The numbers look strong for this advanced gold explorer, and it is appears in the right location: the highly-prospective Red Lake district, surrounded by significant high-grade gold players, such Great Bear Resources and Pure Gold.
Battle North Gold is something of a gold turnaround story. When Ogilvie came to the company 3-years ago, the company had committed no shortage of sins. Now, it's on the comeback trail, and the gradually increasing share price is a testament to the success of the Battle North Gold's new strategy.
Matthew Gordon: George, how are you doing, sir?
George Ogilvie I'm well, thank you, Matthew.
Matthew Gordon: Thanks for joining us today. You are going to tell us all about your company today, including the name change. Where are you? You must be in Vancouver.
George Ogilvie No, we are based out of Toronto and we closed the corporate office since March 12th, temporarily. All the executive team are working remotely from home over the course of the last 3 to 4-months.
Matthew Gordon: How has that gone?
George Ogilvie: Yes, actually it has gone very well. I had some experience of this before many years ago when I was starting up a small company known as Rambler Metals and Mining, in St. John's, Newfoundland. We didn't have a head office, so I worked from home essentially, for 5-years.
Matthew Gordon: It’s the tight Scottish roots, is it?
George Ogilvie Yes, exactly. Got to save money on those corporate expenses, put it into the ground with a drill bit, get the mine up and running first.
Matthew Gordon: You're saying all the right things. You are saying all the right things. And you were saying just before we came on that you are from Motherwell, just outside of Glasgow?
George Ogilvie: Yes, that's correct.
Matthew Gordon: Back in the day, back in the day. Very good. Well look, why don't we kick off with that 1-minute overview of the story for people new to this and we will pick it up from there.
George Ogilvie Yes. Battle North Gold has a project in Red Lake, Northern Ontario. It's a very prestigious Gold mining camp that has been around for over 80-years, and there is close to 30Moz Gold, which will have come out of that camp. Essentially, we have a project which is shovel ready. There has been over USD$700M of investment. Today we have a permitted mill, a shaft, 14,000m of development within the mine, a 44 KVA electrical line right into the mine site. And we're in the throes of completing our first maiden Feasibility Study with reserves that should be out in the 4th quarter of this year, followed by project financing. And this time next year we will be in production and pouring our first gold bars in the second half of 2021
Matthew Gordon: Good stuff. We're going to start at the beginning, if we may, obviously you have had a name change originally, from Rubicon. I don't want to get into all of that; what has gone on in the past. I think it is well-documented, well covered. And we've put some links up for people who are determined to know more. I'm interested in you. I want to know what I'm buying into. So, you arrived in 2016, inherited a bit of a situation there with what had gone on. You came as a consultant first before becoming CEO. What was it that you were brought in to try and fix?
George Ogilvie: Well, prior to joining Battle North Gold, I conducted 4-months of my own due diligence on the project. I assigned a CA, I went into the data room. I visited site to try to get a sense of what had gone wrong in the past and how could it be fixed and what the potential upside was. And, , I did see a lot of things that did go wrong and I knew that I had the technical skill to fix them. So, what we've been trying to do over the last several years is really de-risk the project from a technical perspective. We've been 3.5-years at this, and I believe we are very close to showing the market through a Feasibility Study that we do have a commercially and economically viable mine. And I realised 3.5-years ago, we didn't need, 3Moz in the ground at 10g/t: given all the sunk cost, given the USD$690M of tax loss pools, a 1.5Moz to maybe 2Moz resource deposit, 6g/t to 7g/t would probably be enough to actually be a commercially viable mine in a USD$1,200 to USD$1,300 US Gold price environment.
And of course, successful business is all about timing. Sometimes you need a little bit of good fortune, and I would certainly say we're now coming into a very bullish Gold price environment, and what a wonderful time to be bringing a mine into production and operating it over the next four to 5-years where I think we're going to see very robust Gold prices.
Matthew Gordon: That is true. And let me stay with the… you're a mining, engineering, and for my understanding I want to get into the weeds of it with you. I'm trying to understand why you are the best guy for it. You came in with a clean sheet in a way; you didn't have the issues that perhaps the previous incumbent management team would have had. You were able to not worry about how you phrased and how you said things. You said, ‘I looked at this from a blank sheet of paper, trying to understand what the moving parts were, and my view as a person is that the previous business model didn't need to be structured like that. We could come at this a different way and, yes, timing is on your side, but how did you get the company, or was there very little resistance, to move from the previous model to a new model?
