Ariana paying dividend as grander future beckons

AIM-listed Ariana Resources has carved a niche as a rare example of a dividend-paying, cutting-edge exploration and development company.

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Zenit JV: Arzu South open pit, with the Kiziltepe Mine administrative buildings to the left

Founded almost 20 years ago to focus on Turkey, the company has built up its asset base, with its flagship, circa 20,000 ounce per annum Kiziltepe gold-silver joint venture which started production in early 2017.

Kiziltepe has provided a healthy financial base for Ariana to now enlarge its cost-effective, high-tech exploration focus across the Eastern Hemisphere - and enable investments through its multimillion-dollar, Australia-based Asgard Metals Fund.

The company has a number of near-term production options at its fingertips and an earlier-stage portfolio in eastern Europe via its 75% investment in Western Tethyan Resources.

Through its 50% investment in Venus Minerals, it's also looking to repeat its JV development success at the Apliki copper project in Cyprus, which will put Venus on track to become the only near-term copper producer on the island.

Managing director Dr Kerim Sener describes Apliki as "an essentially a turnkey operation", that he hopes Venus will have in production during 2023.

Venus is currently in the process of completing a definitive agreement with Hellenic Copper Mines concerning a 50:50 JV to develop Apliki - the advantage being Hellenic owned the island's recently-closed nearby copper mine, Skouriotissa, and its idled processing plant.

"The Apliki site is fully permitted, the resource opportunity is well understood, the primary engineering is done and the process plant is ready to be installed," Sener said.

Due diligence drilling earlier this month at Apliki returned results including 8m at 1.4% copper and confirmed the ore would be amenable to the proposed hydrometallurgical recovery using the former Skouriotissa plant.

The JV partners are looking to complete an IPO in London for Venus as part of gaining finance for Apliki's development.

 enus inerals tilising handheld  to minimise over sampling  ore representative samples can be selected based on optimal portable  geochemistry Venus Minerals: Utilising handheld XRF to minimise over sampling. More representative samples can be selected based on optimal portable XRF geochemistry.

Aside from Apliki, Venus has the large-scale Magellan copper project which is core to the future of the business, Sener said.

Magellan has 9.5 million tonnes at 0.65% copper plus further gold and silver potential, which provides Venus with "an exceptional foundation on which to build its resource base".

Beyond Magellan, Venus has other exploration projects carefully chosen in Cyprus thanks to the huge database originally assembled by the company and assisted through the investment by Ariana.

"They established a database that is second to none in the country," Sener said.

"They compiled all the historical data, the surface geochemistry drilling, geophysics, so there's no company operating in Cyprus that has the database that Venus Minerals has.

"If a company was to put together that database again today, it would probably come at a cost of about $100 million or so, it's really very, very substantial."

The technically proficient approach resonated well with Ariana.

Leading metrics

Since its inception, Ariana has used innovative technologies and operational processes that's enabled it to achieve leading metrics in terms of discovery and operational costs, plus lower carbon emissions.

Ariana puts its discovery cost at US$12 per ounce, compared with an industry average of $62/oz.

"It's important to remember that this was a company that was actually initiated while I was completing my PhD at the University of Western Australia," Sener said.

Since then, he's been responsible for the discovery of more than 4 million ounces of gold in eastern Europe, primarily for Ariana.

"Following Ariana's initiation, we were utilising the very latest satellite remote-sensing technologies," he said.

"We've always retained the core focus and expertise associated with the use of and development of technologies and its application to mineral exploration and development.

"Because we've done that, consistently over 20 years, I think that has had a marked effect on our discovery cost per ounce."

Its life of mine operational cash costs also come in at $490/oz, below the international average of $1,000/oz.

And at a time when reducing carbon emissions is of increasing importance, Ariana is pleased its production comes in at 0.32 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted per ounce of gold, less than half the global average of 0.8t CO2 per ounce.

However, Sener noted the company's environmental and social focus was broader than any measure of its carbon footprint, saying he was proud of the company's collaborative approach ahead of production starting at Kiziltepe, which had provided a real boost to the local economy.

