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Edited Transcript of NOM.OL earnings conference call or presentation 21-Nov-19 9:00am GMT

Q3 2019 Nordic Mining ASA Earnings Call

Nov 24, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Nordic Mining ASA earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 9:00:00am GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Birte Norheim

Nordic Mining ASA - CFO

* Ivar Sund Fossum

Nordic Mining ASA - CEO

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Conference Call Participants

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* Morten Normann

Carnegie Investment Bank AB, Research Division - Analyst of Materials

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Presentation

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [1]

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Good morning, and welcome, everyone, to the third quarter interim presentation by Nordic Mining. My name is Ivar Fossum. I'm the CEO, and together with CFO, Birte Norheim, we will host a presentation this morning. The presentation will last for 25, 30 minutes. And to all of you following on the web, please note that you can send your questions in, and we will take that up in the following Q&A session after the presentation.

So then I think we start. I need to lead you guys with 4 seconds, before we move on. We have a very traditional agenda. I'll give you a couple of highlights before we enter into the normal agenda going through the figures, and then we will describe more of the status about our projects, the Engebø rutile and garnet as well as our assets on lithium in Finland.

But first, a couple of highlights. It's been an important quarter and fall with regard to authorities, both local, but also national authorities with regard to operational license. But the big highlight of today is that we are close to finalize the huge DFS study for the Engebø rutile and garnet projects. We targeted to release this before Christmas. But we need to finally assess and quality assure all the final details in the study, and we'll present the main results in January. And we will do it by way of a presentation and a dedicated web host, like this one, in January as well as an open day here in the office to give you sort of all the ins and outs of the DFS study, which is extremely comprehensive and, of course, of very, very high importance for the project and for our company going forward.

Having said that, we have started already the preparations for construction financing. We have met with institutional possible lenders. And also the due diligence process for some of these institutions has started, and we have had introductory meeting with ECAs, potentially bringing guarantees in the financing.

So with these very introductory remarks, I'll leave the floor to Birte, who will take us through the figures.

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Birte Norheim, Nordic Mining ASA - CFO [2]

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Thank you, Ivar. So on the income statement, the operating loss for the quarter of NOK 21.3 million is more or less in line with what we have seen in recent quarters and reflects the continued high activity level on the DFS, which is now in the very final stages of completion. Valuation of Keliber has been made on the same basis as we have in recent quarters, which is on the basis of the share issue that Keliber executed in February, which valued our holding of 18.5% to EUR 12 million. However, due to the weakening Norwegian kroner, we have recognized the currency gain of NOK 2.4 million, which brings the net loss for the quarter to NOK 19.1 million.

On the financial statement, on the balance sheet, you will recognize the Keliber investment recognized as financial investment of just shy of NOK 116 million. Our cash balance as per end of September was NOK 17.3 million, but bearing in mind that we have executed a rights issue in October, which has strengthened the cash balance and also the equity by NOK 35 million gross. Still no debt on the balance sheet.

As for the rights issue, we did issue 25 million shares at a subscription price of NOK 1.40 in October, bringing gross proceeds of NOK 35 million. We did see very solid participation from our existing shareholders, and the total oversubscription was more than 50%. The funds that we raised through that issue will take the company through the DFS and into the FEED phase. And as we have said before, we expect that the completion of the DFS, which represents a major milestone for the company, will form a solid basis for further financing of the company.

And as Ivar mentioned, we are continuing the preparatory work on the construction and the most important update since last quarter is that the bank's due diligence process has now just commenced. And we've said before, and I'll remind you again that the intention is also that offtake partners will contribute with a substantial portion of the construction financing.

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [3]

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Thank you, Birte. Then we will move on to the projects, and I will start with Engebø rutile and garnet projects. It's not really the time to give a lot of details, but I'd like to indicate a few highlights from some of the sort of technical and project development over the last months, which are of importance. And first of all, we have seen a continuous optimization of the open pit all the way up to now, which have resulted in more ore resources and less waste from the pit.

