I'm just back home for a week before setting out on another two-week trip to China and the Philippines. I've been in South America for the last two weeks and I saw some real barnburner projects. You want to pay close attention for the next few days as I write them up.
Basically, junior mining companies have been sinking billions of dollars into the ground planting seeds, feeding and watering the tender shoots and harvest time is approaching. You are going to be reading about a lot of barnburner projects coming to fruition in the near future. $900 gold, $17 silver and $3 copper is going to suck metal out of the ground. Juniors have been on the back burner for the last year but that's going to change right now, my favorite chart, the XAU over gold is screaming "Buy me, Buy me." Gold and junior metals shares are fixing to rocket higher. Back up the truck while you still can.
After the successful destruction of both Iraq and Afghanistan, our Beloved Sock Puppet President Bush is now firmly committed to the destruction of the United States and the dollar. We needn't worry about the dollar collapsing into a deflationary heap; the Fed is totally devoted to its destruction under an avalanche of paper. We are going to go the 1923 German inflation route. You don't want to get caught holding paper assets; you want your money in hard production assets. Only they will retain value as your money evaporates.
I've said it before; I like mines just as they go into production. My recent three-day stint in Panama showed me a way-under-the-radarscope gold mine just about to go into production. I hadn't even heard of the company but you need to know about it and its sister copper company.
Petaquilla Minerals (PTQ-T) is in the last days of construction of a 2,200 ton per day mill with annual production of 120,000 ounces of gold at a cash cost of about $200 per ounce. Did I ever mention that as gold goes blasting higher past $900 that production is the way to go? PTQ expects to have their first gold pour in maybe April, maybe May this year. I was there a week ago and the pace of construction was awesome.
Petaquilla has a long history in Panama. The President and CEO of the company is Richard Fifer. He not only founded Petaquilla, he was the former president of the Panamanian State Mining Company (CODEMIN) and former Governor of the Cocle Province where the Petaquilla projects are located. You can't get any higher connections than that of Richard Fifer.
If you want to see what a model of a good mining website should look like, go look at either the site of Petaquilla Minerals, the gold company - or that of Petaquilla Copper, its sister copper company. The sites are so much better than that of most mining companies, that I want to cry. You can actually figure out what business they are in and where they intend to go.
Phase 1 of the Molejon Gold project of Petaquilla calls for spending $40 million dollars US to build a 2,200 TPD mill. The mill is expected to be commissioned in late April or early May of this year. Petaquilla expects to produce 120,000 ounces of gold in the first year with an expected mine life of 9 years. Currently the mine has a 43-101 resource of about 1.49 million ounces of gold.
Phase 2 calls for expansion of the mill to an expected capacity of 5,000 TPD, costing an additional $32.5 million dollars to be financed out of cash flow and debt.
In addition to the expected cash flow from the gold production, Petaquilla Minerals holds 22.189 million shares in Petaquilla Copper. (PTC-T) Petaquilla Copper was a spin-off of the copper assets formerly belonging to Petaquilla Minerals. As you can probably figure out, the twin companies share management.
Petaquilla Copper has a joint venture on the world-class copper project with Inmet Mining. PTC holds 52% and Inmet owns 48%, putting PTC in the driver's seat. In addition, Teck Cominco has an earn-in agreement with PTC where Teck can pay all of PTC's costs to production to earn a 50% interest in PTC's 52%. Simply put, Teck can earn 26% of the project. In that case, at production, Teck and PTC would each own 26% and Inmet would own the remaining 48%.
The copper world is in turmoil. Teck has already put the JV with Novagold at Galore Creek on the back burner due to skyrocketing costs of construction. Similar cost escalations are taking place in Panama. Petaquilla Copper announced on February 8 that the costs on the copper project are expected to go up to $3.5 billion.
We are in an environment of a dollar dropping in value daily. That is what makes costs of construction go up. What Teck and Barrick and all the other majors have forgotten is that the debasement of the dollar not only make their costs go up, it makes the value of their product, copper and gold, go up.
They failed to see that if they were going to use current and accurate prices for their inputs, they must, repeat must, use current prices for their products. Teck got caught short at Galore Creek because they were using $100 a barrel oil and $150 iron but using a far too conservative figure for copper and gold. I think Teck was using $400 gold and those numbers are simply meaningless.
When the value of your currency changes 10,000 times a day, you cannot use today's numbers. Because they will change 9,999 times by this time tomorrow. You must determine future demand because no one has any clue as to what the nominal value of the dollar will be in the three years it takes to get into production.
Luckily for us, we know future demand is secure. Once China and India began down the path to creating a consumer society, there is no way back. There will be future demand for far more copper than the world can produce today.
I love Petaquilla Minerals. They are going into production just as gold is headed for the moon. But I love Petaquilla Copper because there is a provision in their agreement with Teck. Teck Cominco has until March 31, 2008 to poop or get off the pot. They can belly up to the bar and pay the 52% costs to gain 26% interest or they can walk. If they walk, Petaquilla copper now owns 52% of one of the most desirable copper projects in the world.
