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Matthew Gordon: Hi Johnna. You are here in London.
Johnna Muinonen: Yes, for LME week.
Matthew Gordon: A lot of Nickel people here for that?
Johnna Muinonen: A lot of nickel people here for that. So, it's always a good week to come to London because everybody's here so you get to meet everybody.
Matthew Gordon: RNC is moving to be a gold focus business, but it has this very large nickel play in the shape of Dumont. So, how's that panning out? Because if I look at some of your presentations from June, you have about 15-20 pages on Dumont. But if you look at the presentation today, 4. What’s happening?
Johnna Muinonen: With Paul coming in as CEO we are really a gold focus company. No question about it. However, what I'd like to talk to you about today is that we own 28% of one of the largest undeveloped sulphide projects in the world. And we feel that we can add value to RNC shareholders by looking at various options for Dumont moving forward.
Matthew Gordon: That’s 28%. Waterton own the balance. What do they do?
Johnna Muinonen: In 2017, we sold 50% of Dumont to Waterton. They're a private equity firm. They are now our partners and Dumont. Dumont is fully 100% owned within the JV. We are now 28% and Waterton is 72%. RNC remains the operator and manager of the JV. We do all the technical work for Dumont as well and then work with Waterton in terms of looking at strategically moving the project forward. Financing and marketing.
Matthew Gordon: What does that actually equate to? You mentioned a phrase ‘for shareholder value creation’, as directive from Paul. Is there a time line on that? What are the options on the table? What are you thinking about doing here? You're only 28% shareholder.
Johnna Muinonen: We're not getting a lot of value for Dumont in our share price. We do feel that we want to make sure that we maximize that value for our shareholders. We are looking at strategic options. That was my directive from Paul on the board when I took on the role as president Dumont Nickel that we need to look at, what could we possibly do to actually get some value for Dumont to our shareholders, to RNC. And that could really involve several different things. We're looking at options around spin outs, potentially a sale, potentially we hold it until nickel prices come up a little bit. So, everything’s on the table.
Matthew Gordon: The G&A is quite low. Not a lot of overhead associated with it right now.
Johnna Muinonen: So, let me explain a little bit the way the JV is funded. When we got into the JV with Waterton, Waterton funded our portion of the holding costs for 5-years. So, they funded a portion of the costs. Currently, all the work that we have planned that we've done to date, we pay 28% from within that funding. So, currently the work that we have planned for the next, say 18 months to 2-years is currently fully funded within the JV. So, it is a bit of a free carry for RNC right now.
Matthew Gordon: Waterton is dependent on you to inform them as to what to do. They're a private equity firm, they’re not miners. They've stumbled across mining assets or they've funded mining assets, but they're not by any means experts. How does that relationship work?
Johnna Muinonen: It's been a bit interesting and we've been doing it for almost 3-years now. We're getting pretty good at it. What it really works is the JV is structured, it has a board. Waterton has two seats on the board, RNC has two seats on the board. We have a technical committee below the board, which is made up of, again, two people from Waterton and two people from RNC. Essentially, the way it works is we look at the work that we believe needs to be done. And generally, this is in concert with Waterton. We don't show up one day and say, hey, we need this amount of work. We do talk through and we meet regularly to talk through what work do we think would be value added? The feasibility was one of them, about probably close to a year and a half ago, we started talking about, OK, we have a feasibility study from 2012. It's getting a bit stale. Costs are getting a bit old. We all believe in the nickel market eventually starting to rise and we wanted to get ready for it. And so, between them and us, we discuss what would the scope of it be? How would we run it? Who would be the engineer? And then once we sort of decide that the budget and the scope and get that approved through both the technical committee and then into the board, we then go off and execute.
Matthew Gordon: That's the dynamic between you and Waterton. What about Paul Huet, the CEO of RNC. He's a gold guy. You guys have also got to agree about the best way forward. So, it’s great giving you a directive saying maximize shareholder value. But, as you say, this is dependent on price of nickel now, when you believe the next cycle is and what you can do in this cycle, right?