George Ogilvie: Well, first of all, we had to get a geological structural model that was sound. And although there was 500,000m of historical drilling conducted on the project, none of that drilling was, what's known as, orientating core. All the drilling that we've done over the last 3.5-years, which is an excess of 100,000m of additional drilling now has all been orientated core. And the way you're listeners and viewers should think about that - think of it like a clock face on the wall, and the analogy I always use is -think about it as if there were no numbers on the clock and no distinguishing features. How would you be able to tell the time? So, with orientating core, when you remove the core from the barrel of the drill in 3 dimensional space how that core is orientated so you know where 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock is located. When you bring the core to surface and you put it on the geologist’s bench and he has 12 o'clock facing up, as he measures the depth and the azimuth and the strike of the cores veins, which typically carry the Gold mineralisation, he can put that into the computer. And because we know how the code is orientating, we can see trends developing. We could see where that Gold could be contained within other elevations within the mine. And for this project, we saw 3 trends emerging with respect to the strike and the depth of the mineralisation. The veins run east-west, which is actually perpendicular to the main host rock, which is a high-Titanium-Basalt which runs North-South, but we also saw other veinlets running North-South, and other veinlets running Northwest-Southeast.
So that's allowed us to hit upon, what's known as a Ryedale shear system. Now, it was all conceptualised. It was all theory, but that allowed us to put together a new structural model and a new 43-101 in 2018. And then in the summer of that year, we took a 40,000t box sample out from underground. 5,000 tons of waste, given that the mill hadn't ran for a couple of years. 5,000t of low-grade 3g/t material to bed the mill in because it had been cleaned out, so the mill will absorb Gold. And then 30,000t approximately from 3 test stope mining stones. Now, each one of those stopes was actually completely mined independently, and we took over 10,000 underground run of mine muck samples, and each stope was brought to surface separately and put into its own stockpile and then ran through the mill individually. We had the ability to actually do a reconciliation exercise right down to the very 10,000t scoping block.
And from that exercise, we ended up getting 5,200oz Gold out compared to the 4,600oz Gold, which the model predicted. We were 7% higher on tons and 6% better on grade. And that amounted to almost 14% more Gold out than what the model projected. So that gave us, in our opinion, some validation on the geological structural model and also on the 43-101 resource that we had put together and the various modelling parameters that we were actually using to construct the resource.
And from that moment in time, we've put out an additional 3 updates to the 43-101 resource, and we have not changed the modelling parameters. The capping levels remain the same. The radar of fluence remains the same. The resource methodology that we are deploying remains the same. Today we believe we have something which is fair, credible, and is a better reflection of what we actually have in the ground compared to maybe where the company was 5-years ago.
Matthew Gordon: But that's very, very technical. Let me start, let me ask, I understand, but there's a big swathe of this audience that won't understand what you just said or why you've said it. Okay. Let me start: give me a breakdown of your shareholders, the share registry.
George Ogilvie: Yes. 80% of our shareholders would be institutional based, and a lot of those institutions would have known me in my former position at Kirkland Lake, where I was a CEO and my team and I led the turnaround of McArthur Lake and then particularly the Macassa mine. When we restructured Battle North Gold in late 2016, a lot of them took up the initial share issuance where we issued USD$45M worth of new stock. So today they've been very supportive shareholders of Battle North Gold. And I think the thing to understand about that is that most of these institutions have their internal technical teams and would have done their own research over the last 3 to 4-years. And I'm quite sure that if they had felt that the project wasn't going to be successful, they would have sold their shares many, many years ago. They have stuck with us. And obviously they've been very happy in the last 2 to 3-months with a significant appreciation in the share price. But in saying that, I would still say that compared to our peer group, we are still very much undervalued. And I think there's a significant rerate coming in this company towards the end of the year.
