Currently viewing Global edition

New mineral sands miner polishes its Image

Australia’s newest mineral sands miner, Image Resources NL (ASX: IMA) is developing a strong reputation for over-delivering for shareholders, starting by outperforming expectations in its first quarter of operations.

sponsor-image-img
New mineral sands miner polishes its Image New mineral sands miner polishes its Image New mineral sands miner polishes its Image New mineral sands miner polishes its Image New mineral sands miner polishes its Image

Image Resources has outperformed expectations at its Boonanarring mineral sands mine in Western Australia

It has an enviable list of achievements for the March period: heavy mineral concentrate production at 167% of budget, sales and revenue at 106%, significantly lower operating costs at 72% and EBITDA 400% above budget.

With Image having locked-in offtake for 100% of Boonanarring's mine-life but with offers coming in from other potential buyers, a potential ore reserve upgrade slated for the September quarter and the possibility of gaining access to drill the north extension of the project, signs are pointing to further rerating opportunities for the company which was trading around 27 cents at the time of writing, up more than 250% in the last 12 months.

As managing director Patrick Mutz observed as production hit full stride earlier this year, it is rare for a start-up miner to over-deliver on commitments.

However, six months on, he is already tipping a lift to guidance thanks to operational successes to-date. 

"The company is an attractive investment target as it has delivered on its promises to shareholders … and is already profitable and cashflow positive," he told RESOURCEStocks.

alt='Image Resources’ wet concentrate plant' Image Resources' wet concentrate plant

Image moved rapidly through development in 2018 at its high-grade, zircon-rich Boonanarring mine 80km north of Perth in Western Australia, completing construction on time and on budget and ramping up to full scale production in January 2019, in only the second month of operation.

Image's success is underpinned by arguably one of the highest heavy mineral grade, zircon-rich mineral sands deposits in Australia.

Importantly, the company has been experiencing actual ore grades in Q1 2019 up to 75% higher than the project's ore reserve, Mutz said.

Image identified a high-grade core of mineralisation earlier this year that was not identified in the current ore reserve and the company is currently re-drilling to delineate this core.

Then in May 2019 Image discovered and mined a zone of ultra-high-grade or direct shipping ore located below the base of the ore reserve. 

Material mined from this zone in May and June is being tested to optimise its market value which is higher than the company's current concentrate product.

Mutz said there were three key factors behind Image's rapid and successful ramp-up to full-scale production at Boonanarring.

He pointed firstly to the quality of the deposit, which was coarse-grained mineralisation, high-grade and zircon-rich.

Second on the list was the marrying of the correct plant and equipment to the deposit characteristics, and thirdly, the quality and passion of its very experienced work force.

Image's board members also bring decades of mining industry, mineral sands, corporate, finance and project development experience to the company.

It is chaired by Robert Besley, who managed the creation and listing of both CBH Resources, which became a Australia's fourth-largest zinc producer and was taken over by Japan's Toho Zinc, and Australmin Holdings, which brought a gold and a mineral sands mine into production before being taken over by Newcrest Mining.

alt='Image Resources MD Patrick Mutz' Image Resources MD Patrick Mutz

Internationally-experienced Mutz oversaw Murray Zircon's transition from development to production as a mineral sands miner in South Australia.

Back at Booananarring, Image's 2019 guidance is to produce and sell 220,000-240,000 tonnes of heavy mineral concentrate (HMC).

It had already produced 68,736 dry metric tonnes and sold 47,947t in the March quarter and sold 70,000t in the June quarter.

"The goal for the year is simple; to continue to deliver and meet or exceed published guidance, which will very likely be raised before the end of the year," Mutz said.

He said a very important aspect from the March quarter results was the zircon grade in the ore being substantially higher than estimated in the ore reserve.

"Since the zircon component of Image's HMC accounts for approximately 85% of the company's revenue, the anticipated increase in the heavy mineral (HM) ore grade should add substantially to revenue," he said.

"And, with the zircon content of the HM being up to 29% higher than anticipated in the ore reserve during the first quarter, if such a trend were to continue in the upgraded ore reserve, this should be a further adder to overall revenue."

