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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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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Trex: marketing hype and unproven technology

This blog post is in reference to John Hempton’s post on Trex; the post points out that Trex’s operating margins are suspiciously high.  I haven’t uncovered enough about Trex that would suggest to me that there is some form of egregious accounting fraud occurring.  However, I can see how Trex’s margins can appear to be so high. This industry does not sell a commodity.  Rather, the industry sells marketing hype and unproven technology.

Trex was one of the companies that pioneered the use of wood-plastic composites as decking material over 2 decades ago.  Unfortunately, the composite materials did not live up to their fanfare and marketing hype (e.g. zero maintenance, lasts longer than wood, etc.).  There have been issues with composite deck materials from virtually all manufacturers that have led to recalls, expensive warranty claims, and class action lawsuits.  Some manufacturers have gone bankrupt and were not able to pay out all warranty claims, leaving homeowners holding the bag.

The current practice is for manufacturers to exclude known problems from their written warranties.  These written warranties do not obligate them to stand behind their marketing hype.

(*Disclosure:  No position.)

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Pretium 2017 recap – “they will not have a mine producing 425,000 oz. a year for the next 20 years”

(Pretium has a US$1.8B market cap and the borrow is in the low single digits.  I have written about this stock previously.)

Back in 2013, Strathcona resigned from the Brucejack gold project due to disagreements over what Pretium was telling investors.  Graham Farquharson (Strathcona’s head honcho) was being a gentleman and allowed Pretium to disclose on their own terms (with their own PR spin).  Unfortunately, Pretium instead tried to discredit Strathcona.

So, Farquharson did an interview with The Northern Miner, a trade publication.  You can read the interview on the website (no paywall):

Yes, and we told them that it has an excellent chance of being a small-tonnage, high-grade mine in the Cleopatra vein, and a couple of other similar occurrences that they found in the last drilling program.  If they lined all those up, there’s an excellent chance that they could have a small-tonnage, high-grade gold mine. But they will not have a mine producing 425,000 oz. a year for the next 20 years, as they have been advertising so far.

Here’s the crazy part.  This is 2017 and Pretium is almost finished building that mine.

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Exxon Mobil put options

(Unfortunately I did not have the time to fully research this.)

Improvements in shale extraction technology and a glut of capital have basically destroyed oil and natural gas prices.  While Exxon’s management is ok, the company cannot defy commodity prices.  Its upstream assets aren’t worth that much anymore because they’re inherently leveraged to oil prices.  But despite the dramatic decline in oil prices, Exxon’s share price remains high.

The put options are interesting to me since implied volatility is low (20-30%+) and the company is overvalued.  The options are barely more expensive than SPY puts (in terms of implied volatility), except that oil prices fell by half and America’s GDP did not.

A back of the envelope calculation puts Exxon’s private market value at <$129B versus a market cap of $359B.

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