The sun will shine in 2011

EMERGING African iron ore miner Sundance Resources has made substantial progress at both a sharemarket and operational level since the board was reformed after last year’s tragic plane crash. By Sam Jordan Jones - RESOURCESTOCKS*
The sun will shine in 2011 The sun will shine in 2011 The sun will shine in 2011 The sun will shine in 2011 The sun will shine in 2011


For investors, the real action is just beginning.

It's the much sought-after chapter in almost every resource company's evolution, the point at which the flagship project makes that transition from being a promise to a reality.

History shows it is one of the most rewarding windows for investors. As the key boxes are ticked - typically resource definition, feasibility studies, offtake agreements and project finance - share prices spring to life in recognition of the rapid change in the risk and reward relationship.

Sundance has clearly entered this phase, with the stock rising from 16c in mid-2010 to 45c at the time of going to press amid rapidly growing confidence the company is now on the home straight in the race to develop its Mbalam iron ore project in west Africa.

And a race it is. With George Jones (of Portman Mining and Gindalbie Metals fame, among other successes) back in the chairman's role, Sundance has made it abundantly clear that there is no time to waste, nominating the first half of 2014 as the target for first production.

In September Sundance signed two key infrastructure memoranda of understanding with Chinese groups. The first, with CRCC China-Africa Construction, is aimed at establishing the scope, cost and delivery program for the railway and rolling stock needed to service Mbalam. The second, with China Harbour Engineering Co, will see similar studies conducted in respect to a bulk materials port in the Republic of Cameroon.

With the port and railway at the heart of Mbalam's development, these agreements were key milestones.

And they were quickly followed with the revelation Sundance had appointed CITIC Securities, China's largest investment bank, to assist in securing debt and equity funding for the project and associated infrastructure.

Such rapid and substantial progress on the infrastructure and funding fronts has understandably transformed investors' views of Sundance and the Mbalam project, and means that achievements being made elsewhere on the project are even more significant.

Mining studies are now well advanced, with the aim of establishing JORC-compliant reserves by end of Q1 2011. This will stem from the current JORC resources of 415 million tonnes of high-grade hematite direct shipping ore (grading 62 per cent iron) and a further 2.3 billion tonnes of itabirite grading 38 per cent.

Much of the key to strong short-term prospects rests with plans to generate early cashflow by developing a 35Mt per annum DSO project with a 10-year life.

This will be done by combining high-grade ore from two deposits in Cameroon and Congo.

To achieve this, Sundance plans to complete its definitive feasibility study in the first quarter of 2011, paving the way for it to secure the strategic partner and financing arrangements by the middle of the year. This timetable provides for the first shipments to take place in the first half of 2014.

As demonstrated by the pre-feasibility study, the robust margins generated by the DSO phase of the project mean it will boast a payback period of four years or less and will enable the capital expenditure associated with the phase two Itabirite project to be funded from cashflow.

The rail and port will deliver Sundance first-mover advantage, giving it the opportunity to play a central role in this emerging iron ore province.

Sundance chief executive and managing director Giulio Casello said 2011 would see the culmination of several years work.

"Work on this project has been ongoing since 2006. 2011 will be the year where we deliver a lot of the promises we have made over the past few years," he said.

"It really is going to be the turning point for us."

Construction of the 400km rail line is anticipated to start in the December quarter of 2011, with the mine and port construction beginning in the second and third quarters respectively of 2012.

"The rail is actually the critical part because it will take the longest to build," Casello said.

"The rail itself will take 2.5 years to build, but the port development and mine construction have a much shorter time frame.

"The port and the mine will start six months to a year after we have started the rail line, which will mean completion of those three projects will all coincide for mine production."

Sundance has received substantial interest from potential strategic partners.

"We have received a lot of interest," Casello said.

"Now we are in the process of going through due diligence with select potential strategic partners and will strive to have a deal signed off by the end of March."

Casello said the company's strategic partner would probably be Chinese and would provide equity and debt funding for the project, as well as establish take-or-pay sales contracts.

"We hope everything will be all wrapped up towards the back-end of Q2 2011 with China Rail, China Harbour and a strategic partner," he said.

The pre-feasibility study estimated start-up capital expenditure to be $US3.4 billion, with a payback period of four years based on a long-term iron ore price of free-on-board Cameroon $US1.02 per dry metric tonne unit.

However, Casello said that based on current iron ore prices, the infrastructure capital could be paid back within just two years.

"When DSO iron ore production finishes, which the DFS will show is around 10 years, we can start production on the itabirite body. The advantage of that is the infrastructure has already been built and paid for," he said.

Once built, the rail and port facilities will be a trump card for Sundance.

"The opportunity for us, when our infrastructure is built, is we will have the ability to move ore through that infrastructure and develop that entire region," he said.

"All around that area, Cameroon, Congo and Gabon, within 100 or 200 kilometres of our Mbalam project, there is substantially more iron ore which is held by different parties."

Sundance's current resource holds more than enough to pay back the investment in the project, but Casello maintains they'll continue to explore the area.

"We have very large tenement holdings that we haven't even looked at yet."

"We have been there for fouryears, we have a good relationship with the government, we have environmental approval for the mine and the rail through to the port. Sowe are a long way ahead of everybody else."

Casello said the impetus to bring the project into fruition was only strengthened by the plane crash.

"The management, exploration and engineering teams have all pulled together," he said. "I think it has made them stronger, it has made them more determined to bring out the vision that people had started some years ago."

* This report, first published in the January/February 2011 edition of RESOURCESTOCKS magazine, was commissioned by Sundance Resources