With the company possibly producing 1 million ounces in 2019 from its high-margin Fosterville mine in Australia and Macassa mine in Ontario, Canada, it will spend up to US$120 million on exploration this year as it seeks to grow its resource base to continue to expand production and mine life at the operations, with $40 million to be spent at Fosterville.
"Our business plan is geared to realizing the full potential of Fosterville and Macassa," Utting said.
At Fosterville, where production is growing to 600,000 ounces a year from 356,200oz in 2018, the company is adding new mineralization at depth where it has discovered quartz veining with visible gold with intercepts in multiple locations.
"The Fosterville mill is currently running at a throughput rate of 1,350 tonnes per day but has a capacity of 2,300tpd. If we have exploration success and can fill the mill there is potentially further growth above 600,000oz/y," he said.
Exploration is showing significant potential at Macassa, too, at the South Mine Complex where high grade has been discovered at the Amalgamated Break which runs parallel to the Main Break that has produced the bulk of historical production since the 1930s.
"The Amalgamated Break is largely unexplored. We ae developing a new shaft [shaft 4] to enable us to explore along the Break to find more high-grade mineral and prove up more ounces," said Utting.
Shaft 4 will be operational in 2022 and enable the mine to increase production from around 250,000oz/y to over 400,000oz/y. It will also allow the company, already one of the lowest cost and highest margin gold miners, with the ability to increase production, to continue decreasing its cash costs and all-in sustaining costs. "The new shaft at Macassa will bring our cash costs down from $400/oz to under $300/oz," Utting said.
With its cash pile potentially growing to more than $1 billion in 2021, the company is looking to both return it to shareholders and deploy it to increase future growth potential. To this end it may increase its 4c-per-share dividend and undertake a share buy-back programme.
"We are building cash quickly and as we do, we want to put this to use. There will be continued investment in Fosterville and Macassa but we will also look for new projects to complement our portfolio," Utting said, highlighting a preference for assets in Australia and Canada.
Growth for growth's sake is not on the cards though as the company intends to maintain capital discipline. "Our focus is on high margin rather than high grade or production. We are looking at where we can add value, where we can offer good finance capability and expertise. We have a double-digit hurdle rate and are looking for a margin of at least $300/oz. We put three mines on care and maintenance because the economics were not there," said VP corporate development Darin Smith.
Shares in Kirkland Lake Gold are trading at C$58.71, valuing the company at $12.6 billion.