Johnna Muinonen: There's a lot of moving parts. And right now, we're just starting to work through that, because the reality is there isn't a lot of benchmarks out there about value for development nickel projects, because the reality is there aren't a lot of development nickel projects out there. it's not like copper or gold where you can go out and benchmark a whole pile of sales purchases. So, it does become a bit more difficult to sort of really quantify Dumont's value.
Matthew Gordon: We know it’s a big project. It's going to require a lot of money. You’ve got to bring in strategic partners. They've got to bring a lot of money, maybe technical knowhow, but maybe you guys got that covered. Give us an overview.
Johnna Muinonen: Dumont is a very large scale, low cost, long life asset. It's a billion-ton reserve. It is going to produce in the first phase, which is seven years above 33,000 tons of nickel annually, expanding in year seven to 50,000 tons of nickel annually and over the 30-year life will produce 39,000 tons of nickel annually. We are located in the Abitibi region of Quebec in a very active mining region. We have lots of local support. So, we have all of the pieces in place to be ready for the next boom. If we look at what work needs to be done to get us into production, we're talking about a 30-months to 33-months, both engineering and construction. So, from financing, the reality is that's the lead time. But if you look around the world and you look within sort of low risk jurisdictions, there isn't a lot out there of scale. There's lots of smaller operations that will produce sort of say 10,000-15,000 tonnes of nickel a year in Australia, in Brazil, in smaller mines in Canada, in Europe. However, there's really when you look at sort of the world landscape of sulphide deposits, there really isn't anything or a lot that's out there in a development ready, production ready, shovel ready type build like Dumont, which is what I find exciting about it.
Matthew Gordon: Dumont's got that. There aren’t too many others, or if there are you can count them on one hand. What are the numbers involved? Because large scale means large cost.
Johnna Muinonen: We are looking at building a 50,000-ton concentrator which is large, but it is well within the scale of operation in the area. So, we are right located just outside of Amos Quebec. We're on an all-weather highway and we have a powerline that runs 5km north of the project. And within 10km, there's two other large open pit mines of similar scale. So, there's lots of experience in the region on that sort of scale of operation. But it is a large project. It is $1Bn initial capital.
Matthew Gordon: That's a lot of money.
Johnna Muinonen: Absolutely it is.
Matthew Gordon: Is it a normal number?
Johnna Muinonen: It is a normal number. When you're looking at building a 50,000 tons per day mine and mill, you're looking at $1Bn.
Matthew Gordon: So, that must restrict or give you a very good sense of who you can go and talk to?
Johnna Muinonen: Oh absolutely.
Matthew Gordon: And what are they thinking? Because they're looking at ‘can we do something this cycle?’ Are you guys ready? Or is it next cycle, in which case, when’s that?
Johnna Muinonen: If you had asked me the same question 10 months ago, people would've been like ‘$4 nickel, $5 nickel’, not so sure. I think over the last sort of 3 or 4 months of interest we're getting more calls. We're getting more calls, getting more inbound interest by various people who do want to talk. And they're not small players. They're people that want to talk about when does it fit? When are you ready? What does it look like? And the $1Bn is a big price tag. But when you start to break it down into pieces, you look at there will be a senior debt facility in that probably to the tune of about $500M. There’ll be some equipment financing. The equity cheque at the end of the day to pull it off, take a loan as part of that, maybe a small stream of the precious metals, potentially. The equity portion of that is probably in the $300M range. So, when you start to break it down like that, it's not we're going to go out and build $1Bn… We’ve got to go raise that.
Matthew Gordon: And you're 28% of that?
Johnna Muinonen: And we're 28% of that. Exactly.
Matthew Gordon: And so, again, it depends on what's happening in the rest of RNC that will determine what the cost of that money is and where indeed where you put it in, project level, presumably. How do you go about having those discussions with people about the cost of that money and how do you retain as much as possible, because your brief is’ shareholder value’, right?