Matthew Gordon: Well, it is interesting; you're coming from a very low base, obviously. And the rerate of the last few months is great. I think it's a high gold bull environment. I think that everyone is benefiting from that. And you are in the right district. You have got the right neighbours: you have got Evolution next door to you, and we know what they have said to you. There is a lot of positive macro theory to this, but you have had 3.5-years to try and back up your hunch about what you can do with this. And let's get into some numbers here because I do want to come back to shareholders in a second. I do want to come back to the business plan in a second, but let's talk through some of the numbers because I think it might inform that conversation. So, the 2019 PEA numbers were quite positive. Do you want to run through those? Remind people?
George Ogilvie: Sure. We based it on a USD$1,325 Gold price with a 0.75 exchange rate, which was CAD$1,762 Gold. That's about USD$700 to USD$800 lower than the current spot price. On those very conservative numbers, we ended up with an internal rate of return after tax of over 40%. We ended up with USD$192M of free cash flow, real free cash flow, over approximately 6.5-years of an initial mine life. And an NPV only on the project of CAD$135M at a 5% discount factor. If you run those numbers today at spot Gold prices and exchange rate, the internal rate of return goes over 90%. The NPV on the project is approaching USD$400M. And the free cash flow is well in excess of CAD$550M. That's only for a 6.5-year mine life. The Feasibility Study is likely going to show at least 8-years minimum mine life; hence those numbers are going to be further improved upon.
Matthew Gordon: I think that helps position this thing. You've got a 6.2-year life of mine. It's a good grade. What's the actual number? Is it about just below 5g/t?
George Ogilvie: Yes. 6g/t to 6.45g/t was the historical, was the biggest. Now we're at 6.6g/t.
Matthew Gordon: You are at 6.6g/t, fine. So that's a good grade. It's not a massive resource either. This is what I mean - coming back to the business plan, you didn't have the luxury of time. You needed to come up with a plan which showed people potential and to be able to get that into production, because you want to get a rerate because of where you've come from, and then build out the resource with exploration. Is that the plan?
George Ogilvie: Yes, that's pretty much the plan. Now that we're about to show the market that, as I said, the Bateman Gold project will be commercially viable, earlier this year we have now begun exploration on what we call close proximity targets. So those would be other deposits that are within a couple of kilometres of the mine and the mill on surface. McFinley and the Pen Zone are the first two deposits that we've started actually drilling on in the last couple of months. And part of the reason why we're looking at that is, the mill is actually built, designed and constructed for 1,800t per day. In the PEA, and most likely in the Feasibility Study, a maximum throughput will only be around 1,500t or 1,550t per day. We're only running the mill at, let's say 80% capacity. There is an opportunity to put incremental tons and therefore incremental ounces through that mill and further improve the margins for the company and its shareholders.
Matthew Gordon: We're starting to build a picture of what you're trying to do. You are ramping up to that average life of mine, 1,500t a day. I get that. And the AISC is good. It is just under USD$900?
George Ogilvie: Yes, USD$882 in the PEA.
Matthew Gordon: Give or take USD$900. You are showing a route to market. You're showing that you can do this. You've inherited, as a result of the restructure, a huge infrastructure investment, some USD$690M worth. And again, and sorry to leap around here, but this is quite a complex story given, again, where you have come from. That infrastructure is obviously very, very valuable. And you've talked about one of the components, which is the mill, but how else was the rest of that USD$690M spent?
George Ogilvie: Well, there's a 720m-deep shaft that has a bottom and a mid-shaft loading pocket. The 10t skips set over the cage. On a full production day, the hoist can bring 2,400t to 2,500t of rock to surface. So that's fairly significant. There is a wastewater treatment plant, which allows us to discharge our water. There is a tailings impoundment area, and there is a 44 KVA electrical line right into the mine site with surface transformers converting the power down to 5 KVA and sending it underground with 2 power feeder cables. There is also a 200-man camp. Red Lake is known for not having enough labour to satisfy the labour pool requirements. So, typically 30 to 40% of the labour is fly-in fly-out. We already have that camp belt, and it is in pristine condition waiting for the new employees as we ramp up in 2021.
Matthew Gordon: It sounds like you've got a Roll’s Royce, but you only use it to drive to the shops. What I'm interested in there is also because of the amount of money that's spent, there's a huge tax loss pool, presumably available to you as well, which has some value on the balance sheet at a future date?
