Tracker - January 24, 2022: Spec Value Rating for Aurion Resources Ltd
Aurion Resources Ltd is a Fair Spec Value rated Favorite at $1.30 effective December 31, 2021 based on its strategic land position within the Central Lapland Greenstone Belt of northern Finland where a 4 million ounce gold discovery in 2020 by Rupert Resources Ltd is likely to result in a district consolidation over the next two years. The CLGB has a scale similar to the Abitibi Greenstone Belt but has recorded the discovery of only 9.1 million ounces gold compared to 85 million ounces in the Abitibi largely due to relative under-exploration. Finland's geological survey, GTK, dominated exploration activity and outlined a 285,000 oz orogenic style gold deposit in 1987-1991 at the Suurikuusikko project. In 1997 Finland changed its mining code to allow exploration by foreigners; Riddarhyttan Resources AB won the public tender in 1998 and delineated the deposit with backing from Agnico-Eagle which acquired the entire project in 2005 and put it into production as the 6,000 tpd Kittila Mine in 2009. At the end of 2020 the Kittila resource stood at 4.1 million oz (30 million t @ 4.16 g/t Au) with Agnico-Eagle guiding 250,000 oz production for 2021 and a mine life until 2034.
Aurion was a struggling prospect-generator-farmout junior when David Lotan took charge and refocused the junior to Finland by acquiring a major land position in 2014 from Dragon Mining Ltd. The geological hypothesis was that the 120 km long Sirkka Shear Zone was the crustal scale equivalent to the Destor-Porcupine Fault that runs through the Timmins District in Ontario and that tens of million ounces remained to be found by exploring the splays that come off this structure. This flew in the face of the fact that the refractory Kittila Mine is more than 20 km from the SSZ. A large portion of the land package straddling the western two-thirds now called Kutuvuoma was optioned to B2Gold Corp in August 2015 which spent $15 million to earn 70% and in October 2021 elected to form a 70:30 JV with Aurion rather than earn 75% by funding a BFS.
Aurion kept the Risti and Launi blocks in the east for itself and conducted grassroots exploration with a limited budget until it caught a major break in February 2017 with the discovery of a field of quartz boulders with bonanza grade visible gold. The Aamurusko discovery attracted Eric Sprott and Kinross as major investors, of whom Kinross continues to maintain a stake just under 10%. Aurion has since invested $34 million exploring its Finland projects, with Risti getting the bulk of the work. However, despite 138 holes representing 24,216 m, many of them intersecting short intervals of high grade gold, the Aamurusko area has not yet yielded a zone of continuous mineralization for which a meaningful resource estimate can be calculated. In late 2021 Aurion raised nearly $17 million through a no warrant financing at $0.90, bringing its working capital back to $25 million.
Aurion was set to fade into an also-ran if it were not for two major developments in the CLGB. The first look place in June 2020 when Rupert Resources Ltd announced a new gold discovery on the Pahtavaara project north of Aurion's land package it had acquired in 2016. The 1,400 tpd Pahtavaara mill sits in the middle of the claim block next to a set of partially mined veins for which Rupert estimated a resource of 4.6 million t @ 3.2 g/t Au (474,000 oz) which it hoped to redevelop to feed the mill. At the same time Rupert conducted a property wide basal till sampling program - much of the land is covered by swamp or 5-40 m thick overburden. This yielded a number of gold in till anomalies in the western part just north and east of the Kutuvuoma claim boundary.
One of these, Ikkari, yielded a major discovery during early 2020 winter drilling. But before Rupert knew it had a big discovery on its hands it secured a $13 million strategic investment in February 2020 from Agnico-Eagle in the form of $0.85 units which on a fully diluted basis (196.5 million) would give Agnico-Eagle a 14.9% equity stake. Unlike the erratic mineralization at Aurion's Aamurusko discovery the Ikkari zone drilled off very quickly, yielding an initial inferred resource of 49,330,000 t @ 2.5 g/t gold (3,950,000 oz) as open pit and underground mineable ore. The resource includes no drill holes below 450 m though the zone has been intersected at a depth of 650 m. The mineralization is not-refractory like the Kattila ore and its orogenic nature allows substantial potential at depth (Kattila has a 2,000 m vertical extent). The significance of the Ikkari discovery is that it supports the hypothesis that multi-million ounce gold deposits with ore grade are associated with the Sirkka Shear Zone, and that detailed till sampling to outline potential blind zones is the way to go. Aurion plans to conduct basal till sampling on a much more detailed scale on its 100% owned Risti and Launi claim blocks during the 2022 summer season.
The other major development for Aurion was that in 2021 B2Gold changed its exploration focus to the eastern part of Kutuvuoma where drilling along the structure associated with the 800 m Ikkari zone as it projects onto the JV ground yielded a new discovery called Helmi that appears similar to Ikkari. B2Gold has proposed a $10 million delineation drill program of which Aurion will contribute $3 million. That still leaves Aurion with plenty of money to explore its own ground while being able to pay its share if B2Gold expands its Helmi program, and participate in 2023 without having to go to market to raise more capital. With only 126.9 million fully diluted, Aurion has upside potential of $2.00-$2.50 if B2Gold delivers a billion dollar prize at Hemli, $7-$8 if Aurion finds an Ikkari clone on its 100% owned ground that can be drilled off quickly.
The real game, however, is about who will control the Sirkka Shear Zone district. Agnico-Eagle already controls the Kattila area north of the SSZ and has a nearly 15% equity stake in Rupert whose land position has ample room for multiple Ikkari scale discoveries. B2Gold is a mid-tier producer which controls 70% of the second largest land position in the area, with Aurion as a well funded 30% partner. Aurion, which perhaps spent far too much time and money chasing the source of the flashy high grade quartz boulders, has a green light for intensive sampling of the entire 100% land package. Rupert is sitting with a now pointless 1,400 tpd mill far too small for the Ikkari deposit. It is itself a potential takeover target for Agnico-Eagle which has not yet exercised its right to appoint 2 people to Rupert's board, and technically is below the 10% insider threshold on an issued basis. Aurion's Aamurusko Zone could end up becoming mill feed for the Pahtavaara mill, so perhaps a friendly merger with Aurion is a possibility. B2Gold is a mid-tier gold producer which would likely prefer that it absorb Aurion rather than the neighbor Rupert for whom it might also have eyes if Helmi does turn into another Ikkari scale discovery.
Aurion Resources Ltd is a Favorite because it sits in the middle of this game as the prize everybody except Agnico-Eagle needs. And then there is Kinross with just under 10% of Aurion, probably busy digesting the Great Bear acquisition unless Barrick does snatch it away. The largest shareholder is David Lotan with 9.7 million shares and he has the smarts to play this to the hilt without being overcome by ego. And he now has Matti Talikka as the new CEO after Mike Basha stepped down in early 2021 due to a family tragedy. Between 2007-2015 he was the exploration general manager for Dragon Mining in charge of Sweden and Finland so he knows how things work in Finland. All this is unfolding against a possible gold bull market whose impact on gold producer prices would provide cover for bold acquisitions.