Drilling to delineate the high-grade core of the deposit began in April and is continuing in July with the ore reserve upgrade anticipated late in the September quarter.

"In May 2019, Image announced the discovery of an ultra-high-grade ore zone at the base of the ore reserve, with the grade of this ore (up to 95% HM and 70% zircon in the HM) being higher than its HMC concentrate product," Mutz explained.

"In other words, mother nature produced some natural HMC or direct shipping ore (DSO) which is higher value than Image's current HMC.

"While the total quantity of the ore in this zone remains to be determined and may be limited, the true value of this material is as a proxy to just how high the ore grade can be in the high-grade core of the Boonanarring deposit."

Mutz foresees strong fundamentals for the zircon market in the medium term.

"The price for our primary heavy mineral commodity (zircon) has been stable for premium grade zircon but has indeed softened a bit in 2019 for standard grade zircon," he said.

"None-the-less, the overall zircon market is experiencing a supply deficit for the next few years which should continue to apply upward price pressure on overall zircon prices."

Image has been garnering attention for Boonanarring HMC from potential purchasers outside its existing offtake agreements, which Mutz said should ensure the company was selling its products at market-based rates.

alt='Image Resources is garnering attention for Boonanarring HMC' Image Resources is garnering attention for Boonanarring HMC

"If an offer is received for greater than the market-based offtake offer, Image does have an opportunity to consider that offer, and which, if it chose to action, would require additional export permission," he said.      

As a key part of an opportunity to expand the mine-life at Boonanarring, the company is negotiating access with landowners to commence drilling a previously identified northern extension of the Boonanarring deposit.

Previous roadside drilling has indicated high zircon grades and the area has been described as similar to Boonanarring Block A, which has some of the highest ore grades and a lower strip ratio.

"The first access agreement is being negotiated and is anticipated to be executed in the third quarter of this year," Mutz said.

Beyond Boonanarring, Image has a number of potential development projects in its portfolio, both dry mining and dredge mining prospects.

"One of my front-runners as a potential second operating centre in parallel with Boonanarring is our 100%-owned Bidaminna project as a dredge mining prospect," Mutz said.

He said it was early-stage but the project had significant value-add characteristics.

"Bidaminna has a very healthy grade for a dredge mining project, has very low slimes, very high valuable heavy minerals (VHM) content, is coarse grained and is leucoxene rich," he said.

He said these value-add aspects made Bidaminna "much more than an average minerals sands project" - just as Image is also demonstrating its above-expectation credentials.

"Image has developed a reputation of delivery - or over-delivery - on its representations to its shareholders," Mutz said.

"Overall project economics are expected to increase significantly in advance of Image realising its full value in the market.

"I believe the next catalysts will be the upgraded ore reserve (likely end of the third quarter) and secondly, additions to the ore reserve (in first half of 2020) which will increase the mine life.

"Pardon the use of an old cliché, but given the potential for additional positive developments for Image, ‘watch this space'," Mutz said.

category-img

HEAD OFFICE:

DIRECTORS:

  • Robert Besley
  • Patrick Mutz
  • George Sakalidis
  • Chong Veoy (Aaron) Soo
  • Peter Thoma
  • Chaodian Chen, Fei (Eddy) Wu
  • Huang Cheng Li

SHARES ON ISSUE:

  • 972 million

MARKET CAP (at July 9, 2019):

  • A$267 million

MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS:

  • Murray Zircon 19.74%
  • Vestpro International 13.57%
  • Orient Zirconic Res Aust 5.33%
category-img

HEAD OFFICE:

DIRECTORS:

  • Robert Besley
  • Patrick Mutz
  • George Sakalidis
  • Chong Veoy (Aaron) Soo
  • Peter Thoma
  • Chaodian Chen, Fei (Eddy) Wu
  • Huang Cheng Li

SHARES ON ISSUE:

  • 972 million

MARKET CAP (at July 9, 2019):

  • A$267 million

MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS:

  • Murray Zircon 19.74%
  • Vestpro International 13.57%
  • Orient Zirconic Res Aust 5.33%