George Ogilvie: Well, significant, because within those numbers I gave you within the PEA at the end of the 6.2-years of mine life, despite paying no taxes, which in Ontario would amount to over 30% taxation rate, the company still had CAD$521M of unused tax pools. And the other advantage of those tax pools is that approximately half of them could be used at some future in the evolution of the company from merger and acquisition. So for example, if you had project day, let's say it was in Ontario, and its NPV post-tax was USD$100M lower than the NPV pre-tax, if you could structure a deal and put both companies together and provided it was accretive to both sets of shareholders, that project day’s NPV, post-tax just improved by over USD$100M. The tax laws pools are not just extremely valuable to Battle North Gold, but also in M&A, and potentially other strategics out there.
Matthew Gordon: You raised about USD$9M in February. We've obviously had COVID, which may have impacted your ability to do work and maybe burnt through the cash as you thought you were going to. So how much cash have you got today?
George Ogilvie: We have got just over CAD$12M cash in the bank. Based on our current budget to year end and our current burn rate we're fully funded through until the second quarter of 2021. And as I alluded to earlier, with the Feasibility Study out in the early fourth quarter of this year, we would anticipate having the project financing in place sometime towards the end of the year or very early first quarter of next year.
Matthew Gordon: To break that down, because again, it comes back to this business plan. What we were just trying to get out of you earlier is trying to understand, , how those numbers flow through. Your CAPEX is, as I understand it was it about USD$80M, 81M? But you will have financial contribution to that. What is the net number that you are going to have to raise to get things moving?
George Ogilvie: Currently we are estimating around CAD$100M, which includes contingency. There's also an historical legacy debt that is now due on the 31st of December 2021, but it amounts to data today about CAD$14.3M, but it is senior secured against the assets of the company. If there is a debt component within the project financing, any debt provider is probably going to want to have security. The way in which we would deal with that is we would take out a spot lending facility at the end of this calendar year when we are doing the project financing. You have to add that approximate CAD$15M onto the capital requirements. And that's what gets us up to approximately CAD$100M.
Matthew Gordon: You can't afford anything to go wrong between now and then, because you need to pay that off?
George Ogilvie: Well, we need to pay it off, but to me, obviously with the Feasibility Study out in September, October, if we haven't dealt with that debt in December 31st of 2021, I think there are bigger challenges or bigger issues on this project. We are very confident that that will be dealt with. Now, there's a huge opportunity here again; because we used conservative pricing in the PEA, during the pre-production period there is 44,500oz Gold, which actually gets produced. And at CAD$1,762 gold price, that generated about USD$75 million of revenue from Gold sales over the 20-month ramp up period. If, however, we were producing Gold next year at CAD$2,400 or $2,500 Gold price, that extra $600 to $700 margin is going to give us an approximate additional USD$30 million of revenue from Gold sales. And provided the CAPEX within the Feasibility Study is in line with the PEA, the funding requirement just went down by the corresponding amount, ie $30M less is required.
Matthew Gordon: During Gold bull runs, strange things happen. People lose their minds. The last iteration of Rubicon got nearly CAD$700M of finance raised off the back of a PEA. Really unusual. However, you look at it, you can say a PEA is feasibility standard, and I hear that a lot, but it's not. The variances are huge, right – 30%, 40% either way. And you are raising this off the back of a Feasibility Study, or hoping to, and I know you've been technically de-risking this project, but what indications are you getting that people are going to be comfortable enough funding off a Feasibility Study rather than a definitive Feasibility Study?
George Ogilvie: Well, we've already got 9 groups currently in the data room, and we brought them in deliberately early, so they could get comfortable with all the technical information to date and get their heads wrapped around it. Based on the initial feedback that we've had from some of those groups, they've already cleared the technical due diligence. Provided the financial and economic model that comes out of the Feasibility Study is robust enough and is able to look at the various debt ratios in the reserve tail, we are very confident that the project is financeable, certainly the portion of debt. The other opportunity we have here, which is unique to Canada, is that because the former company never declared commercial production, the capital development, pre-commercial production capital development that we will put into this mine qualifies as a Canadian development expense, which is CDE and this therefore flow through financeable. Of that $100M we spoke of earlier, in the PEA approximately CAD$41M of that was CDE eligible. And we know until recently the capital markets have been extremely tough in Canada, particularly for the juniors and the developers, but one area where they have been able to access funds is through flow-through. We are very confident that we can put the debt component in place without over leveraging the company. And a significant portion of the equity can be raised via flow through.
