Friday, March 23, 2012

Inter-Citic Minerals (ICMTF) Readies Its Dachang Gold

Inter-Citic Minerals (ICMTF / ICI.TO) first got my attention at the San Francisco Hard Assets Conference a few years ago as a unique Chinese gold exploration play open directly to U.S. investors.  China at the time had just emerged as the world's leading gold producer and had launched its strategy of building its national gold horde.  I began watching Inter-Citic in earnest to see if it would break out.

I've checked on the stock once in a while since 2008.  The share price has pretty much gone nowhere for years, languishing in penny territory for most of 2008 and 2009, then wandering north of a buck this year (or two bucks, as in late 2010 and early 2011).  Investors who bought in early 2008 have seen little value added.  Maybe that has something to do with the lack of direct mining experience among the company's top executives, with apparently not a single geologist among them.  Just sayin'.

Their 2011 Annual Information Form mentions completed 43-101 results but their exploration program has not matured to the point where they can determine 2P reserves.  The ore grades look decent but production is still years away and the mine awaits permitting.  The Q4 2011 financial statements indicate that they probably have enough cash and short term investments (over $11M in Nov. 2011) to survive another year of $6M+ losses without a capital raise.  Given the increasing problem of inflation in China, miners like Inter-Citic should factor in larger capex expenditures for future budgets and should accelerate the dates of whatever future capital raises they may have planned.

What's notable from the Q4 financial statements is Inter-Citic's enormous capital deficit (i.e., the equivalent of negative retained earnings) of over $53M.  Inter-Citic's own published estimates put the NPV of this mine between $198M (with gold price at $750/oz) and $457M (with gold price at $1050/oz).  The Dachang mine needs to operate for at least one to two years of its projected nine year life just to to dig the company out of that hole, let alone create real value.  If they get their permits by 2013, this means the company won't create real shareholder equity before 2014 at the earliest.  Here's hoping they keep their estimated cash operating costs below $404/oz indefinitely (which IMHO is actually a pretty competitive number).

I'll keep watching Inter-Citic for strategic reasons.  China still wants to build a domestic hard asset horde to gradually supplant its U.S. Treasury holdings in a way that doesn't provoke a run on the U.S. dollar.  Encouraging the development of mines like Dachang, even if foreign-operated, is a natural part of that strategy.  The PRC will likely continue to buy gold from domestic production and sequester it from the world market, so Inter-Citic will face a very generous customer with deep pockets if it ever gets its permitting completed.  The company's well-connected Chinese strategic investors (including the Zijin Mining Group) may come in handy.

Full disclosure:  No position in Inter-Citic at this time.