African Battery Metals (LSE:ABM) has been on something of a roller coaster ride over the last few months. After its shares were suspended at the end of 2018, in the face of financial uncertainty, a successful refinancing programme allowed the company to return to trading in February with no debt and a healthy cash runway. Alongside this newfound financial security, the organisation has also undergone a significant management restructuring that has seen Paul Johnson and Andrew Bell both become executive directors. 

In the first part of our interview with Johnson, the AIM veteran discussed Bell and his reasons for approaching African Battery and their plans for the outfit’s existing portfolio. Here, he discusses the pair’s recent deal with AIM-listed Katoro gold and their plans to make the most of today’s ‘very poor’ funding climate for early-stage resource opportunities as they line up African Battery’s future.

Haneti opportunity

Johnson and Bell revealed African Battery’s first foray into new territory under their leadership last month, announcing an investment and option agreement with Katoro Gold (LSE:KAT). Under the contract, African Battery will be able to purchase up to 10m shares in Katoro at 1p each with three-year warrants attached. It also has the right to purchase up to 35pc in Katoro’s 100pc-owned Haneti nickel project in Tanzania, for a total consideration of up to £125,000.

Haneti comprises tenements covering an area of around 5,000km2 prospective for nickel, platinum-group-elements, cobalt, copper, gold, and lithium. Previous work has identified grades of up to 13.6pc nickel at the project, and an exploration programme this year will aim to confirm the existence of disseminated or massive sulphide mineralisation in the area. Alongside Haneti, Katoro owns a further two gold projects in Tanzania called Imweru and Lubando. Together, these host a JORC-compliant resource of 754,980oz gold.

As well as giving African Battery exposure to a new nickel project and a new jurisdiction, Johnson says he and Bell felt that Katoro’s looked undervalued:

‘Like all resource firms, Katoro has suffered recently. Its market cap currently sits at just £1m, which is unbelievably low considering that it has a large amount of gold in its portfolio, a potentially high-impact nickel project, and cash in the bank. We see plenty of upside on the stock, and think its market cap could go substantially higher.’

Johnson also highlights parallels between Katoro and Haneti’s previous owner Kibo Mining (now Kibo Energy), into which Metal Tiger entered a joint venture in 2014 when he was chief executive. Shortly after Metal Tiger made a £150,000 equity investment and launched the 50:50 project focused on its uranium-prospective portfolio in Tanzania, Kibo’s shares shot up from below 1.5p to more than 10p in intra-day trading.

This rise, which occurred very quickly, came after Metal Tiger’s investment supported Kibo in the delivery of a highly positive definitive mining feasibility study at its Rukwa coal to power project. With the deal earning Metal Tiger a significant profit in short order, Johnson hopes that alongside having an option over Hanet, African Battery can make a lot from its Katoro shareholding.

Broadening horizons

Alongside the Katoro deal, March also saw Johnson and Bell lay out their plans for African Battery’s future in a strategic and operational plan. The company said that the funding climate for early-stage resource opportunities is still ‘very poor’, thanks to depressed market conditions. As a result, it believes vendors are willing to undertake transactions on unusually reasonable terms. Using some of its remaining cash balance, the firm plans to take advantage of this by reviewing and – if appropriate – acquiring new opportunities that complement its existing portfolio and provide additional risk diversification.

In the update, African Battery said it has already received direct approaches from third parties with assets in battery metals, precious metals, and other commodity groups. As well as looking at new commodity groups, the firm said that, although it intends to remain focused on Africa, it would be willing to enter new jurisdictions if an attractive enough opportunity arose.

‘We are obviously very focused on reviewing what we can do with the existing portfolio,’ says Johnson. ‘However, we are also considering investment opportunities that can boost our balance sheet, bolster our financial strength and expose us to strategically attractive areas for future business development. For example, it would be good to get diversification across a wider geographical spread in Africa, rather than focusing solely on the West of the continent. There are a number of attractive opportunities out there in stable jurisdictions before offered at good valuations.’

Aside from maintaining and expanding African Battery’s portfolio, Johnson said another core goal for Bell and himself is to restore value for long-term shareholders. He highlights his stints at Metal Tiger, Greatland Gold, and Thor Mining as evidence of his ability to implement a successful business turnaround strategy.

‘African Battery has been through a period of difficulty, and it is now down to us to restore confidence in the company. There are a lot of people with personal money invested that have suffered a large capital loss. So, alongside making money for the investors that entered alongside us, we have got to try and make back as much of that cash that long-term shareholders have lost on paper as possible,’ he says.

Both Andrew Bell and I have enjoyed turnaround success at numerous businesses over the years, with good examples being Thor Mining, Metal Tiger, and Greatland Gold. We enter African Battery in a far more comfortable position than many of these examples. The company has no debt, a good strong cash balance, and some existing interests with value that can be taken forward. What’s more, we are at the bottom of the market, or at least close to it. That is the scenario you want if you are going to make a recovery. It is really a case of doing the same thing as we have done before: maintaining our strong core business model and grabbing new opportunities as and when they become available.’

Where next?

With one asset left to review and new projects on the agenda, the next few months are likely to see African Battery deliver plenty of newsflow for investors. What’s more, by a revitalised balance sheet devoid of debt and replete with cash complements this forward momentum. If the business’s two experienced bosses can strike the right chord with the retail market by meeting all of their strategic and operational goals, then the company could be poised for exciting growth.

Author: Daniel Flynn

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