Johnna Muinonen: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Matthew Gordon: You're 28%, so you've got to create some shareholder value, more than it is today.
Johnna Muinonen: Which is arguably not much, I'll admit that.
Matthew Gordon: I certainly think you're not getting much credit for it and I think it's partly the company has said, ‘Oh, and you get Dumont for free’, that kind of strapline, which is a little bit disingenuous’.
Johnna Muinonen: Yeah. No, no, I mean it really is. I have heard that said ‘oh and you get Dumont for free’. Well I mean if you look at it, if we look at even the two commodities, I realize we are a gold focused company, and our real focus is on the gold assets in Australia. No question about that. But in a rising nickel price environment, where you're starting to get interest and excitement around people realizing the world’s going to need a lot of nickel in about five years’ time. Where are we getting that from? Dumont has the real potential to add value to RNC.
Matthew Gordon: Is that part of your equation then? It’s like maybe we're be better waiting for five years?
Johnna Muinonen: We've talked about it. Absolutely. Because Dumont is funded within the JV. And I think that's where we get that whole ‘oh, we get it for free’. You know, the fact is, is that we are funded for several years within the JV. And so, it is a bit of a free carry. So, it is a bit of nickel exposure, future opportunity. However, in the short-term, looking at our shareholders, looking at the focus of the company, we may want to do something sooner rather than later. And like I said, we're not about to put up for file, so we're not in a rush. We have cash in the bank.
Matthew Gordon: You’ve got cash in the bank. The costs of running this thing for another 5-years is negligible in the scheme of things. Not negligible in terms of dollars. You’ve got salaries, permits to maintain all of that kind of thing. But you'll do the math and work out whether you just deal with it now, focus on gold or you wait 5-years because the upside could be because of demand story. It's going to be better for shareholders.
Johnna Muinonen: And it's hard because you can't predict the future. And so, if you look at today and you say, well, maybe the best option for shareholders, do something now, to clarify the structure, be a pure gold company. Maybe that has more value now than having two assets. And being, personally, I know people say it's confusing. Are we gold or are we nickel? What are we? So, maybe there is value, but it is a bit of a…nobody has a crystal ball. So, you can't really say, well, in 5-years’ time…
Matthew Gordon: It’s not distracting you financially or otherwise?
Johnna Muinonen: We have a team in Australia that's fully dedicated to the gold. That is their focus. We have a smaller team within Canada that works on the Dumont story.
Matthew Gordon: How does RNC make the decision about timing? Because obviously the gold part of the business is moving along. It's normalizing relationships in the marketplace as people understand the business plan. Is there any pressure from what's happening in the gold side business, which affects your decision making on the nickel side?
Johnna Muinonen: I think the gold side is ramping up. We're coming along there, the gold side. Like you say, it’s normalizing. We’ve seen a lot of success recently. We've hit a couple more pockets of the higher-grade gold. So, that is moving forward. And really, with Graham in Australia and Paul, they really have that managed. Because Dumont is funded within the JV for RNC’s portion, there's no real immediate need for us to take cash from profits in Australia and funnel it towards the nickel. So, at the moment we are under no immediate pressure to do anything about it. However, we are in an interesting nickel market right now, very much more so than when we completed. So, when completed the fees back in June, nickel was $5.50 a pound. Nickel is now hovering between 7.50 and 8 dollars a pound. The stocks on the LME are almost at an all-time low. So, we're in a very different place. So, we want to make sure that we do look right now at taking advantage of this current nickel price to see if there's that appetite. But at the end of the day, we're not going to fire sale Dumont.
Matthew Gordon: Sure. But neither are you going to decide rashly, because nickel is famously volatile, right? You've been through various super cycles of nickel and they last a long time. And I think we talked about it, bits of scrap metal getting to the market if the prices stay high for long enough. And that's going to again, give us a false impression of supply for a while.
