By Tom Azzopardi
Silvercorp Metals Inc. (TSX:SVM) consistently appears as one of the top silver picks and with good reason. The company has a multi-pronged strategy for growth focusing on generating free cash flow and is calling for production guidance increases of 17% in silver, 9 % in lead, 24% in zinc and 109% in gold compared to the previous year. The company has no debt and has not done an equity financing since 2010. Its cash flow from operations increase by 25% to $107.4 million for the year ended March 31, 2022.
Another important aspect of Silvercorp’s strategy for investors is its 28% ownership of Canadian exploration firm New Pacific Metals (TSX:NUAG). The $39 million invested in New Pacific has resulted in a world-class silver discovery and value appreciation to $140 million.
Investors should note New Pacific Metals Corporation appears to have made its second transformative mineral discovery exploring a historic mining site in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia.
After a handful of holes at its Carangas project in western Bolivia returned significant gold values at depth, the company’s geologists are having to rethink what they thought was another deposit in the country’s silver-tin belt.
New Pacific is now doubling down, with five drill rigs operating on the site to assess the extent of the gold mineralization. The discovery would be a breakthrough for the company and for the country, a historic mining jurisdiction which is beginning to be recognized again by investors for its geological potential and openness to investment.
Landlocked Bolivia has long been a mining powerhouse. The Cerro Rico silver mines near Potosi are estimated to have produced around 3.0 billion ounces of silver over the last five centuries. The country was also a major tin producer during much of the twentieth century. The discovery of large natural gas deposits in the east of the country in the 1980s has powered a revival this century, with the economy growing by an average of almost 5.0% per annum between 2006 and 2018.
The revenues provided by gas exports have allowed the government to adopt economic policies to ensure the well-being of the population. Subsidized fuels prices and controls on food exports have meant Bolivians have not suffered the price shocks which have roiled the rest of the world economy since the pandemic, with the government’s Consumer Price Index rising by less than 1.0% in the year to April. That compares to over 10.0% in neighboring Chile.
The Economist Intelligence Unit recently judged Bolivia the Latin American country best placed to resist the impact of sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union against Russia.
After scaring off investors with a series of nationalizations earlier this century, the Bolivian government is looking to attract foreign investment into the mining sector again. Reserves are running at low at two of the country’s biggest mines, Sumitomo Corp’s San Cristobal and Pan American Silver’s San Vicente, and could shut in the coming years so President Luis Arce is looking to new projects that could attract fresh investment and create jobs.
Under this new policy, several companies have begun to explore and produce in Bolivia, including Andean Precious Metals and Santacruz Silver Mining which recently completed a US$110 million deal to buy mines owned by Glencore.
New Pacific Metals was one of the first companies to benefit from the new openness when it acquired the Silver Sands project in central Bolivia in 2017. It has also signed a pioneering new Production Agreement with state mining company Comibol giving it access to a 57 square kilometer land package surrounding the Silver Sand core area.
Following a successful exploration campaign, the company has identified a mineral resource of 156 million ounces at an average grade of 137 grams per tonne. The company is now preparing an updated mineral resource for this later this year, including resources in several more targets at the site, which will be followed by a Preliminary Economic Assessment by the end of the year.
Thanks to the shallow location of the silver resource and easy metallurgy, the company expects the deposit could be developed relatively easily into an open pit and heap leach operation within a few years. Indeed, it is a candidate for one of six mines which President Luis Arce hopes to see in production before he stands down in 2025.
The project would continue a winning streak for New Pacific’s founder Rui Feng. By developing and operating a series of mines in China, the geologist built Silvercorp into one of the world’s most profitable silver producers. Excited by the prospect of turning Silver Sand into an operating mine, he has now taken over as CEO at New Pacific Metals to oversee the next stage of development. Now Rui could be about to scale greater heights with a major gold discovery at Carangas. To take his place as chairman, he recently recruited Terry Salman, whose company Salman Partners has raised more than US$20 billion for mining companies over the last three decades. The move is a major coup, given that it marks the first time that Salman, a legendary name in Canada’s mining sector, has agreed to join the board of one of the companies he supports.
Although the site has been explored before, previous owners did not drill to a significant depth and withdrew when they failed to find the minerals they were looking for.
After staking the project last year, attracted by the extensive historic mine workings at the site, New Pacific staff took a different approach, drilling in a nearby valley rather than the two domes at the site. The move paid off, with holes returning not only significant silver mineralization near surface but also gold mineralization in-depth. One of the last holes from the 2021 campaign to be assayed intersected almost 600 meters of mineralization, grading 1.25 grams per tonne of gold and 6g/t silver.
New Pacific is now working intensively on the site. The company plans to drill around 40,000 meters during this year’s campaign with two rigs to assess the extent of the near-surface silver mineralization and three more to probe the gold-bearing ignimbrite and rhyolitic intrusives lying at depth.
Rui draws parallels with Filo Mining’s discovery last year of a high-grade copper-gold feeder zone at its Filo del Sol project on the Chile-Argentina border. The company’s share prices have risen almost tenfold since announcement and attracted a major investment from BHP.
As exploration continues this year, the company is expecting a series of announcements on the Carangas gold-silver project and the Silver Sand project that should keep investors interest piqued, and the Silverstrike project recently initiated a drilling campaign.
Prepared by Tom Azzopardi on behalf of Silvercorp Metals Inc., a Stockhouse Publishing client.