Tracker - April 13, 2023: Speculative Value Rating for West Vault Mining Inc
West Vault Mining Inc is a new 2023 KRO Favorite effective April 13, 2023 at $1.02 with a Good Speculative Value rating based on it positioning itself as a buyout target for a mid tier gold producer interested in developing the Hasbrouck project located just outside Tonopah in Nevada's Walker Lane. The target is a rapid repricing into the $1.50-$2.00 range to reflect fair speculative value, followed by leveraged tracking of higher real price gains (ie a 25% move by gold to $2,500 translates into a 600%-800% move to $7-$9 ahead of a buyout offer involving inflated but liquid paper from a mid tier producer). West Vault is headed by CEO Sandy McVey and Chairman Peter Palmedo whose Sun Valley Gold LLC owns 46% of the stock. Ruffer LLP and Eric Sprott own another 22%. The junior has about $4 million working capital which at the current overhead burn rate and no plans to do additional work at Hasbrouck would allow the company to operate for 4-5 years without any further equity dilution. The board includes highly experienced people like Stephen Quin and Pierre Lebel. The stated goal is to minimize dilution by spending only necessary overhead and foregoing additional feasibility related work or exploring those parts of the property with untested potential. This "gold vault strategy" is designed to maximize the upside when a major gold bull market based on a rising and sticky real gold price emerges and unleashes a scramble among mid-tier producers to expand their mining portfolio.
Hasbrouck consists of three low sulphidation epithermal gold systems: Hasbrouck with a proven and probable reserve of 34,370,000 tons of 0.017 opt gold and 0.306 opt silver, Three Hills with a probable reserve of 9,653,000 tons of 0.018 opt gold, and Hill of Gold which has no resource. The reserves are based on oxidized mineralization. Hasbrouck was discovered in 1902 and underwent small scale mining until 1924. Hasbrouck and Three Hills underwent modern exploration from 1974 onward by various groups until 2002 when Newmont merged with Euro-Nevada. Newmont sold the project to Vista Gold in May 2003 which did no work and spun it out to Allied Nevada Gold Corp in 2007. Allied did some work in 2010-2012 and sold Hasbrouck to West Kirkland Mining in April 2014 which advanced the project through to a PFS in 2016 that included securing key permits from the BLM. The enduring bear market in gold took its toll and West Kirkland rolled back 10:1 on July 2, 2020, renaming itself West Vault Mining Inc to reflect a strategy of holding the project as a long term leveraged proxy for gold whose exit would be the acquisition by a producer.
West Vault updated the PFS in January 2023 to adjust for recent cost inflation. Since 2014 West Vault has invested about CAD $48 million in Hasbrouck. The recent PFS outlines a two stage development plan, investing USD $66.2 million to mine Three Hills at 15,000 tpd over 2 years, and investing another $117 million in the second year to develop Hasbrouck for 17,500 tpd mining over the subsequent 6 years for an 8 year mine life. Initial, growth and sustaining CapEx total $222 million. OpEx would be USD $10.36 per ton including $4.02 mining per ton ore and $4.67 processing per ton. The operation would involve open pit mining with a 1.1:1 strip rate and cyanide heap leaching with life of mine recoveries of 74.6% for gold and 18.3% for silver. The combined reserve of 44,023,000 tons at 0.017 opt gold (0.58 g per tonne) and 0.239 opt silver would yield 561,000 oz gold and 1,918,000 oz silver.
At the base case prices of $1,790/oz gold and $22.50/oz silver the PFS yields an after tax IRR of 51% and NPV of USD $206.2 million at 5% and $149 million at 10% discount rates. At 60.2 million shares fully diluted and a USD:CAD exchange rate of 0.74 this translates into CAD $4.63 per share and $3.34 per share. Under the rational speculation model which assigns a 50% to 75% certainty for the projected outcome the fair speculative value range is $1.67-$2.51 using a 10% discount rate and $2.32-$3.47 using a 5% discount rate. In other words, the stock should be trading in a range of $1.67-$3.47 depending on the market bias from conservative pessimism to aggressive optimism. The stock price at $1.02 thus represents Good Speculative Value offering price appreciation potential of 66% to 242% to position it within the Fair Speculative Value range.
I have created my own discounted cash flow model for Hasbrouck based on the ore mining and depreciation-depletion schedules provided in the technical report for the PFS which yields a slightly lower IRR of 47.7% and after tax NPV figures 8%-10% lower likely due to simplified tax handling. But it is close enough to be reliable over a wide range of gold prices. At the recent gold price of $2,048 per oz the NPV per share range was $4.48-$6.10. At $2,500, a 25% gold price increase, the range is $7.04-$9.30, which from the $1.02 price represents 600%-800% potential upside driven by a 25% upside move in gold. But, one might ask, why is the stock price not already in the $4.48-$6.10 range at $2,048 gold? Why does the company need a normal course issuer bid for up to 2.9 million share annually to keep the stock from falling lower?
One reason is that an 8 year mine life producing about 71,000 ounces annually does not seem like a juicy acquisition target for a producer. However, West Vault has left open expansion potential that could grow the mine life or increase the production scale. But the most likely reason is that the market does not believe $2,000 will ever cease to be the ceiling for gold, that it will never become a new base from which investors forecast upside rather than downside potential except in an inflationary scenario where rising costs track a higher gold price. West Vault is a bet that a higher real gold price is coming that is not related to apocalyptic developments.