Could you give us a brief overview of McEwen Mining’s current operations and projects?
McEwen Mining is an asset-rich company with three gold and silver mines and a fourth one coming on stream next year. We also have a large copper project run by our 47.7%-owned subsidiary, McEwen Copper. I have personally invested $220 million, own 17% of the company, and take a $1 salary a year.
How have your experiences been working in jurisdictions outside North America and Europe, such as Argentina, Mexico, Chile?
It is generally slower and more complicated. The criminal element is more evident in Mexico and direct. In Argentina the bureaucracy is pervasive and cumbersome. Policymakers in all these regions need to appreciate that to attract large foreign investments to develop their mineral resources they must first enshrine legislation that protects this capital and allows for the unimpeded export of profits.
Bringing a mine into production is a time-consuming and expensive process. Community involvement is a fact of life for getting a mine built. The disruption of global trade due to geopolitical tensions is causing many manufacturers to scramble to secure new sources of supply. A few astute governments are recognizing the economic benefits that flow from a developing mining industry. One such government is Saudi Arabia. Despite their large revenues from oil and gas, They have recognized the opportunity to further diversify and broaden their economy.The government is actively courting mining and exploration companies with financial incentives and speeding up the process of property acquisition and obtaining permits. They understand the benefits, high paying jobs, the development of secondary and tertiary industries supplying mining activities and the opportunity to further improve the living standard of their citizens.
Given the difficulties that exploration companies undergo nowadays, how did McEwen Mining manage to establish its current successful projects?
The short answer is we bought them at a time when they appeared to be available at a large discount to what we thought was their exploration potential. Our gold properties are in regions where there is a history of gold mining. And two are in regions that have very significant past and current production. I must add that our gold mines recently endured several challenging years and are now turning around. They are at “a work in process stage” and it is premature to call them successful.
On the other hand, our subsidiary McEwen Mining owns a fabulous asset, the very large Los Azules copper project. The recently published preliminary economic assessment (PEA) outlines a potential mine that has robust economics, a long mine life, low production costs/lb., large annual copper production and a short payback period. It has the added attraction of being much lighter on the environment than a comparable sized conventional copper mine. For example, it will use less than ¼ of the water, emit 1/10 the carbon initially and be net zero by 2038, utilize an electric mobile fleet, and be powered by 100% renewable energy. When I evaluate a mineral deposit, I reflect on its potential size, capex, production cost and payback period. Since I have been a gold investor for a long time, I will do the math to convert a non-gold deposit and its attributes to a gold equivalent to get a sense of its importance. For example, our biggest project is our copper project, Los Azules. I arrive at its gold equivalent by dividing the current gold price, $1963/oz, by the copper price, $3.64/lb., to find the number of pounds of copper required to equal the value of 1 oz of gold. Today that number is 539. Los Azules has total estimated copper resources of 37.6 Billion lbs, forecast average annual copper cathode production of 322 million lbs, Average cash cost (c1) of $1.07/lb, a payback period of 3.2 years and a mine life of 27 years while mining only 1/3 of the deposit. So, let’s do some math to determine the gold equivalent values.
Los Azules’ copper resources is equivalent to 69.8 million oz of gold, average annual production of 600,000 at a cash cost of $580/oz. Therefore, operating at the bottom of the cost curve for the industry. Los Azules should be a large, profitable, long life mine.
McEwen Copper’s shareholders are McEwen Mining 47.7%, Stellantis 19.4%, Rio Tinto (Nuton Venture) 14.5%, Rob McEwen 12.9%, Victor Smorgon Group 3.2%, and other individuals make up 2.3%
Do you think gold is in danger of losing its status as a historical store of value?
Absolutely not! Gold and silver are monetary metals still held by Central Banks and it is noteworthy that Central Banks are buying, executing some of the largest purchases of gold seen in the last 20 years. They have been using their reserves of dollars and other fiat currencies to buy gold. Perhaps your readers should be thinking of doing the same. Converting some of their cash into hard assets such as gold.
Why is it that people are not flocking to gold right now, given the intensification of uncertainty across the global economy?
Until recently Central Bankers were aggressively flooding the world with liquidity. The combination of very low interest rates, massive monetary stimulation and governments incurring enormous debt loads made money very cheap and easily available, which compelled investors to fearlessly ride the stampeding bull market. These conditions numbed investors to the inherent dangers of current conditions to their wealth.
However, the situation is very different today, interest rates have climbed quickly, money is now becoming expensive, sections of the economy are slowing, inflation is taking a bigger bite out of everyone’s pay cheque and market risk is now a topic of discussion. In this environment, gold tends to perform well.
How does McEwen Mining work together with its communities?
The focus on communities near our operations is most advanced at our El Gallo mine in Mexico and at McEwen Copper’s Los Azules project in Argentina. Mexico has led the way and the Los Azules project is our newest and will serve as a model for our other operations. There we set up a regional office which is open to the community to see and hear our plans, offering training to qualify people in the community for work at the project and the mine once it opens. We are seeking to source locally as much as possible of the materials we need and encourage local entrepreneurship.
Los Azules is located upstream of an agricultural region that has suffered an extended period of drought. So, the prospect of a new potentially large consumer of water, such as a copper mine, is a hot topic. Since a comparable sized conventional copper mines uses a great deal of water, we decided to come up with a different design for the mine that utilizes a process that uses less than a quarter the amount of the water and emits 1/10 the carbon, eliminates a massive tailings dam and storage area along with the attendant potential environmental risks and we will be producing a green cathode copper. The site will be powered by 100% renewable energy and our mobile fleet will be electric. We will also be working with the agricultural sector to improve their water management.
In the broader global community, we are working to change the public’s negative perception of mining to a positive one because without that change, Controlling climate change will be hampered by the looming shortage of supply of minerals for manufacturers to fabricate the necessary tools and technologies to combat climate change. The capability of the mining industry to expand production to meet this increased demand for minerals is being impaired by a rapidly shrinking workforce, driven by retirement and much fewer students choosing mining as a career. At McEwen Mining, we are looking to develop our Los Azules project as a generative model for the future of mining, one that will attract the best talent.
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