Shares in gold and copper exploration business Chesterfield Resources (LSE:CHF) have languished since the company re-admitted to the Official List of the London Stock Exchange last summer. Currently sitting at 4p a share the Cypriot-focussed business is valued at £2.48m, which compares favourably to its current £1.73m cash position. With the firm fully funded for its 2019 drill commitments we caught up with Executive Chairman Martin French, who describes to us why he is so confident about the business’s prospects in 2019.
In the months since July’s readmission, Chesterfield has been building on its strong base in Cyprus, culminating in the news earlier this month that it has more than tripled its exploration land package in the formerly thriving mining jurisdiction. With a funded exploration programme and near-term revenue opportunities on the cards, French says Chesterfield will be stepping up efforts to make its story known to the retail market throughout the rest of 2019.
Chesterfield was set up as a cash shell back in August 2017 by a consortium of experienced mining investors. The group aimed to buy a company or asset that could profit from underinvestment in the mining sector alongside growing commodity demand and advances in technology.
Following its suspension in November 2017, as potential transaction talks began, Chesterfield returned to trading in summer last year with the purchase of HKP Exploration for £500,000, paid in shares. The company raised a further £2m at 7.5p a share to cover a £1.1m work programme and £400,000 of working capital costs.
French told us that Chesterfield was drawn to HKP’s focus on exploring for natural resources in Cyprus. The island has a rich mining heritage and a very active copper industry that used to be centred around the foothills of its Troodos mountains. However, this activity came to an abrupt halt in 1974 following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. French says a surprisingly small amount of exploration work has taken place in the decades since.
Alongside its prospectivity, French says Cyprus’s EU membership and strong UK ties have made it very easy for Chesterfield to operate. Indeed, despite the Turkish partition remaining in place, the area is well-ranked in terms of ease of doing business and corruption perception. Elsewhere, Cyprus’s climate allows for year-round exploration, and its well-developed infrastructure only serves to support operations further.
All-in-all French says these conditions, and healthy supply/demand dynamics in the copper market, have given rise to an opportunity to discover and develop multiple deposits in the country to production. Fortunately, he adds, the island’s government has reciprocated this enthusiasm to date:
‘I think Cyprus now wants to diversify away from its traditional, hallmark economic drivers, which are tourism and financial services. The fact that companies like Chesterfield are coming in to revive the island’s mining industry is very attractive from the government’s point of view,’ he says. ‘This, along with all of the connections to the UK, have made Cyprus a great area in which to operate – perhaps even more so than other EU jurisdictions, where some of our peers are targeting. We have found the mining regulatory authority very helpful.’
HKP made applications to the government of Cyprus for 100pc-ownership of seven prospecting permits to search for minerals in 2017. These were approved in Q1 2018. Together, these form a 32.1km2 project on the west of the Troodos Mountains (Troodos West) that includes numerous, previously-operating copper and pyrite mines.
Following this success, the business applied for yet another six prospecting permits last year. Five of these cover c.23km2 to the north of the mountains (Troodos North), while the remaining license covers 4.8km2 to the east (Troodos East). Like the acreage to the west, these permits include old mines. As it stands, four of the Troodos North licences and the Troodos East permit have been granted. The final permits are expected soon.
A map of Chesterfield’s holdings in the belt surrounding Cyprus’s Troodos Mountains
Chesterfield immediately set out a phased exploration work programme for its HKP portfolio after taking over the firm last year. It gave itself a £1.1m budget and a one-year deadline for the work and is targeting a 1MM-5MMM mineral resource from multiple prospects. It expects this to grade c.2pc copper plus more than 1g/t of gold and silver & zinc credits.
Although different areas are progressing at different rates, its programme is broadly made up of three phases. The first phase involves collating historical data and interpreting satellite imagery to identify prospective areas and prioritise fieldwork. Stage two then consists of ranking these prospects and defining field targets using geological & structural mapping, soil sampling, and ground geophysics. Finally, phase three centres around drilling targets and creating mineral resources.
Despite historical drilling at Chesterfield’s acreage, French says he sees an opportunity in approaching the ground with superior geological understanding, modern exploration techniques and drilling technology. By doing this, the business hopes to prove up economic mineral resources and open new mines.
‘We are in Cyprus to make commercial discoveries, and we are very confident that we can do that. We have exploration techniques that were not previously available to companies operating in the region and a vastly improved geological knowledge,’ French tells us. ‘Drilling was very slow and expensive back then. In our eyes, we are approaching the asset as if it were new with the knowledge that it is already prospective.’
Chesterfield’s primary focus so far has been Troodos West. To kick things off, it signed a diamond drilling contract with GEOPS Bolkan for at least 4,000m of drilling on multiple targets at the property last September.
Rather than make a single massive discovery, French says the firm plans to discover a series of smaller deposits at Troodos West. Cyprus is well-known for volcanic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits. These are small but concentrated high-grade deposits surrounded by larger lower-grade mineralised vein systems. Provided these are found near each other, Chesterfield hopes to combine them and create a cheap, centralised processing operating.
