they consider the Jay project and do what they need to do with respect to their bankers.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.
Thank you. And our next question comes from Edward Sterck of BMO Capital Markets. Your line is now open.
Good morning, Ed.
Good morning. Hope all is well with all of you. Just following-up on Archon, I was just wondering, mentioned in the MD&A that they disputed some of the budget for the plan for this year. Just wondering if you could provide a bit more color on what areas they disagreed with? And then moving on to the diamond prices and the write-down that was incurred on the lower value diamonds, I am just wondering whether that has any bearing on plans going forward with regards to the diamond's recovery initiative in terms of increasing recovered grade which is in the smaller diamonds. Is that necessarily still the right route to go down if those diamonds are proving to be lower value than expected?
Ed, thank you. It is the right route to go down, and when we've got a year of track record behind us here which is shortly in the next couple of months, we will be able to talk to you about the rate of improved recoveries in smalls and really right up to one carat. It has been very successful. The work that Chantal and team are doing at the process plant is bearing fruit. We continue to build that into our go-forward mine plans because we know it is successful and generates revenue. Chantal, if you want to speak more to the details of that?
Yes, definitely. Again, the focus since last year in July when we started working and focusing more on recovery has been paying off well. I think we continue – since we started the initiative, we continue to meet or exceed reserve and resource rate which is very positive for us. As I mentioned, we are on schedule and actually on budget when it comes to putting the fine DMS together and that will allows us to further recover diamonds. Right now there is still a lot of small diamonds that are essentially not being recovered and we mine need stones, we process the stones and this is additional revenue that is going to supplement where we are already recovering. So definitely we feel positive about this initiative being the right one.
The exact details of the discussion with our JV partner in terms of which expenses, which budgets, I think it is better left that we are in discussions with the JV partner. The most important thing is for us to deliver this feasibility study shortly so that we can get into a detailed discussion with them about budgets, about costs go forward. So I don't want to provide more than that. I think this really is probably overblown at this point. We do expect a positive outcome with Archon on this matter.
Okay. Understood, thank you. If I might ask one follow-up question just on the Misery pipe, I think it was touched on earlier but I jumped on the call a bit late. With the dilution on the initial benches, I am just wondering when reserve grades are expected to be delivered.
This is I think I would say and as we stand right now, this is something from the past. When we started mining the first bench and given that Misery was so high grade, there were slivers of ore left from the previous mining and we wanted to make sure that we’ve recovered every stone of it which that is what created really the additional dilution. I know in our technical report we talk about the order of magnitude of this dilution. It was probably higher by the time we’ve recovered everything, it was higher because again we did not want to leave any of the material behind. This is really – this is done now and now we are in good clean ore at both Pigeon and Misery and feel very comfortable moving forward that we are going to continue to achieve and hopefully continue to exceed the resource and reserve grades.
That’s great. Thank you very much indeed.
Thank you. [Operator Instructions] And our next question comes from Richard Hatch of RBC Capital Markets. Your line is now open.
Good morning all and thanks very much for the call. I've got a few questions. First one for Ron. And Ron, would you mind just explaining a bit more about this tax credit? If I do my math if you've got Canadian dollar tax loss and then you convert it at the January year period end and the April period end, the Canadian dollar strengthens so on my numbers that would seem that you have an increased tax charge in U.S. dollars. Perhaps you can clarify that for me and where am I getting it wrong?
Secondly, just in terms of the commentary, you note that you expect the second quarter to see some impact of these lower value goods as well. Should we therefore expect another write-down of inventory coming in the second quarter? And then thirdly, I just note that you’ve pulled some of your CapEx assumptions down at Lynx and Misery. Can you just give a bit of color around that please? Thanks.
Sure, in terms of the tax recovery, that is one where because our functional currency for actually calculating the taxes is a Canadian dollar taxation. Actually what we have to do under accounting is go through and revalue the non-monetary assets which is basically the mining assets that we have in Canadian dollars. So when you take a look at that, it actually generates a recovery and that is also partially offset by revaluation of the deferred tax liability which is also on the balance sheet. So when you do that on the Canadian dollar functional currency and then take it to the U.S. dollar which is why over the last year we’ve had a number of situations where it is almost counterintuitive in terms of what that result is, but it does produce the recovery in a period where you actually have – when you would be expecting an expense.
Right, so sorry, when the Canadian dollar strengthens, it should result in your deferred tax line showing a credit?
That is right, yes. And if you take a look back over the last year in the quarters, we’ve had a history of that.
Yes, cool. Okay. Thank you.
And in terms of the question about the next quarter, the work in process inventory contains a significant amount of the Misery Satellite material and we won't know the exact value of those carats until we have completed the sorting and valuation. And as we have said, it is less valuable than the Misery Main and as we've said in the past, we don't get into the higher value Misery Main ore until the second half of this year. So we are continuing, we will evaluate it as the Misery Satellite material and the material that we have in our work in process but until we complete that valuation and the sorting, we really don't have exact number for that but it will continue to be marginal for Ekati in the second quarter here.
Okay, thanks. And then on the CapEx?
In the CapEx, we’ve taken a look at the mine plan as Chantal was saying and expectations have been updated to reflect the timing of the commencement of the commercial production of Misery and also changes in timing of ore blends in some of the other sites. So capital expenditures in fiscal 2017 include the weight stripping at the Misery Main and Lynx Open Pits says well as the mobilization an initial construction of the Jay and Sable projects. So it is just a combination of the Misery Main and some of the changes in the mine plant.
Thank you, Richard.
Thank you. And I'm showing no further questions at this time. I would like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Bell for closing remarks.
I would like to thank everybody for joining us on the call this morning in the West where we are and in the afternoon in the UK. Appreciate your coming on the call and we look forward to chatting with you next quarter. Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for participating in today's conference. This does conclude the program and you may all disconnect. Have a great day everyone.
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