Tracker - May 17, 2021: Spec Value Rating Overview for Northwest Copper Corp
Northwest Copper Corp is the combination of two former KRO Favorites, Serengeti Resources Inc and Sun Metals Corp, which merged on March 5, 2021 on terms where Serengeti undertook a 2:1 rollback and Sun Metals merged with the resulting company on a 0.215 NWST share for 1 Sun Metals share. Sun Metals was a Bottom-Fish Spec Value rated 2020 Favorite at $0.23 but it was downgraded to Poor Spec Value on Oct 2, 2020 when it became apparent that the Stardust project was not delivering anything new. Serengeti, in contrast, which was started as a Bottom-Fish Spec Value rated 2020 Favorite at $0.185 was upgraded on October 8, 2020 to a Fair Spec Value rated Favorite at $0.355 based on news that the East Niv copper-gold prospect had turned into a compelling porphyry target that would be drilled for the first time in 2021 (see Tracker October 8, 2020). The merger deal was announced on November 30, 2020. Serengeti was continued as a Fair Spec Value rated 2021 Favorite at $0.39 on December 31, 2020 which adjusted to a $0.78 cost base when Serengeti and Sun Metals merged. The merger created synergies in several areas which effective May 17, 2021 justify upgrading Northwest Copper Corp to a Good Spec Value rated 2021 Favorite at $0.80.
The first issue was that neither Sun Metals' Stardust nor Serengeti's Kwanika projects in central British Columbia had sufficient critical mass to be developed as standalone mines, Stardust as an underground only high grade copper-gold-silver CRD style mine, and Kwanika as a combination open-pit/underground mine most of whose output would be underground mined. Stardust, which started off with the Canyon Creek resource of 2,970,000 tonnes at 1.27% copper, 1.68 g/t gold and 32.6 g/t silver, spurred excitement in 2018 with the late season discovery of the higher grade 421 Zone. Drilling over the next 2 years connected the 421 Zone to the shallower Canyon Creek zone and revealed that the 421 Zone tapered to a vertical depth of 900 m. Whatever additional zones exist, they will be deep and expensive to find. On May 17, 2021 Northwest Copper published an updated resource estimate which more than doubled the indicated and inferred resource to 7,806,100 tonnes at 0.97% copper, 1.24 g/t gold, and 21.8 g/t silver.
The Central Zone at Kwanika has an open-pittable M+I+I resource of 110.3 million tonnes at 0.23% copper, 0.21 g/t gold and 0.77 g/t silver, and an underground mineable M+I+I resource of 203.6 million tonnes of 0.25% copper, 0.31 g/t gold and 0.92 g/t silver. Serengeti had published an updated PEA for a 15,000 tpd scenario in April 2017 that it planned to upgrade to a PFS by Q4 of 2019 with the help of an $8.2 million investment by South Korea's Daewoo (controlled by Posco) to earn 35%. However, the PFS was never delivered and Daewoo, which had vested for 35%, declined to participate in a 2020 expansion drill program. Daewoo was interested in Kwanika becoming the central processing hub for a number of smaller copper mines in the region, but is no longer interested. It is now looking for an exit for its diluting 33% Kwanika stake.
The merger allows the Kwanika and Stardust properties to be consolidated into a single project, subject to buying out Daewoo, possibly through a paper deal later this year when NWST is trading at a better price. The two deposits are only 7 km apart. Although Stardust is CRD hosted massive sulphide mineralization while Kwanika's Central zone is disseminated porphyry style mineralization, initial metallurgical studies indicate similar flow-sheets with neither feedstock containing any deleterious elements. The new plan is to redo the 2017 Kwanika PEA as a 15,000 tpd processing facility fed with higher grade underground mined ore trucked from Stardust and blended with ore initially from the open-pitabble portion of the Central zone and ultimately with block-caved ore from the underground portion. NWST is starting a 7,200 m infill drill program costing $4.2 million to upgrade the shallower high grade underground portion of the Central Zone. The program will also test some satellite targets to the south of the Central Zone that Serengeti did not test in 2020. It will also do metallurgical studies to define a flow-sheet for the blended ore feeds. CEO Peter Bell expects it will cost $2 million to deliver a PEA by early 2022.