"It's fantastic to see a lot of the people that we were working with back in those early days of exploration are now successfully employed on the mine site," he said.

Further, Ariana assists reforestation programmes, has an ongoing commitment to carbon reduction programmes and plans to convert its vehicle fleet to hybrids in the next five years.

Ariana has also chosen to focus its exploration efforts on countries where the energy mix is being significantly augmented by renewables, specifically in the case of Turkey's growing hydropower sector and advances being made in both Cyprus and Kosovo.

 xploration in the averton region  for riana esources investee company anther etals imited Exploration in the Laverton region (WA) for Ariana Resources' investee company, Panther Metals Limited

Further afield, Ariana's investment fund Asgard is set to make its first investment in Panther Metals which is planning to list on the ASX later this year, as the spin-out of London-listed Panther Metals' Australian assets.

Panther has gold and nickel-cobalt projects in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Taking a position in Panther ticked Ariana's criteria, chairman Michael de Villiers said as the proposed investment was announced in September.

"In particular, providing for further diversification of our business; not only in terms of reducing jurisdictional risk but also across commodities, including strategically significant battery metals," he said.

Back in Turkey, the Zenit JV's next development project is Tavsan, which is expected to produce about 30,000oz of gold annually over eight years.

The Turkish government approved Tavsan's environmental impact assessment last month.

"We are advancing that development very rapidly now," Sener said.

More drilling is planned, along with the application for forestry permits and Sener said the company was looking to Turkish banks to secure project finance.

Bigger still is its gold-silver Salinbas discovery, which lies 16km north of the globally-significant Hod Maden copper-gold deposit in what Ariana describes as the Hot Gold Corridor.

Salinbas has a 1.5 million ounce gold resource and a scoping study has indicated a 10-year mine producing 50,000oz annually.

The deposit's gold-silver mineralisation is next to the Ardala polyphase gold-copper-molybdenum porphyry and Sener sees the larger-scale project as a longer-term development.

More drilling is planned and Sener said Ozaltin Holding, which was brought into the Zenit JV, had committed $8 million towards the project and its development.

While Ariana opted to reduce its stake in Zenit earlier this year to 23.5%, Sener said its Turkish projects remained key to Ariana going forward.  The partial divestment was in exchange for US$37.75 million in cash, enabling Ariana to declare a special dividend in July.

It's still exposed to ongoing production at Kiziltepe, where a recently-completed plant expansion has doubled throughput rates.

 riana esources  r erim ener Ariana Resources MD Dr Kerim Sener

Its exposure to operational cash-flow and the funds secured from the partial divestment sets the company apart, Sener said, along with its tight-knit and exceptionally talented team, some of whom have been with the company for two decades.

Those differences in the company's DNA allow shareholders to effectively "have their cake and eat it too", Sener pointed out.

"Typically, it's a producing company that will pay a dividend, but we're choosing to advance our strategy as an exploration and development company and retain our core focus there," he said.

"That's strategically supported by our production through our assets in Turkey and allows our shareholders to retain exposure to exploration upside at limited risk.

"Now we really have everything to play for, in terms of what we can achieve - particularly given the focus that we've applied to the business, historically and strategically."

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HEAD OFFICE:

DIRECTORS:

Kerim Sener, Michael de Villiers, William Payne, Chris Sangster

QUOTED SHARES ON ISSUE:

1.09 billion

MARKET CAP (at November 12, 2021):

£51.3 million

MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS:

  • Hargreaves Lansdown Asset Management 19.67%
  • Interactive Investor 15.14%
  • Barclays Direct Investing 12.88%
  • Directors and related parties 8.51%

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category-img

HEAD OFFICE:

DIRECTORS:

Kerim Sener, Michael de Villiers, William Payne, Chris Sangster

QUOTED SHARES ON ISSUE:

1.09 billion

MARKET CAP (at November 12, 2021):

£51.3 million

MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS:

  • Hargreaves Lansdown Asset Management 19.67%
  • Interactive Investor 15.14%
  • Barclays Direct Investing 12.88%
  • Directors and related parties 8.51%