As you know, we have a limitation by the local municipality with regard to the overall size of the pit. But within that limitation, there are extremely many parameters to optimize on how we actually extract the ore from the open pit. And that has been crucial to us. We have had several rounds of optimization, all the crushing and milling sequence, which goes straight into the rest of the process, which are now finalized. That work has also resulted in improved recoveries for both minerals, which is also extremely important in our projects. And we are doing now the final assessment of 80, 90 sort of bid packages for putting together the financial parameters for the project. We see an increase in CapEx, but that is well offset, maybe even more than that by some of these other variables in the projects. And as some of you may have noted, we are also helped by an improvement in the titanium prices, which we expect to continue in the future.

I'll talk a little bit about authorities, regulation and permits because this is comprehensive stuff in all jurisdictions, specifically in Europe and maybe specifically in the Nordic countries. So the approval of the detailed regulation plan, which we got in August was very important for us. All the sort of the process area, the infrastructure, the supply of water, power, access roads, the whole mining area, the waste rock area, access roads to the mine itself, all those details and also drainage of water, all these elements have now been approved and also approved in the detailed regulation. So it is kind of a formality, but an extremely important one in our progress. The only remaining zoning plan or regulational land is the tiny one for the freshwater pipeline coming from the neighboring municipality, which we hope will be resolved in the near future.

Then to the operational license, which is Norway. In Norway, it's given by the Directorate of Mining in Trondheim. We applied 1st of February this year. It has been very well received. That is our perception and it has undergone a comprehensive hearing round by many institutions and by 3 different municipalities. And they have, over the last couple of months, given broad support to the application. This is, of course, important when you know that you want to build an industry lasting for 40 years plus in the district in Norway and we expect the final approval of the operational license to come in the first quarter of 2020.

I'll say a little bit -- a few more words about the operational license because people read many different things in that license or permit, if you like. And it's really not about if you are able to or allowed to open the mine or not, it's about how you extract the minerals, how you do your mining from day-to-day. And there are 3 main focus areas. It's, first of all, safety with regard to people, with regard to the integrity of the mountain and the mine itself. So it has to do with tension in the rock, geotechnical calculation and stability. A lot of studies going into that because we are changing the shape of a mountain, and these things are extremely important and that's why the directorate are focusing on that.

Separately, it's also about how the resource is being utilized. In what sequence are we taking out waste rock compared to ore? Also on behalf of society that we are having the end in mind when we do the mining in terms of taking out the resource in a good sequence and in a good manner, so that we are not rushing to things, but doing it in an orderly fashion to put it in brackets.

And finally, and equally important, it is about rehabilitation. As we go along, but certainly, when we have finalized and in that perspective, the open pit is one big chapter, and then you have the finalization of the overall mine, which is long into the future in other perspective.

Time line towards production. We are getting close to the DFS, which is sort of the next milestone, and that is the platform for getting our finance further, but there are other elements. As you know, we are working with our industrial partners on offtake, important ingredients to back the financing for construction. And we will go into detailed engineering and preparation for construction in the FEED phase.

Financing our projects and greenfield is a comprehensive project. But that's why we are starting early and we'll work on this towards summer. And hopefully, by the third quarter, we are getting close to putting all of these construction financing package together.

I want to say a few words about the ESG. We are going to be a vital player in a local community for many, many years, and our focus will be to be an open and transparent and an integrated employer and business player in the area, but also have consciousness about the global environment we will operate in. And that's why we would like to focus on the UN sustainability goals and pick some of those which are particularly relevant to our operation. So that will be an inherent part of our focus and our strategy going forward as an industrial player. And it will also be broadly described in the DFS study. So just to pinpoint a little bit sort of highlights on our thinking in this area. And we are in process of further building our team in Naustdal. We'll be at around 10 people when we start the construction of the projects.