Matthew Gordon: You have a huge institutional following, but you're getting out there and starting to tell the story a little bit more, trying to appeal to retail, family officers, right?
George Ogilvie: Yes.
Matthew Gordon: Because that will help with the liquidity and perhaps drive the sentiment a little bit stronger in this. What are you saying to them? I mean, obviously we are parking what has gone on before. You have come on, Mr. Fix-it. You have done and implemented a few things which are moving this company forward and showing people that there is something substantial under the ground and you do know how to get at it economically, which is the key here. So, once you've shown the route to market and you have poured next year, what's the upside here? I know you are in the right part of town, but what are you going to do about it?
George Ogilvie: Well, look, we haven't spoken about the regional land package, but certainly we have 28,000ha of prime, real estate in Red Lake. In lots of areas our land claims are actually adjacent and actually are contiguous with Evolution Mining's land package. They are obviously a USD$6Bn, $7Bn mid-tier Australian producer, which recently came into town and acquired the Newmont Gold Corp assets. We think, well, we know that there are lots of synergies between those respective land packages. And we certainly have some high priorities that we really want to go after.
What I've tried to do here with this company, Matt, is really pull it up by his bootstraps. We've known for years about the close proximity targets in the regional land package. But I haven't wanted to go after those because I have wanted to get the core asset up and running and show the market that there is a commercially viable mine there. Had I gone too early to the regional land package, given what happened historically, and the negativity around the old company, people would have jumped to the wrong assumption that George already knows Phoenix is a bust, and he's trying to saddle up his next pony, as I like to say. And that was never the case. But now that we have technically de-risked this project, and we are about to have a maiden Feasibility Study with maiden reserves and a life of mine plan that's economically viable, that's why this year, we're now turning our attention to the close proximity targets. And next year we'll follow that up with the regional land package.
And it's another reason why only now are we rebranding the company. I remember three and a half years ago, the first strategic conversation I had when I came in officially as the CEO, was about rebranding the company. And I made the decision that I didn't want to rebrand because I wanted people to take meetings, knowing they were meeting with Rubicon and it wasn't smoke and mirrors, and it wasn't George trying to put lipstick on a pig. And if people didn't want to take meetings, I was perfectly A-OK with that. But now that we have a proven management team, we have the Feasibility Study coming out with reserves, an economically viable mine, huge upside on exploration, this is why at this juncture in time we really felt now is the time to rebrand this company and let go of the legacy and the shackles of the past. But, now is the time. It is the dawn of a new era, as I said in a previous statement last week,
Matthew Gordon: I buy that. You have got to prove a route to market, and you're going through that process. And I think with the Feasibility Study, I would like to see what the numbers look like, but you touched on something there; you're looking at a contiguous land package, people like Evolution earn billions of dollars. You've also got people around you like Pure Gold who are now starting to move after years of being quite a boring story. And Great Bear, who have chosen their own business model, quite frankly, buck the trend in terms of what the norm is, in mining anyway, she, you cannot have people around you. What am I buying into? Am I buying into a development story here, who is going to do a little bit, actually, an early-stage producer, and then you're going to flip it, or are you going to be doing the M&A, how does it work?
George Ogilvie: Well, I can tell you; with the management team that is running Battle North Gold, we are mine producers and we're going to be taking the lead on M&A. It doesn't necessarily mean it would be in Red Lake however, I mean, obviously you need two parties to be able to put an accretive deal together. I certainly do believe that the further M&A activity is warranted, and a consolidation of the Red Lake camp would make a ton of sense. But if that doesn't happen, it will not hold Battle North Gold back. We already know that there are other targets out there at some juncture in time that might make sense. And, running a single-asset company brings with it its own risks and a way to de-risk that is to look at other assets and in safe jurisdictions. And I think it would be fair to say that we would be very Canada, if not Ontario focussed, with any future M&A.
