Pretium Q2 2018 update: there are things that don’t add up

Pretium has reported excellent grades that are in line with their 2014 feasibility study and subsequent updates to their resource model.

  • Q2 feed grade: 14.9 g/t gold
  • Year 1 of feasibility study: 15.4 g/t
  • Reserve update announced Dec 2016: 14.5 g/t
  • H2 2018 guidance: 11.6g/t to 12.82g/t after recovery losses at 2900tpd operation.  If recoveries are 97%, guidance implies 12.0g/t to 13.2g/t. 12.9 to 14.2 g/t. (EDIT 7/12/2018: Management stated that the guidance was based on 2700tpd on the conference call, so I should have calculated based on 2700tpd.)

The guidance range is insanely tight as it is roughly ±5% (200,000 to 220,000 ounces).  Pretium has gone from complaining about the accuracy of the sample tower data, to saying that it would provide guidance at the end of 2017 and not do so, and now it is saying that it can predict production to within 5%.  Simon Dominy’s paper (draft version with working images, final version), especially Table 9, is worth a read as this newfound level of precision is very suspicious to me.

My gut feeling remains the same: this story will not end well.  There’s one way to validate or invalidate my short thesis.  In the coming quarters, Pretium will release its financial statements.  If the mine is the real deal, cash will pile up on the balance sheet.  In theory, it’s possible for Pretium to cook the books a little simply by not reporting all of its liabilities.  But there’s a limitation to that type of distortion, e.g. I can’t see how it would be possible to understate more than a quarter’s worth of expenses.  Over the span of 1-2 years, the financials will paint a reasonably accurate picture as to the mine’s profitability so far.  Looking at financials would therefore sidestep the issue as to whether or not the reported grades are real.

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Wrestling and CEOs sabotaging their business

The conventional investing wisdom is that owner-operators should outperform since management has a lot of skin in the game.  In the case of WWE however, that’s not the case at all.  Vince McMahon, the CEO, does what he wants with his company and has left a lot of money on the table by interfering in his own business.  WWE’s shows are fairly cringeworthy because Vince McMahon insists on micromanaging the creative, sometimes even writing dialog himself.

But it’s not just Vince McMahon who does this.  One reason why Vince ended up with a quasi-monopoly in the wrestling business is because his competitors were even more poorly managed.  The lesson is that some (but not all) human beings will interfere in their own success.  It’s like hiring a brain surgeon and telling him/her how to do brain surgery.  Some people will engage in dangerous meddling rather than stepping aside to let competent people do their job.  These behaviours are likely hard-wired (nature rather than nurture).  While the detrimental effects of counterproductive micromanagement will eventually become obvious, some owners will repeatedly continue their mismanagement regardless.

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Pretium part 4: Geological controls + Strathcona resignation letter

Ivor Jones’ technical report uses the wrong geological controls.  When Pretium expanded the bulk sampling program, it went out of its way to trace and excavate the Cleopatra vein.  The Contact Mill in Montana confirmed that the vein has grades above 80g/t.  The issue is that the Cleopatra vein’s geological controls are completely different than those used for the resource estimate.  Pretium’s technical reports were not updated to reflect this.

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Pretium part 1: Free cash flow analysis

So far, the Brucejack mine has yet to generate free cash flow.  Without needing to get too fancy, simply looking at Pretium’s cash flow is enough to see that Pretium’s shareholders will likely be wiped out or diluted close to zero eventually.  Pretium may have extreme difficulty in coming up with the $423M+ needed to refinance its credit facility on or before December 2019.

Click here for the Google Sheet.

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Pretium part 2: Dr. Simon Dominy describes Brucejack’s geology

In this post, I’ll describe my opinion as to the correct geological model for Pretium’s flagship Brucejack mine.  A lot of it is based on a paper that Dr. Simon Dominy published (with Isobel Clark) about something called conditional modelling (draft version with working images, final version).  The paper uses the Brucejack project as an example and deviates from the Pretium party line in many ways.  One important deviation is that Dominy seems to (unintentionally) analyze sample tower data that wasn’t disclosed to the public, suggesting that the unreleased data is material to understanding Brucejack’s geology.

One key implication of (what I think is) the correct geological model is that the amount of economic gold in the Brucejack deposit is significantly below what the Ivor Jones resource model estimated.  In the diagram above:

  1. It was originally thought that the blue/teal areas would be worth mining.  This is what the resource model and feasibility study predicted before the first bulk sampling program.
  2. However, all of the economic gold at Brucejack is concentrated in ultra-high grade veins like the Cleopatra and 615 Lateral (E-W) veins.  If you simply compare the area of the red regions versus the blue regions, you can see that the tonnage involved is much, much lower.  While the veins are very high grade (e.g. the second bulk sample mill results found grades of over 80g/t for Cleopatra material), the higher grade does not fully offset the massive reduction in tonnage.

Unfortunately, Pretium does not disclose the lithological information (rock type) associated with drill results.  So, there is no way to independently estimate Brucejack resources.

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The AMD bear raid from Viceroy + CTS-Labs + YLZ, volume V

It turns out that I missed other parts of CTS’ old website from January 2018.  The Management Team section from January has a different story than the one from March.

Secondly, I should own up to some of my mistakes in covering CTS Labs.

  1. AMD has confirmed the vulnerabilities.  I originally thought that perhaps (A) CTS Labs was rehashing known issues or (B) they didn’t have the technical chops to find security vulnerabilities.  I was wrong.  AMD’s story differs from CTS Labs in other respects though.  CTS Labs has suggested that the vulnerabilities may take months to fix.  AMD states: “AMD is working on PSP firmware updates that we plan to release in the coming weeks.”  *AMD’s blog post is not entirely clear about when fixes for the Promontory chipset will be available.
  2. Apparently CTS Labs (via its PR consultant) is claiming that Yaron Luk-Zilberman (YLZ) no longer actively manages NineWells Capital.  It’s unclear to me as to when that occurred since YLZ’s name appears on a March 8, 2018 SEC filing for NineWells.  Regardless, it wouldn’t be accurate for me to equate YLZ with NineWells.

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