Aeris' rapid growth story - from holding a single copper mine to becoming a mid-tier producer - has dovetailed neatly with copper supply constraints and the forecast surging demand for the metal integral to the global energy transition.
Less than three years ago, the company had the Tritton copper operations in New South Wales and a market capitalisation of A$10 million, executive chairman Andre Labuschagne noted.
That grew to $300 million after acquiring the Cracow gold operations in Queensland, which allowed last year's transformational Round Oak acquisition.
This doubled operations to four, adding the polymetallic Jaguar zinc-copper operations in Western Australia and the Mt Colin copper mine in Queensland and brought long-running Australian investment house Washington H Soul Pattinson on board as a significant shareholder.
The $234 million deal also included the advanced Stockman project in Victoria, where the 9.6 million tonne ore reserve at 2.9% copper-equivalent is set to support a 10-year mine life.
Aeris went from producing 18,581 tonnes of copper and 53,920 ounces of gold in FY22 to recently stating it was on track to meet FY23 guidance, of 57,000-71,000t copper-equivalent.
This propels it into the boutique realm of mid-tier ASX-listed copper producers, including Sandfire Resources and 29Metals - and OZ Minerals, which is set to be acquired by BHP in the coming months.
"We're in a pretty unique space," Labuschagne said.
The company is now working to extend its existing operations, develop Stockman and keep the drills turning to extend its brownfields and greenfields exploration success.
"Aeris is going through a growth phase," Labuschagne continued.
"We just did the acquisition in July and we've now got four operating mines - and all of them have got significant organic growth opportunities."
At Tritton, Aeris was close to starting up the new Budgerygar mine at the time of writing, while the high-grade Avoca Tank mine was expected to come online in the June quarter and deliver "a step change in grade".
"The longer-term future for the company is that with the new mines we're bringing online and the investments we're making at Tritton, it will have an eight-plus year mine life producing 20-30,000t of copper," Labuschagne said.
"Then you add the Stockman project, which will also do 30-35,000t of copper-equivalent production.
"And then you've got Jaguar, which we now believe can also have a significant extended mine life.
"So we'll easily have three longer-life operations.
"Then the main focus on Cracow is to keep on mining, and invest in exploration to find the next big deposit.
"There's a lot of potential to find something significantly bigger out at Cracow.
"We've had really good success on the exploration front at nearly at all our operations."
Aeris kicked off 2023 with high-grade results at the Avoca Tank development, including 10.7m at 5.48% copper, 0.3g/t gold and 9.7g/t silver from 428m.
The thick, high-grade copper mineralisation supported the company's view the deposit would become a high-grade copper producer and an important ore source for Tritton.
The high-grade gold lens with intersections of up to 2.78g/t gold was "an interesting discovery", Labuschagne said, and would be followed up with further drilling.
Avoca Tank remains open down-plunge, with drilling last year confirming mineralisation more than 100m below the current resource.
"On the exploration side at Tritton, it's been very, very pleasing," Labuschagne said.
Still at Tritton, a maiden resource is imminent for Kurrajong, where drilling results in January included 18.45m at 3.14% copper, 0.3g/t gold and 6.6g/t silver.
Further afield, 14 priority targets were identified from a 2022 airborne electromagnetic survey and Aeris believes its recent Constellation discovery, currently containing 120,000t copper and 125,000oz gold, demonstrates the prospectivity in the northern half of the 2,330 square kilometre Tritton copper operations site.
A prefeasibility study is underway on a potential new mine at Constellation, which is 45km from the Tritton plant.
In Queensland, Mt Colin has a shorter one and a half-year life span but is currently a cash-generating machine for Aeris. It's also on a large tenement package in "a highly prospective" region.
Aeris is looking into a potential similar underground operation to Mt Colin at the nearby Barbara deposit, where mineralisation extends below the open pit where mining finished in December 2020.
Aeris announced a significant resource upgrade for the Turbo lens at Jaguar's Bentley deposit late last year, pointing to the potential to increase the operation's current four-year mine life.
The updated 1.26Mt at 1.82% copper, 8.5% zinc, 0.72g/t gold and 47g/t silver materially increased the ore tonnes and metal content at Turbo, Labuschagne said.
"That has been a very positive outcome for us," he said.
"We've also identified the potential to restart the old Jaguar mine, which wasn't in our initial plans.
"We can see a substantial increase in the Jaguar life of mine with all these other opportunities."
Aeris has enjoyed similar exploration success at Cracow, unveiling a maiden resource in January for the Golden Plateau deposit, just 1km from processing plant.
The resource comprises 620,000t at 3.1g/t gold and 15g/t silver, for 62,000oz of gold and 300,000oz of silver.
An exploration target of up to 130,000oz of gold has been set for Golden Plateau and mining studies are underway.
"This maiden mineral resource and exploration target validate our long-held view that the Golden Plateau deposit has the potential to play an important part in extending the life of our Cracow operation," Labuschagne said.
Future riding high on Stockman
With a 10 year, high-grade reserve base, the Stockman project in Victoria is an exciting development story for Aeris.
The company appointed Charl Rossouw in the December quarter as general manager projects to drive progress.
A definitive feasibility study is slated for completion by mid-year and all the primary approvals are in place.
Labuschagne believes Stockman will deliver a share price boost which is yet to be taken into account by investors.
"Stockman currently is not valued in my view in the share price at all," Labuschagne said.
"So when you bring that project online, there is significant potential for value uplift."
Combined with the company's moves to enhance operations at Tritton and now Jaguar, he said Aeris represented a compelling investment proposition.
He also believed there was more upside than downside risk to the copper price.
"If you take a step back and you think about what the world is trying to achieve with renewable energy … and the amount of copper necessary to get all of that done, we just won't be able to produce it fast enough," he said.
Despite Aeris' $36.6 million spend on capital projects and exploration in the December quarter, the company started the year with cash and receivables of more than $76 million, putting it in a solid position to maintain its upward momentum.
As for any more merger and acquisition activity, Labuschagne said Aeris was open to opportunities while it continued its organic growth.
"Like what we've seen in the last six months with Jaguar, there's quite a few more opportunities to keep doing better … and turn these mines into longer life assets with better quality," Labuschagne said.
"The key focus right now is to make sure we lock down the new business, if I can call it that, make sure we deliver on the results we put out there and then at the same time if opportunities come around, we'll always look."
ABOUT THIS COMPANY
Head Office Address:
Level 6, 120 Edward Street, Brisbane 4000 QLD Australia
Tel: +61 3034 6200
- Andre Labuschagne
- Colin Moorhead
- Michele Muscillo
- Sylvia Wiggins
- Robert Millner
Market Capitalisation (6/2/23):
Quoted shares on issue
- Washington H Soul Pattinson (WHSP) 30%
- Australian Institutions 22%
- Foreign Institutions 3%
- Retail and Other Holders 45%