MNN Awards: Bellevue team doing it again in Canada

AN aim to replicate the success of Bellevue Gold has resulted in major value creation for investors in Auteco Minerals.
MNN Awards: Bellevue team doing it again in Canada MNN Awards: Bellevue team doing it again in Canada MNN Awards: Bellevue team doing it again in Canada MNN Awards: Bellevue team doing it again in Canada MNN Awards: Bellevue team doing it again in Canada

An aerial view of the Pickle Crow project

Auteco dabbled in vanadium exploration in Western Australia last year but was essentially a shell when Bellevue Gold chief financial officer Michael Naylor and chief geologist Sam Brooks joined the board in early 2019.

Sydney-based Ray Shorrocks stepped down as chairman of Bellevue in August last year as the company started to look towards development.

As soon as he left Bellevue, he started looking for something that would replicate the company's success, in conjunction with Auteco chief geologist Marcus Harden.

"Let's see if we can do Bellevue mark two," he told MNN.

Shorrocks, the former head of Patersons Securities in Sydney, said the team had heard the Uchi sub-province in Ontario was "chockas with gold" and started to have a closer look.

It approached three different parties in the area, with its first pick being First Mining's Pickle Crow project.

Toronto-listed First Mining held the project, but was focusing its attention on the low-grade 4.7 million ounce Springpole Lake project to the west of Pickle Crow.

It took about nine months to finalise terms, but in late January, Auteco announced the deal.

Auteco paid C$100,000 upfront and issued 25 million shares at 0.8c per share.

It can earn 51% by spending $5 million over three years and issuing another 100 million shares and can get to 70% by spending a further $5 million and paying First Mining $1 million cash within an additional two years.

From there, Auteco can acquire 10% (to reach 80%) for $3 million and the grant of a 2% net smelter return, of which 1% can be bought back for $2.5 million.

"It's proven to be an absolute ball-tearer because most of the money we're spending goes into the ground," Shorrocks said.

The parallels between Pickle Crow and Bellevue are obvious.

"My god, the similarities are amazing," said Shorrocks.

"It's been unloved, untouched for 50 years. Bellevue was untouched for 20 years."

Pickle Crow produced 1.5 million ounces of gold at 16 grams per tonne up until its closure in 1966, and has virtually been unexplored since.

"It didn't close because of a lack of mineralisation. It closed because the gold price was US$35 an ounce at the time," Shorrocks said.

Apart from the high-grade gold, there were other reasons that attracted Auteco.

The project sits on a mining lease, which doesn't expire until 2067, and recoveries were historically 99%.

"The metallurgy is perfect for mining," Shorrocks said.

The project also has extensive infrastructure with 38km of lateral development and two 1000m shafts.

Shorrocks believes the infrastructure would have a replacement cost of $300 million alone.

Last month, Auteco reported a "pretty bloody stellar" maiden resource of 830,000oz of gold at 11.6gpt.

That makes it the second-highest resource on the ASX behind Kirkland Lake Gold's Fosterville mine in Victoria and only just ahead of Bellevue.

"The stuff we've left out is even more amazing," Shorrocks said.

Intercepts outside the resource include 10.7m at 50.9gpt gold; 1.1m at 150gpt; 6.9m at 17.7gpt; 1.5m at 444.4gpt; 2m at 69.1gpt; and 0.9m at 878.7gpt.

"I'm so excited I can't wait to put a few more pinpricks in there," Shorrocks said.

One rig is already on site drilling. A second rig will start drilling tomorrow and the company has put a tender out for a third rig.

The first assays should be released in the next couple of weeks, with regular results flowing for the rest of the year.

Shorrocks said the company would chase more than 2Moz of gold.

"The scope for rapid resource growth is right in front of us," he said.

"It's the lowest hanging fruit I've ever seen."

The company is aiming to upgrade the resource likely by the middle of the December quarter.

"We're going to punch through 1Moz without a shadow of a doubt," Shorrocks said.

The company raised $30.4 million at 13.5c earlier this week to fund its efforts.

"We've got a balance sheet to die for, for a small-cap," Shorrocks said.

"Now we've got the balance sheet, we're going to go after this bloody thing."

Two global offshore funds, understood to be BlackRock and 1832 Asset Management, joined the register as part of the raising.

Both are major shareholders of Bellevue.

"Bellevue happens once in a lifetime for most people," Shorrocks said.

"This thing could be bigger than Bellevue - can you believe it?"

Bellevue managing director Steve Parsons is also a director of Auteco.

"One thing I'd say is having Parsons, Brooks and Harden on the team would have to be the most amazing team in the world for sniffing out gold," Shorrocks said.

Auteco traded at 0.8c just before the acquisition was announced, but peaked at 19c on Tuesday, giving it a market capitalisation of more than $220 million.

"It's been a pretty amazing ride, the past six months," Shorrocks said.

"We couldn't have wished for a better start."

Auteco Minerals' farm-in over the Pickle Crow project is a nominee for Deal of the Year in the 2020 MNN Awards.