That was Engebø rutile and garnet. I'll say a few words about Keliber Oy and lithium in Finland. As you know, Keliber have had a long and fantastic journey, but also a transition. They had transformed from being a 1 plant to a 2 plant production operation. They had transformed from planning to produce lithium carbonate to lithium hydroxide, which we think was a good move, and they have consistently explored, which has resulted in continuously increasing resources coming from somewhat low figures to start with. And you can see on this graph, the development up to last year, which brings the resources up to 12.5 million tonnes of ore, a tremendous increase, also divided on the various mines, Rapasaari and Syväjärvi being the most promising one when we look at the results from the resource drilling in the previous years. So a fantastic development. And Keliber will continue to explore even into the -- to the production phase of the project.

It has been, what I would say, a downtime in the lithium prices, both for carbonate, but also for lithium hydroxide, more dramatic on the carbonate side. There can be many reasons for that. But the underlying demand for lithium as an ingredient in batteries for the automotive and many, many other applications are still fundamental, it's still strong. We recently saw Tesla's plans of making new plants in Europe. We see many other initiatives in Sweden, in Norway, in Hungary, in Germany. So there will be a huge capacity or production of lithium-ion batteries in Europe, which will need feedstock. So we think that the prices for lithium are about to level out, and we expect them to come back at a certain level.

And then finally, as I have described sometimes before, Keliber is doing the sequence of things in the traditional fashion. They develop and then they have sort of entered into the area of permitting towards the end. And they have also realized that, that has been maybe a more time-consuming process than anticipated. And they need several permits for several open pits and 2 plants, and that has taken longer than anticipated. We think they are doing excellent work in preparing and consulting and communicating about these permits. And certainly, they will get there, but it has led to a time delay in when they can justify to move into the construction period for the project. So they envisage that they may start construction in 2021, but it's still pending that they are getting progress on the permitting side. But we'll try to give you updates on this. Mining is extremely promoted by the Finnish authorities and then by politicians. So I think there is still a strong push to get Keliber finally permitted and into production in Finland.

So that was my presentation of the 2 projects, then we leave the floor and also the people out there on web to post their questions, and we will try to do our best to answer.

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Questions and Answers

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Unidentified Company Representative, [1]

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Okay. We have received some questions by e-mail from the video audience, but I suggest that we start with possible questions from the audience in the meeting room here. Anybody? Yes. Morten.

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Morten Normann, Carnegie Investment Bank AB, Research Division - Analyst of Materials [2]

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Morten Normann, Carnegie. I start with a nasty question. You mentioned broad support, but what really happens in the Sogn og Fjordane council the other day? You nearly were voted down?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [3]

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Well, that's a good question. And we were also taken a little bit aback by, especially, the labor party, which have been supporting us since day 1 in 2007, and we started the regulation process. But I think it's important to remark that Sogn og Fjordane is a new municipality, consisting of 4 municipality being merged together with 1. So the Naustdal municipality is 1 of these 4 municipalities. And I think it's fair to say that there is quite a bit of politics and symbolism in that voting, and I'm not coming back to my explanation about the operational license. I'm not quite certain to what extent they really are aware of the status of the project and what they actually voted about. I have experienced very, very solid support from labor party sort of from national, regional and local level, and we expect that to continue.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [4]

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Are there other questions from the participants here in Oslo? Yes.

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Unidentified Analyst, [5]

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Yes. Could you talk a bit about the offtake agreements that you have in the process you're in with that? Especially, is it more volume fixed or price fixed or both?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [6]

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I can start with the last part of the question. It certainly will be both. And it's -- I cannot give any details on that. Apart from that, we have a constructive dialogue with these parties. It is many steps in how you develop these agreements. Normally, you have sort of an initial step when you agree the main terms and then you go into a quite comprehensive offtake agreement, which is actually also being blessed by the lenders institutions giving finance to the project.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [7]

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So when the Oslo audience is considering some more questions, we can start with what has been received by e-mail.