Johnna Muinonen: Absolutely. I agree. If we look at right now, this recent price action is really somewhat artificially generated by Indonesia exclusively. Where Indonesia has restricted the export of ore into China to make NPI. So, originally, they had restricted as of the end of the year, but then people were starting to massively export ore above and beyond their current permits. So as of Monday, they announced that it was shut down completely. Whether or not that's going to be permanent or going to be for a few weeks until they figure out what's going on, we don't know. However, it’s definitely a supply control versus demand. With this rising nickel price environment, it is going to draw out stockpiles of stainless-steel scrap of ferro nickel that has been sitting in people's backyards waiting for nickel to go above five or six dollars.
Matthew Gordon: I think we know which backyards.
Johnna Muinonen: Yes, we do. So, we will need to chew through that as an industry.
Matthew Gordon: How long?
Johnna Muinonen: Probably, next year into Q1, Q2. It's not a huge amount. However, there is some. And stainless is still pretty soft in terms of the demand side of things.
[17:39] Matthew Gordon: And that's going to affect prices?
Johnna Muinonen: It will. Absolutely.
Matthew Gordon: But it will bounce back up?
Johnna Muinonen: I mean long term, we have seen year on year deficits in nickel production into the industry. We’re on our third year of deficits. I believe next year the International Study Group is predicting another small deficit. We are seeing these deficits. We do need new nickel to come online at some point in time. And that's really just the stainless-steel story, you start to overlap the EV’s story on top of that. I think the challenge with EV’s is nobody's quite sure how fast, how much and when. But it is definitely out there. EV’s especially within China, within Europe, all of the large major auto companies are now announcing major plans for EV cars to come out, various models. But it's a bit uncertain about timing. And I 100% believe it's coming. I personally drive an EV. I think that once you drive them you realize exactly why people love their EVs. But it is coming. I do think it will probably be slower and I think if you really look at the industry on the OEM side of things, specially within the historical the OEMs, they have so much infrastructure built into building internal combustion engine cars. That is going to be a very hard tide to change quickly. They have billions of dollars invested in plants and invested in manufacturing lines. Plus, you just need to ramp up the battery and cathode supply side. There's a huge amount of capital that will need to be spent to actually make all these batteries. It's not just tomorrow. So, when we look at Dumont, the one thing I'm very excited about is if you look at the world of nickel and you look at nickel sulphide deposits the reality is there just aren't that many or any nickel sulphide deposits that are currently permitted in a low risk jurisdiction that can produce something in the order of 30,000 to 50,000 tons of nickel annually for 30 years. And that's where I think Dumont's value really is.
Matthew Gordon: How long did the last cycle last?
Johnna Muinonen: Oh, I mean, the down cycle, the reality is that we haven't seen a true nickel bull market since 2007/2008 really. I mean, there was a bit of a bull market 2010 when RNC first IPO’d. We sort of lucked into a window there back in 2010, but otherwise it ran up a little bit 2013. But we haven't been in a true bull market for a while.
Matthew Gordon: We've seen some pretty big numbers forecast. What are the conversations internally with Waterton.
Johnna Muinonen: There's sort of two conversations. One is how do we maximize value for RNC shareholders? And then how do we maximize value for Dumont within the JV? And what does the structure of the JV… It’s a JV between two partners.
Matthew Gordon: Why are those two separate things?
Johnna Muinonen: Not necessarily. Maybe they get cleared up in one step. Well, in terms of ownership, in terms of how Dumont is owned. And maybe there's options around things like potentially… to get to your point of you can't predict the future, looking at an alternative for Dumont that separates it in some form from RNC, but potentially RNC retains an interest of some sort of upside potential. I don't know exactly what that looks like. But maybe there's something there where you kind of look at doing the best of both worlds. You create a clean gold company, a clean nickel company but RNC at some level retains some sort of upside interests. We are talking about that, looking at that, what does it look like? Adding a new NSR onto Dumont's probably not doable but revamping something around that or something. But there are options that we're looking at because that really for RNC shareholders, that would start to reduce some of these short-term risks of just selling it. It removes the management in Operation and Distraction.
