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Posted by David
Earlier this month, Mountain Province Diamonds (TSX-MPV, AMEX-MDM) dropped a big rock in the otherwise stagnant waters of diamond exploration and investment. The company announced that they had recovered a 25.13 c colourless octahedral diamond of exceptional clarity from the Tuzo kimberlite in the Gahcho Kue cluster, Northwest Territories. This diamond was valued at approximately (USD) $17,500/c, or $439,775 total. This is the largest diamond recovered in Canada during an exploration project.
MPV discovered the Gahcho Kue cluster, which lies in the AK property in the Kennady Lake region. It owns 49% of the project, with De Beers Canada as the operator and majority stake holder. The geologic environment of the project is in the southeast Slave craton. The cluster was discovered in 1997 and DeBeers Canada (then Monopros) was quickly brought in as a JV partner where is could earn up to 51% of the project by shouldering a large portion of the costs. DeBeers has since exercised this option. Four main kimberlite bodies comprise the cluster (see map): Tuzo, 5034, Hearne, and Tesla. Tesla is not currently considered to be a resource as its small surface area, 0.4 hectares, is less than one third that of the next largest body: Tuzo at 1.4 hectares.
The geology of the three currently economic pipes is varied. 5034 is an irregular body of hypabyssal kimberlite, Hearne is a mix of hypabyssal and diatreme facies kimberlite, and Tuzo is believed to be the deeper part of a diatreme with no root zone found as of yet. These bodies together create a large reserve of ore that has been thoroughly drilled and modeled over the past decade. In a general way the geology could be seen as an intermediate between the Churchill (Stornoway Diamonds & Shear Minerals) and Snap Lake (De Beers Canada) projects that are entirely hypabyssal kimberlite and the Fort a la Corne (Shore Gold & Newmont) project where all of the kimberlite found is pyroclastic or resedimented pyroclastic.
The diamond was recovered from LDDH sampling in March of this year. After the sampling was completed the kimberlite was made into a concentrate at De Beers’ Grand Prairie, Alberta facility and then shipped to the GEMDL laboratory in South Africa (also run by De Beers) to recover the remaining diamonds. When this in completed, the diamonds will be sent to the DTC facility in London, U.K., for cleaning and valuation.
Of the three main kimberlites, Tuzo is the least developed in terms of sampling. The recent bulk sample was in part an effort to rectify this. 5034 has 8.7 Mt of indicated ore at 1.6 c/t and 4.9 Mt of inferred ore at 1.7 c/t. Hearne has 5.7 Mt of indicated ore at 1.7 c/t and 1.5 Mt of inferred ore at 1.53 c/t. Tuzo, meanwhile only has 10.6 Mt of inferred ore at 1.15 c/t. MPV and De Beers are trying to remove the uncertainty with this body. For comparative purposes Diavik a few hundred km to the north has about 29.8 Mt of reserves in total at 3.2 c/t (measured+indicated), or 95.36 Mc. Thus far, Gahcho Kue has about 46 Mc (indicated+inferred). Keep in mind that the Diavik mine has unusually high grade. MPV estimates a mine life of about 24 years.
In terms of diamond valuation, an independent 2006 report by WWW International Diamond Consultants Ltd. gave (in USD) $101/c for 5034, $54/c for Hearne, and $43/c for Tuzo. The average for all three pipes was $75/c and it was noted that proper cleaning (usually in a hot acid bath) would raise the value of many of the diamonds by up to 10%.
It has been over ten years since the discovery at Gahcho Kue. Mining is expected to begin in full by 2012, giving about a fourteen year lag between discovery and mine. Diavik took only ten years in total to begin full capacity mining and Ekati took even less. Following statements for interviews with MPV management, it would seem that they would prefer a faster to-mine plan, but De Beers has preferred a more methodical approach. In light of what happened at Jericho with Tahera, perhaps this might be a more prudent option. Though perhaps De Beers has been focusing the bulk of its attention on their 100% owned Snap Lake and Victor projects in the Northwest Territories and Ontario, respectively.
Regardless of the slow timetable set for developing the project, the discovery of this diamond, along with other ones >5 c found in the past few years, has established the potential for large, high quality stones. As diamond price goes up exponentially with carat size, the profit margins for the future mine are looking larger. Now that above average grades, decent diamond values, and large, high quality, high value diamonds have been established at Gahcho Kue the main hurdle is to finance the project to completion as it will be about four years until commercial production. MPV needs about $370 million to fund its 49% share. The current market cap of the company is $280 million. The company has about $1.5 million net in cash and medium-term deposits, and has invested about $65 million in the project overall. While the sale of the diamond announced last week should pay for a few drill holes, in order to keep the full 49% share of the project MPV will undoubtedly require financing. This strategy may run into some resistance as diamonds are not a hot item in the current market and lenders in general are skittish after their collective failure to recognize the risks of sub prime mortgages and ABCP. Also, the fate of the aforementioned last diamond mine to open in the Arctic may be scaring way any potential suitors. Raising more capital by dilution is only a partial solution at this moment considering the vast funds involved. Although the company is not poorly positioned to issuing private placements effectively as its stock price has not suffered anywhere near to the degree that many of its peers have (mainly $4 to $5 over the past year). Another option is to default on their share of the costs and let De Beers’ deep pockets take care of things in return for letting their share slide to 40%. A third option that is being signaled by a strategic review of the company as alluded to in a National Post article last week is that the company may be putting itself up for sale.
Regardless of what option the company pursues, the nature of the deposit is likely to reap large rewards for shareholders when interest in the diamond market returns. What remains to be seen is that whether MPV chooses the option that gives the best gain to the shareholders.
Disclaimer: The author holds no shares of MPV. This article is based on the author’s personal research and experience. Please perform your own due diligence when investing.