First, we have a handful of questions from Mr. [Yuku Yakula], and I take them one by one. When do you release DFS?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [8]

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In January 2020.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [9]

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Is there any permission still missing?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [10]

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Yes, there is the operational license with regard to production, but in order to build a plant, we're only missing the tiny regulation plan for the water -- freshwater pipeline.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [11]

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And then he asks, what is your plan regarding postponed Keliber divestment?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [12]

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I don't think I will comment that sort of very much in detail. We consider our stake in Keliber as a very valuable one. We are impressed with the good work which are going on in Keliber, but we also acknowledge that things are taking more time, specifically related to the permitting process.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [13]

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And then how will you finance the CapEx, and I suggest that he means [sustainable] CapEx?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [14]

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We may assume that. And there is no change in that. We will consider all possible elements in that. But we are embarking on the traditional financing route, which is debt financing and equity financing, backed by offtake agreements, but also backed by ECAs.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [15]

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And then the last question from Mr. [Yakula]. Why are you delaying the approach of investing decision while the market of rutile and garnet is improving all the time?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [16]

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Well, this is only to -- we would like to move forward as fast as we can. But being a relatively small mining company, we have to build a sound basis for financing and the DFS is exactly that. So we are pushing forward and are now -- have no intention to delay as such.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [17]

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Okay. Then we have a question from Mr. [Ivokem Jensen]. When is the start-up of the smolt monitoring program, the migrating smolt, I presume, he's hinting to. When is this starting?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [18]

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That will start in the coming summer.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [19]

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Summer 2020.

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [20]

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Summer 2020.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [21]

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Correct. And then a question from Mr. [Gunnar Gitri]. The AMR company claims that, and it's a bit difficult worded that they have the state property. I don't know how to -- what is actually meaning, but please say some words about it, the relation between what AMR claim that they have the right to and what we have.

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [22]

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Yes. AMR has -- are claiming and has claimed a lot of things. We have sort of the exploration rights for the whole Engebø mountain for the state mineral. We expect to get an operational license for the whole area.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [23]

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Then so for the last question from Mr. [Bjørn Erik Heiberg], who came a bit late into the presentation, but he asks, have you prepared anything for further processing logistical, transport out from the various areas of presuming he means products? How have you planned the logistics?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [24]

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Okay. Anticipating his question a little bit, and he may ask us again, but all the products will be -- and which is shipped out by boat from our own key at Engebø. So we will have an offloading system to be able to offload both products, and we will have storage facilities for both products. And we have a key and a logistical setup that can sort of take any ship size from 2,000 up to 45,000 tonnes.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [25]

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He had some questions -- additional questions, but your answer covered also those questions.

So then there's no more questions received here. Are there additional questions in the room? Yes.

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Unidentified Analyst, [26]

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Seabed minerals, can you talk a bit about that? Is that something within the next 5 years? Or is it more past beyond 5 years from your perspective?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [27]

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Yes. It depends if that question is related to us or in general. In general, I think things are moving quite rapidly, but not so fast in Norway. But on a global scale, we see an increasing amount of activity. With regard to our strategy, I think it's beyond 5 years for certain. But we are very, very happy to see the engagement, not only by Norwegian politicians, but also by the scientific communities around this area.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [28]

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Yes. We have 1 more question here in Oslo.

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Unidentified Analyst, [29]

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David Anderson (inaudible). A question about the offtake agreements. Do you have any idea how much percentage of the construction costs you think that will cover?

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [30]

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Our construction? No, I can't comment that presently, and it's not the right time to do it here. But we will come back to that.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [31]

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We have not received any more questions from the web audience. And it appears that it's no more questions here in the room for the time being. So then I guess that we close this session, and thank everybody for the participation.

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Ivar Sund Fossum, Nordic Mining ASA - CEO [32]

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Thank you.