Pretium Q2 2018 update

According to Pretium’s financials published on SEDAR on Thursday evening, the Brucejack mine is generating very strong cash flow.

Cash and cash equivalents increased by $72.5M.  This is largely inconsistent with fraud.  If Pretium were engaged in Worldcom-style fraudulent accounting where expenses were improperly capitalized into capex, then the capex number would be dramatically higher than $5.771M while the increase in cash would be closer to 0.  Given how low capex is (even lower than what the feasibility study anticipated, which is $76.8M over the first four quarters of production)… I think that we can safely conclude that Pretium didn’t engage in Worldcom-style accounting for Q2.  The market seems confident that the cash generation is real, sending the stock up 19% following the filing of financials on SEDAR.  Needless to say, this development is not good for my short position.

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When you shouldn’t trust mining analysts with professional training

I’m aware that there’s information on mining stocks from guys like Angry Geologist, Exploration Insights (Brent Cook and Joe Mazumdar) and investment bank analysts with mining degrees (P.Geo, P.Eng, etc.).  The danger is this: just because they CAN perform due diligence doesn’t mean that they ACTUALLY perform due diligence.  I don’t mean to be disrespectful to these people.  (*I do understand that I am attacking their credibility.)  However, they often come to conclusions without having access to key technical data.  For example, Simon Dominy and Strathcona have unique views on Pretium’s Valley of Kings deposit.  They had access to all of the sample tower data, including the sample tower data on the Cleo vein.  Strathcona had access to the drill core so they could make their own interpretations about the lithology (Wikipedia) of the rocks and therefore the appropriate geological controls.  If you don’t have access to accurate lithological information (e.g. pictures of all of the drillcore), then you cannot build a reasonable resource model.  Insiders have this information.  The investing public doesn’t.  When mining professionals make conclusions without access to key technical data, you should take their opinion with a grain of salt.

Secondly, one should question an analyst’s optimism about deposits.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can figure out that mineral exploration has been a disaster since 2000.  Past optimism about exploration stocks seems quite dubious with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

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Mineral exploration has been a disaster since 2000

While I haven’t spent the time to piece together all of the data points, it is clear that high-risk mineral exploration stocks have found very few profitable mines since 2000.  The only reason why junior exploration stocks haven’t been a complete disaster is because senior miners have thrown away money by acquiring uneconomic projects.  The majority of “value creation” in high-risk greenfield exploration can be attributed to poor investment decisions from senior miners rather than the meagre cash flows from mines like Arista, Bloom Lake, and Legacy (potash).

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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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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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