The other main issue has to do with people. The driving force behind Sun Metals was Mark O'Dea, but he lost control of the narrative to Steve Robertson and Don McInnes who adopted a disclosure strategy of reporting only what happened 6 weeks ago and not outlining what was coming up. This alienated the Sun Metals shareholders who learned to sell before any news was due. Robertson and McInnes are not part of the NWST team. David Moore was the driving force behind Serengeti, but while he was excellent at telling the exploration story and executing technical work, he was a toiling geologist who had little stroke with the institutional audience needed to fund a feasibility demonstration project like Kwanika. Serengeti always just barely had enough money to fund its programs and not much success at getting positive market upticks to stick.
As part of the merger deal O'Dea secured a $10.35 million bought deal for Sun Metals, and once the 2 companies were merged, he raised another $13 million in March 2021, bringing current working capital to about $21 million with 124.9 million issued and 146.4 million fully diluted. David Moore retired as CEO while remaining on the board, and Peter Bell, a geologist who worked 12 years for Newmont dealing with advanced projects, was brought in as the new CEO. Northwest Copper now has a well rounded management team that covers all aspects to operate a hybrid company engaged in feasibility demonstration for the Kwanika-Stardust project and discovery exploration at projects like East Niv which Dave Moore brought to the drill ready stage in 2020.
While Kwanika-Stardust provides the fundamental value which allows Northwest Copper to serve as a proxy for the price of copper and gold, the blue sky resides with the 27,700 hectare East Niv play located about 30-40 km southwest of the Kemess Mine. East Niv, which is a grassroots play that has never been drilled, has a footprint similar to the Red Chris deposit and potential for high grade copper and gold porphyry mineralization. NWST will begin a 2,700 m drill program with a $2.9 million budget that could be dramatically expanded if early drilling yields discovery grades. Drilling can be done until the end of October. Although assay turnaround will likely be terrible, this style of deposit and associated mineralization provides good visual evidence that a discovery has been made. While continuing strength in gold and copper prices should pull NWST into the $1.50-$2.00, lift off related to hints of a discovery at East Niv could start in August.
Sun Metals acquired a 49% interest in the Lorraine copper-gold project which sits between Kwanika-Stardust and East Niv when it acquired Lorraine Copper Corp in early 2018 to lock down its Stardust ownership. In late October 2020 Sun Metals secured a deal to acquire Teck's 51% for $1.5 million in cash or stock over 2 years and $7.5 million linked to milestones consisting of PEA, FS and a construction decision. The Lorraine property adjoins the Top Cat project Serengeti had under option and this will now be treated as a single 65,000 ha project. When Teck optioned Lorraine decades ago its exploration strategy was to look for large porphyry systems but the result, 35.2 million tonnes of 0.45-0.61% copper and 0.19-0.23 g/t gold (no longer 43-101 compliant after the ownership changes), was small. The property is prospective for high K calc-alkaline systems similar to Red Chris and Mt Polley which tend to have much smaller lateral than vertical footprints with copper-gold grades often increasing at depth. Lorraine-Top Cat needs to be revisited with a different exploration strategy, but for 2021 NWST is only allocating $800,000 for a re-compilation of existing data to set the stage for exploration in 2022.
As far as the other projects in Northwest Copper's portfolio are concerned, the junior plans to get rid of those which do not have obvious size potential or have a sensitive location such as the OK deposit near Tofino. Overall NWST plans to spend $10-$13 million in 2021. Assuming gold and copper hold their current price levels, NWST should trend into the $1.50-$2.00 range as the Kwanika-Stardust PEA approaches in Q1 of 2022 and the market gets a better sense of what the combined mining operation will look like. East Niv has the potential to become a major new copper-gold discovery supporting a $1-$2 price on its own. The combination of these two distinct value creation tracks justifies a Good Spec Value rating at $0.80 which is currently implying a value of only $117 million for the company.