The China hustle lives on

There are reasons as to why Chinese stocks on non-Chinese exchanges have been a problem in the past:

  1. The VIE structure used for many China stocks is dubious.
  2. China is an easily-marketable theme that attracted the pump and dump industry.
  3. No repercussions for egregious accounting fraud.

Have investors learned their lesson?  Apparently not!  More Chinese stocks with VIE structures are being IPOed.  This is despite the VIE structure becoming even more dubious.  China Law Blog has an excellent post explaining why the VIE (should have) died on January 19, 2015.  Go read it.

Draft makes clear that the State Council understands how VIEs work and that their sole function is to evade the requirements of Chinese law. The Draft makes clear that such evasion is illegal and will be prohibited upon the effective date of the new investment law.

I hope that the investors who buy into the newly-minted Chinese VIEs lend their shares out.

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Equifax: a quick accounting note on capitalizing expenses

It’s possible that Equifax is pulling on accounting levers to juice its earnings and the Adjusted EBITDA that it reports.  Capitalizing expenses (e.g. software development costs) creates profits now and losses later- it changes the timing of when expenses are recognized.

  1. On the balance sheets, capitalized internal-use software grew from 212.5M to 307.0M (an increase of 44% per year, or 94.5M).  This area of accounting is subjective- should software development costs be amortized over 3 years, 10 years, or somewhere in between?  What expenses should be considered capex?  Should these expenses even be capitalized?- some software companies don’t capitalize software development costs at all.  The answers are not clearcut.  However, accounting distortions can occur if a company were to suddenly aggressively capitalize expenses that it previously expensed.
  2. While capitalized internal-use software grew 94.5M, consolidated income before income taxes grew 91.6M in the same timeframe.  So it’s possible that Equifax’s growth is not as fast as it seems.

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Pretium: the feasibility study is not playing out

(This is a follow-up to the post about Pretium’s disappointing grades.)

Pretium’s current production should exceed 13.1g/t, yet it has been 4.660g/t so far.

According to the latest feasibility study (filed June 30, 2014), Pretium should have a stockpile of 81kt of material grading 13.6g/t gold.  The feasibility study anticipated that this stockpile would be processed in years 2 and 3 of the mine’s production phase while higher grade material would be processed first.  This is because conventional mine engineering calls for maximizing the Net Present Value of the project by mining and processing the most profitable ores first (where possible).  So, current production should exceed the stockpile head grades of 13.6g/t.  If we assume recoveries of 96.6% on 13.6g/t gold, then we would expect a hypothetical 81kt stockpile of 13.6g/t gold to yield 13.1g/t.  Production results so far indicate grades of 4.660g/t for June and July (after processing losses), well below the 13.1g/t level.

It seems inappropriate for Pretium to continue to cite its feasibility study in its investor presentations (they are all on Slideshare) when current production differs so materially from what the feasibility study anticipated.

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Pretium: the additional underground exploration program management doesn’t like talking about

(To get up to speed on Pretium, you can refer to previous posts such as this and then this.)

In July 2013, Strathcona began voicing its concerns about Snowden’s resource model.  Sometime in the months after (likely as a reaction to Strathcona’s concerns), Pretium changed its underground exploration program to excavate additional material from the Cleopatra and 615L lateral veins (among other changes).  While there were press releases that mentioned the additional exploration in passing, those press releases did not disclose the reasoning behind the additional exploration.

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Callidus Capital (CBL.TO) – Why is the borrow expensive?

(*Disclosure: I have no position in Callidus Capital.)

Callidus is currently suing West Face Capital (a hedge fund) and Veritas Investment Research (an independent research firm) for defamation… and I want no part in being sued.  So I will try to be neutral as I talk about my speculation as to why the borrow is expensive.  The first thing that comes to mind is the defamation lawsuit against Veritas, a firm that does not do activist shorting.  Some short sellers really pay attention when companies sue their critics- more so when the criticism was private rather than public.  I’m not saying that short sellers are necessarily right or wrong to bet against such companies- the counterexample would be Fairfax Financial (Fairfax’s stock has done quite well since launching its lawsuits).  But it is certainly something that (in my opinion) attracts short sellers.

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Thoughts on mining (2017 edition)

Some key lessons on mining companies:

  1. They regularly withhold key information from investors.
  2. Technical reports should not be relied upon because many of them are disconnected with reality.

Without key information on a mine’s economics, these companies cannot be accurately valued.  So… mining stocks aren’t a great place to look for longs.  You might spent a lot of effort trying to value a mine and still fall short of being able to find reliable information on that mine.

On the short side, there are some opportunities.

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Pretium update: disappointing grades

(*Disclosure:  Pretium is by far my largest short position so I am biased.  Take what I say with a grain of salt and do your own homework.)

The production figures reported in Pretium’s MD&A filed on August 10, 2017 fall far short of the projections from Pretium’s latest published feasibility study.

According to the feasibility study filed on June 30 2014 (effective date June 19, 2014), year 1 production from Pretium’s flagship project would have a head grade of 15.4 g/t gold with a recovery of 96.8%.  The effective grade after recovery losses would be 14.9072 g/t gold.

Figures are from Table 17.2 of the technical report.

Compare this with the data from page 2 of the MD&A:

  • For June, 8510 ounces of gold were produced and 70805 tonnes of ore were processed.  8510 / 70805 X 31.1035 gram/ounce = 3.738 g/t for June
  • For July, 16882 ounces of gold were produced and 83667 tonnes of ore were processed.  16882 / 83667 X 31.1035 gram/ounce = 6.276 g/t for July
  • An average of 5.113 g/t for June and July

The 3.738 g/t and 6.276 g/t fall far short of hitting the 14.907 g/t mark projected from Pretium’s feasibility study three years ago.

EDIT (10/3/2017): Changed the gram<–>ounce conversion to reflect troy ounces rather than avoirdupois ounces.  I apologize for the error.

While grades so far have been low relative to the estimates from the feasibility study, Pretium does expect grades to ramp up [page 4; emphasis mine]:

Working Capital

As the Brucejack Mine continues to ramp-up grade, we expect the increased production and concomitant proceeds from the sale of doré and flotation concentrate will enable us to overcome our short-term working capital deficit. We expect as gold production ramps up this deficit will reverse (refer to the “Liquidity and Capital Resources” section below). In addition, we are evaluating other opportunities to bolster our short-term working capital.

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