Matthew Gordon: What do you think the grades are going to look like going forward? Because I'm looking back at historically, and you have got some pretty big numbers thrown out there, I guess, in a period where people didn't quite understand the ore body. You understand a little bit more because you have done a little bit more drilling over the last three years. But your 6.6 g/t? Is that fair for the region?
George Ogilvie: I think within the close proximity to the mine, that's the type of typical grade we can expect. Of course, we're going to have holes like we've had in the past that are multi, multi-ounce, many hundreds of grams per ton, but there are other areas where there's low grade. And I think when you put it all together, we're looking at a 6.5g/t resource in the ground. Now, the good news is that the head grade delivered to the mine will be around 5.5g, and we can certainly make money on that, which is what it's all about, and generate significant returns for our shareholders.
The regional land package, as Great Bear Resources has proven can be a different beast entirely, and Red Lake is known for being super-high grade. And that grade being found in some instances at depth, well below 2000m, for example. The Red Lake mine, that Gold Corp had before they were taken over by Newmont, their high-grade discovery, which was multi ounce, 60 grams p/ton. 2g/t to 2oz p/ton was discovered 2000m below surface. And, we've barely scratched the surface there at the Bateman Gold project.
Matthew Gordon: So do you think once you do get into production again, so this is a bit forward-looking in the sense that you have still got a ways to go if we get into production, and you have described the way that you hope to finance it, or hope to be able to finance it once you are in production. It is relatively low levels of production. Do you see yourself being able to go to the market just on a pure debt package basis, going forward to be able to fund the exploration, or are you going to have to go into the equities, dilute further?
George Ogilvie: The good news as is that based on our preliminary models, this mine throws off a lot of free cash flow. We would have the ability, in my opinion, depending on how aggressive the regional land package, to fund a lot of that work through our own free cash flow that we generate. So, I think at the end of the day, and maybe it's just my Scottish nature coming out, we want to minimise dilution and we know that the company historically got into problems because they took on too much debt based on a preliminary economic assessment. We certainly don't want to repeat the mistakes of the old, and we're going to be a lot more prudent and conservative on how we manage the finances of the company.
Matthew Gordon: Does it all go back in the ground?
George Ogilvie: No, it doesn't all go back in the ground. It's important that we retain profits for the shareholders. And again, I think that comes back to the management of this company; we are not explorers, we're not geologist. I think those guys do fantastic work in their own field, but at the end of the day, we are mine builders, we are mine operators and we're here to make money and profits for our shareholders.
Matthew Gordon: Are you worried about the overhang of some of these institutions wanting to get out? Because they're sitting on huge losses on their balance sheet? Or do you think they're going to come along with you for the ride?
George Ogilvie: No, I am not actually. I'm not because I know there is a lot of demand out there as well, and I would expect, as we continue to market the company and deliver on what we say we're going to do, we're going to have more demand out there. If current institutions or shareholders in the company want to take some profits off the table, I have no issues with that. It's up to me and my team to ensure that we have the buyers on the backend who can soak that up and continue to drive the share price forward.
Matthew Gordon: So how important are retail to you then?
George Ogilvie: Retail are important because as we all know, retail drives the liquidity. That's one area of our business which we need to improve upon. If you go back a year ago, you would have seen the retail component of our equity share capital structure would only been about 10%. Today it sits close to 20%. And I have every confidence that in 1-year to 18-months’ time, we will probably have that up to 30 to 40%.
Matthew Gordon: George, thanks for that run through. That is the first time we have heard the story. It is the first time we have spoken. I have heard what you said. We will analyse what you have said and hopefully we'll speak again and see how you are getting on. Because the potential is there – it has been a good turnaround story. I wouldn't like to have been one of the previous shareholders, but I think going forward, it's a very interesting story. Thank you for your time.
George Ogilvie: Well, exactly. Well, thank you, Matthew. I really appreciate your time today. Thank you ever so much.
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Any advice contained in this website is general advice only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situations or needs. You should not rely on any advice and / or information contained in this website or via any digital Crux communications. Before making any investment decision we recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your situation and seek appropriate financial, taxation and legal advice.