Shares in gold and nickel exploration and development player Katoro Gold (LSE:KAT) are currently experiencing a lot of interest in the market – they are currently sitting at 3.16p after rising 241% so far this year.

Katoro’s strong momentum began recently with news of a new, near-term gold production opportunity in South Africa. With the deal immediately putting a near-term revenue stream on the horizon, it is not hard to see why Katoro has captured the attention of investors. That being said, even after recent price movements, Katoro is currently only valued at around £6 million. This demonstrates how far many junior exploration and development firms have really fallen in recent years.

Given the true scale of the JV’s revenue potential amid bullish gold market conditions and the likelihood of positive near-term news flow, we believe Katoro’s current bull-run could well continue for some time.

Immediate impact

To recap, on 30 January 2020, Katoro announced its binding, conditional entry into a 50/50 unincorporated joint venture (“JV”) with a company called Blyvoor. The partners plan to reprocess and exploit an existing 1.34 million ounce, JORC-compliant gold resource spanning six tailing dams 75 kilometres south-west of Johannesburg in South Africa.

As part of the deal, Katoro will provide up to a £790,000 repayable loan to the JV to fund ongoing development work on the project. To support this, Katoro has already raised £397,000 in the form of a convertible loan note with investors through SI Capital and has also agreed further facilities with external finance partners for the balance if this is called down. This means finance for Kataro’s entry into this transaction is already resolved, an important element for investor confidence.

The first critical point to note about the South Africa JV is that it represents a considerable, near-term revenue-generating production opportunity for Katoro.

Much of the groundwork has already been covered at the South African tailings project. For example, the mining licence and environmental impact assessment required for the reprocessing of the tailings is already in place. This means that production can begin immediately once a processing plant has been constructed and commissioned.

Plant progress may not be too far off, either – Katoro has already held discussions with potential funding parties for the project. It believes this will be secured at the project level in the form of debt funding – meaning shareholders would not be diluted at the PLC level.

The second key point to note is the potential economic impact that the 50/50 JV project could have for Katoro once gold recovery begins.

The partners are targeting an initial production rate of up to 250,000 tonnes of material a month at an average grade of 0.3 grams per tonne gold from the tailings. This is expected to mark the first stage of a production ramp-up to 500,000 tonnes of material a month within two years. At 500,000 tonnes of material per month, the project is targeted to produce around 35,000 ounces of gold a year and to have a 35-year life of mine.

So, what does this mean financially?

Katoro’s board believes that the project enters economic territory at a $1,300 an ounce (“/oz”) gold price. As such, this figure has used this to calculate economic fundamentals.

Including an all-in-sustaining cost of just $664/oz for the first five years planned production and project capital costs of $30-35 million, the firm puts the project’s net present value (10) at $49 million and its internal rate of return at 31%.

To put this another way, at an annual production rate of 35,000 ounces of gold, the project would generate around $22.3 million per annum for the JV ( (35,000 X 1,300) – (35,000 X 664) ). Katoro’s 50% share of this comes in at $11.15 million (c.£8.6 million per annum), a figure that compares very favourable to its current, c.£6 million market cap.

This type of comparison begins to look even more favourable when you consider the fact that, in reality, gold prices currently sit much higher than $1,300/oz. If we use the $1,565/oz quoted by Katoro as the current gold price in its 30 January release, then Katoro’s annual take from the project at a 35,000-ounce per annum production rate comes in at $15.8 million, or c.£12.2 million per annum ( ( (35,000 X 1,565) – (35,000 X 664) ) /2 ).

With many expecting gold prices to continue rising after climbing 20% in the third quarter of 2019, there is room for these figures to become even more attractive.

Moreover, the project currently has a projected life of 33 years, demonstrating the long-term production and revenue generating potential.

Finally, there are several important indications that the JV will be able to quickly and easily build on the strong economic foundations in place at the South African tailings project.

First, the funds provided by Katoro as part of the JV agreement will be used to, in the company’s own words, “optimise mining strategy”. The firms will complete final detailed mine planning and scheduling to perfect mining strategy and better define the expected plant feed grades and identify possible low-grade zones. They will also look at ways to keep operating costs down as much as possible and maximise processing efficiency. Currently, gold recoveries of 56-60% are thought to be achievable – could this figure rise?

Meanwhile, the JV has already shown its commitment to forming as strong a management team as possible to drive forward. On 10 February 2020, less than two weeks after the deal was announced, the firms had formed a JV management committee and appointed new JV manager  Graham Briggs – former chief executive of Harmony Gold Mining. The group have already started “moving forward multiple workstreams”, according to Katoro.

The JV’s new management, rapid pace, and work to optimise its project alongside financing discussions show commitment to advancing as quickly and in as economical a way as possible. Not only that, but these points are likely to provide a great deal of short-term news that – if positive – could provide further fuel for Katoro’s share price.

The sky is the limit

The bottom line is that Katoro’s entry into the South Africa JV has changed its outlook significantly, putting near-term revenue generation on the horizon. Although the meteoric rise in Katoro’s share price reflects this, the project’s potential in a strong gold market and the pro-active approach to its optimisation may mean the firm has not yet peaked. Now that Katoro has got the ball rolling, the next few months will be about maintaining the pace with frequent project updates and progress towards gold production.

Author: Daniel Flynn

The Author does not hold any position in the stock(s) and/or financial instrument(s) mentioned in the piece.

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