The Petaquilla Copper mine has a 43-101 resource of 1.45 billion tons of .49% copper: about 10 pounds of copper per ton or $30 rock. If you add in the gold and moly credits, the mine holds 15 billion pounds of copper. The mill would process 120,000 TPD generating about 515 million pounds of copper, 87,000 ounces of gold and 5.9 million pounds of moly yearly for 30 years.
This massive production would rank Petaquilla Copper as the 11th largest sulfide mine in the world, just behind Bingham Canyon in Utah at just the first phase of development. Management has designed the open pit operation to be scalable so the mill could be expanded in the future to process 200,000 to 220,000 TPD.
Petaquilla Copper is in the catbird's seat. If Teck announces their intention to complete their earn-in, PTC ends up with 26% of one of the biggest copper mines in the world. If Teck opts out, one of the five leading contenders standing in line to do a deal will step into their shoes. In either case, PTC wins.
Petaquilla Minerals Chief of Protocol, Luigi Jimenez and the PTQ IR person from Vancouver, Mitch Smith, picked me up at the airport. Each is in their 20s. They spent the next three days escorting me around and giving me briefs. I'm thrilled at the wisdom of PTQ management at bringing in young people. Face it; the industry has done a rotten job of selling the value of mining to young people. It's wonderful to see a company who recognizes we must be bringing in young people with their insight to the industry.
We drove out to the PTQ gold project and wandered around before jumping into a chopper and flying to the mouth of the Belen River where Christopher Columbus first found gold in Panama in 1503 on his third trip to the New World. I stood on the same ground as Christopher Columbus did, 505 years before. And this company is going to mine the same gold as sought by Columbus.
Both Petaquilla companies are the dream of Richard Fifer. He began development of the gold project some 20 years ago. The project had proceeded to the feasibility stage by 1998 when it was forced into hibernation by low gold prices. 4 years ago Richard put the project back on the front burner and in two months or so it will be in production. Now is the time to invest.
Everyone I met from the company impressed me. My only real technical issue was that of expansion potential, 9 years mine life isn't much. I spoke with John Kapetas, VP of Exploration for PTQ about the potential for expansion of the resource. He is supervising a 40,000-meter drill program for 2007-2008 (not all the results are in yet). He just laughed. He has half a dozen high potential targets and feels confident that there won't be any problem finding more deposits nearby.
The current mine is located about 10 km from the mouth of the Belen River, the western boundary of the PTQ project. If Columbus found gold at the mouth of the river, it didn't come from where they intend to mine, it's too far away for the gold to travel. So I am confident that the mine life will be extended. If they develop more resources, the expansion of the mill to 5,000 TPD will ensure production of over 100,000 ounces of gold per year even at much lower grades or proportionally more gold at current grades putting them solidly in the mid-tier range of gold producers.
Panama is one of the most favorable areas I can think to have a mine of any sort. I used to fly though the country 30 years ago on my way to South America and it was little more than a Banana Republic run roughshod over by the petty little bureaucrats of the Canal Administration. Panama wasn't as much a country as a colony of the US.
Panama regaining the Canal has transformed the country. It's a major international banking center as well as a transportation hub. The food was wonderful, prices cheap and women beautiful. If you like that kind of stuff.
Richard Fifer is The Powers That Be in Panama. He has created a franchise of sorts for mining. Studies show that Panama could produce 8% of the world's copper. It has the capacity for being a major gold producer. He loves his country and wants to create both jobs and the wealth that goes with building a major mining industry. Everyone I met was fired up and excited to be part of such a great adventure.
Petaquilla Copper faces a major milestone between now and March 31st. I suspect Teck will realize that if they want to be a major copper producer in the future, they need to make a major commitment now. My opinion, unsupported by anything other than logic, is that they will commit and construction will soon begin and the project will begin production about 2012.
Investing is always a crapshoot during the best of times. With prices up and down like a bride's nightie, it's even hard for major mining companies to make the right decision. But buying a major gold producer just as they are going into production is about as hard as falling off a bike. I don't see PTQ going up 10 fold in the next week but it's an easy triple in the next six months. They have great management, a mining-friendly location with brilliant infrastructure and a solid project.
PTC is going to make more major changes in the next 7 weeks than in their history. How they go into production is in question but that they are going into production is not in question. They will produce copper and gold and moly. The only issue is who owns what of the project. It's pretty much a no lose deal for PTC. I look at the Teck or no Teck decision as meaningless. If Teck is smart, they will write a check. If they don't, PTC is in a stronger position. The project is going into production, demand from China and India is going to suck the metal out of the ground at some price.
Both companies are about to be advertisers and I own shares. I am biased as I can be. I think the short correction in base metals is over and given the terminal condition of the US dollar, I cannot think of what better investment is possible than that of a productive profitable asset. Go to their websites and review them for yourself. Each is very well done and communicates the very real message of the two companies. They should be commended for having done a great job for their investors and prospective investors.
Both companies are cheap and that condition won't last long. With last week's announcement of higher costs for the project, Petaquilla Copper got hammered. Anyone who doesn't realize costs are shooting higher is too dumb to own the stock so take advantage of their stupidity while you can. There is nothing wrong with either the stock or the project.
Petaquilla Minerals Ltd
Petaquilla Copper Ltd