Matthew Gordon: So, these are not unusual considerations in the mining space and those conversations have happened before. But if I’m a long-time, long-suffering shareholder, I am asking the question, ‘how long do you guys need to monetize this?’
Johnna Muinonen: I've been there almost 10 years now.
Matthew Gordon: 10 years. Mines can take 10 years to get into operation. So, this has had, because of the nature of the nickel market… I must explain here. It's not like gold. It's not like copper. So, you can go in fits and bursts, but people are saying, ‘just get it over and done with. I need to see something now’. What do you think it could do for RNC if you did do something this cycle?
Johnna Muinonen: If we did do something this cycle, first of all, in the short-term, there might be a potential to offer RNC some sort of initial consideration. RNC has some debt outstanding. There’re opportunities for capital spend in Australia as well, potentially. If we could monetize Dumont in some way, some short-term value. I think longer term having or retaining some sort of upside consideration is really where that's where you get exposure to the nickel prices. The last time nickel ran, we went from $1.98 up to $25 a 1lbs. Nickel is the most volatile of the base metals, it goes the highest and it goes the lowest and it dives the lowest. So, having some exposure to that long-term, I think that that's how we go about adding value.
Matthew Gordon: What do you think you need to deliver for this cycle to be able to put you in the position, to give you the opportunity to have those conversations?
Johnna Muinonen: We're completing the updated feasibility study. We had to do that just because if we had not done that, we would be trying to market Dumont with an outdated study. So, that was done. The next stages: one is off the back of that study. We need to make sure that our stakeholders, which include the government, including the local communities, are all updated on the study, as well as updating things like closure plans, updating looking at our CFA’s, making sure that we don't need to do anything there or if we do, start to take care of that. Because what we want to make sure is we build Dumont as a shovel ready project, which essentially means what is shovel ready? Shovel ready means that you have your permits in place. You have your land ownership. You have your surface options. You have your mining lease. You have your closure plans. You have your technical study up to date. So, making sure all of those things are maintained because updating your Feasibility Study. That Feasibility Study forms the basis for all of those sorts of feed forward information flow to the government as well. So, the next in the short-term, making sure that we have all of that, maintaining our shovel ready status, that is very important. A couple of things, some of the more optional ones, are really around looking at some of the value-added opportunities that we saw come out of Feasibility Study. So, in the feasibility study, we saw some opportunities around automation, truck automation, just like the EV story, just like all of the things, haul truck automation is coming along faster than… so, by the time Dumont gets into production trucks of that scale will almost all be automated. So, we want to look at that because that adds significant value. We want to look at potentially magnetite off-take. We want to look at some technical equipment choices. So, there are a few things we'd like to look at over the next sort of 6-months to look at how is there an opportunity to add more value to Dumont? Because that really speaks to investors who want to come in to say, what are my upsides? Here's the project, what else could I get?
Matthew Gordon: But you can have these conversations now because you’ve got to leave something on the table for them because they can go, well, maybe we automate this. There's an opportunity margin for them, right? Are you having conversations now?
Johnna Muinonen: We've had ongoing conversations with people over the last three to four years.
Matthew Gordon: Who?
Johnna Muinonen: The major mining companies, nickel companies. We're talking with downstream OEMs. Battery companies, as well as trading firms.
Matthew Gordon: But some of those are more realistic like those OEMs, EV revolution, a couple years out, mining companies, they know who you are and you're one of a handful of big, large scale operations for nickel. So, why aren't they knocking at your door now?
Johnna Muinonen: I think they're keeping they're in a bit of a wait and see approach right now.
Matthew Gordon: What are they waiting for?
Johnna Muinonen: I think they're waiting for a couple of things. I think that they're waiting for the nickel demand side of the story to become much stronger.
Matthew Gordon: They've got to have a view on this, because they must be looking at nickel, reading the same reports I'm reading going, it's all good, right? So, why not come in now? What's stopping them?