The organisation’s first targets were at Evloimeni, Mavroyi and Double Seven where a review of historic mining data highlighted the existence of Cyprus-type VMS copper-gold-zinc-silver mineralisation. The firm also conducted ongoing fieldwork to identify additional drilling targets.
Alongside its exploration work, Chesterfield is working to develop early cash flow opportunities from waste dumps. In particular, French highlights a site called Limni as a near-term revenue opportunity for Chesterfield at West Troodos. Limni is a large, historic open pit mine where more than 8MMts at 1.1pc copper has reportedly been exploited.
‘We are fairly sure that Limni contains a large amount of copper in solution,’ says French. ‘When it rains heavily, the pit even starts to overflow with bright blue streams – as sure a sign of mineralisation as you could get. We are looking to drill into Limni and test if we can extract this and we should be talking more about that soon.’
Last month saw Chesterfield announce that it had drilled more than 3,000m at Troodos West, with much of this taking place around Limni and other old workings nearby. Most of the holes intercepted mineralisation.
The drilling also discovered an unexpectedly high amount of gold potential alongside the primary target of copper. Furthermore, it provided evidence of epithermal mineralised structures alongside VMS deposits. In essence, French tells us that this offers the potential for two separate styles of mineralisation.
‘Cyprus is well known for hosting VMS deposits. So much so, that geology students often go out to the island to study its structures,’ says French. With this in mind, the real surprise for us was that we hit surprisingly high levels of gold, as well as copper. ‘We have also discovered more recent epithermal systems, which we did not expect. This, therefore, means that mineralisation is hosted in at least two types of systems, which is very exciting.’
In response to the strong results, Chesterfield has accelerated its pace in several areas. First of all, it has commissioned a remote sensing survey across all its licence areas, and additional operational ground facilities are being appraised.
Secondly, the company has decided to more than triple its exploration land package. Earlier this month, it revealed that it had filed applications over a further 182.96km2 of ground, taking its entire area of licences under application to 237.61km2. Now that these applications have been submitted, no other entities can apply for them.
French tells us that Chesterfield’s land interest in Cyprus is now a multiple of that of any other player in the country. He adds that the company has already begun a detailed exploration programme on this significantly enlarged licence area, with drilling planned for later this year.
‘If these licences are granted we will be the dominant player in Cyprus in terms of exploration acreage – we are very much gunning the engine,’ he says. We will take this land package and start to explore it straight away. There really is a lot you can do very quickly with remote sensing and archival data to begin generating target lists. We hope to drill again on these around mid-year, but this could come even sooner because our contracted drill is held in our facility, meaning it is easily accessible.'
To support its expanded operations, Chesterfield has also been increasing its presence in Cyprus. The company established a local Cyprus-based office in September last year and hired a number of graduates from the Camborne School of Mines. It also took on a local geological team to accelerate exploration and data analysis. It hopes to grow this further over the coming weeks. It has also taken on Michael Parker as chief operating officer. Parker previously worked at First Quantum Minerals for 20 years, where he held senior country manager positions in the DRC and Latin America and played a crucial role in two substantial copper discoveries.
Chesterfield is also led by a wealth of mining and financing experience outside of Cyprus. Indeed, French, who was appointed shortly after the HKP deal last year, has more than 30 years of experience in capital markets and investment banking. He was previously Managing Director of North River Resources, a brownfield underground lead-zinc project in Namibia, which he turned around and sold to Greenstone Capital. The project is now entering production. Meanwhile, non-exec director David Cliffe was previously head of Exploration Europe for Rio Tinto.
Elsewhere, fellow non-exec director Peter Damouni has built a strong reputation in Canada for his skill as a corporate financier. Throughout his career, Damouni has worked on and led equity and debt financings values over $5bn. French, who owns a 4.84pc stake in Chesterfield himself, also highlights the company’s unusually prolific shareholder base for its size.
‘Peter Damouni is part of a group of seasoned mining investors who own around half of our business. As it stands, most of our remaining shareholders are mining professionals from the UK, including a number of other junior mining CEOs,’ he tells us. ‘When we raised £2m last July we placed it out to quite a specific investor group. So, for a small company, we have the backing of experienced mining investors and a lot of senior expertise.’
After a quiet entry to the market as it worked on securing a strong Cypriot foothold, Chesterfield is entering a critical period. Indeed, now it has begun to receive a regular stream of assay results from its drilling work, French says investors can expect a steady stream of news flow about new targets and projects over coming months.
‘We stayed under the market radar last year as we wanted to substantially build up our land-holding in Cyprus without drawing the attention of other players,’ said French. ‘Now that we have completed this land acquisition programme we are ready to come out and tell our story. We want the strength and assets of the company to be reflected in our market value and will be working on that. There is a huge global focus on copper right now, and a discovery in Cyprus would attract a lot of attention.’
With shares jumping nearly 15pc when the company announced its licence extensions last week, it seems the market is now starting to sit up and listen. The fact that the firm believes its current c£1.7m cash position will fully fund its 2019 programme is only going to help on this front. With near-term revenue opportunities and plenty of exploration ground in its arsenal, Chesterfield’s current £2.48m market could present interesting value.
Author: Daniel Flynn
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