Johnna Muinonen: A history of greenfield nickel projects that have not been successful. Now they're much more complicated than ours. They're very much higher risk jurisdictions, much more complicated flow sheets. Dumont is a very standard mine and mill, as opposed to some of the very complicated HPALs or a laterite projects that have been blown out the water.
Matthew Gordon: By complicated, do you mean more expensive?
Johnna Muinonen: Technically complicated, which then leads to more expensive, significantly more expensive. We are a mine and a mill. On a scale of simple, people know how to build mines and mills.
Matthew Gordon: People should be attracted to that. You're saying people still just aren't committing because the nickel price is doing what they think it should be doing.
Johnna Muinonen: I think that they're still in a wait and see mode. Absolutely they have forecasts. I mean, absolutely. They think that the future of nickel is, ‘we are about to enter a bull market over the next 12-months to 18-months’. They're keeping in touch. They're making sure, knowing what's up, knowing what's happening. But I think people are waiting to see the demand side start to get a little bit stronger. I just think that with the supply restraint in Indonesia…We were at $5 a pound 3-months ago. I just think most people haven't quite caught up and there’s still there's a bit of a disbelief that now we're between $7.50 and $8, let's just have a wait and see for a bit.
Matthew Gordon: They want some consistency.
Johnna Muinonen: Do we make it through this next quarter? Do we see the price fall back? And if so, how much does it fall back? How much scrap is really out there that's going to come into the market?
Matthew Gordon: That’s a question of pricing. How much they are going to pay. Not a question of if, it's a question of what's the optimal timing for us to work out how much this is going to cost us? Is that what you’re saying?
Johnna Muinonen: I think in some ways. I do think that whole EV story... I do believe in the EV story. But I do think the question on speed that it's going to advance and the timing. I think that most people are still somewhat bearish on some of those estimates. And so, people are still taking that wait and see. Everybody believes that the EVs are coming and that batteries are going to be a significant consumer of nickel moving forward. But timing! Is it really 2023 or is it 2025? What are we really going to need this nickel to come on board? And then with the run up that's been so sudden and somewhat unexpected, I think people are just sort of wait and see. So, keeping in touch and making sure they know what the updates are, what's happening.
Matthew Gordon: If someone puts a $1Bn, gets this thing built out for you. What do they expect to make?
Johnna Muinonen: If you look at the free cash flow of the project over the life of the deposit, somewhere, EBITDA $200M annually. It's a large cash generating project. It is a low cost. Overall our C1 cash costs over the life of mine (LOM) are just over $3 - $3.22 are all in sustaining cash (AISC) per pound on a U.S. dollar basis is just under $4 at about $3.90. So, when you're looking at projects to invest, because the thing about nickel, I talked about it before, nickel is the most volatile of the base metals, it jumps the highest and it falls the lowest. If you're going to invest $1Bn in the project, you need to make sure that that $1Bn is going to be paid back. You have to make money.
Matthew Gordon: And there's a cost to it.
Johnna Muinonen: And there's a cost to it. There's interest there. There's a cost to that to everybody. The reason why I believe in Dumont, one of the reasons, is just because of its scale. So, we have a 30-year life project. That 30-year life allows you to take advantage of those peaks and valleys of the nickel cycle. And because it's such a large scale, low-cost project, you are profitable along that that entire time. Any investor that comes in has that time on their side to be able to get back their investment. Because nickel, unlike copper, it does really go up and down. When you look at some other projects that are $300M - $500M to invest, but only are 10-years, you can really easily miss the price cycle.
Matthew Gordon: The cost of building the plant, aggregated at over 10 years versus 30 years. We understand that. Johnna thanks very much for coming in. Brilliant to catch up with you. We understand your brief. Monetise this for shareholders. That's what they want to hear from you in the next few months. How you going to do it, what are those discussions are developing and what it's going to mean for them.
Johnna Muinonen: Our focus is shareholder value. And the board and Paul have given me very clear direction around looking at what we can do with Dumont to maximise shareholder value.
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