Maurice Jackson: Joining us for a conversation is Nick Appleyard, the president, director and CEO of TriStar Gold Inc. (TSG:TSX.V). Glad to have you discuss the value proposition before us, TriStar Gold, which is focused on developing gold and delivering value. Before we delve into project specifics, Mr. Appleyard, please introduce us to TriStar Gold and the opportunity you present to the market.
Nick Appleyard: TriStar Gold [has] a project called Castelo de Sonhos, which is reasonably early stage. We've got a scoping study we published last year—great results—and now we've just financed through the end of feasibility, which we're starting now. This is what we're here to talk about, and that's what's going to show the value to our shareholders, de-risk and move this very exciting project forward through the feasibility and into production in the next few years.
Maurice Jackson: TriStar Gold's projects portfolio is located in the Para state of Brazil. Take us there, and provide us with some historical context on the region.
Nick Appleyard: Para state is one of the major mining locations within Brazil. There are two states in Brazil, Minas Gerais and Para, that receive 80% of the mining investment into Brazil. The government of Para has said its goal is to become the main source or main recipient of mining investment in Brazil, so it is a very pro-mining state. The area that TriStar Gold is in has a history of logging, informal mining, agriculture, and it's now being developed for soybeans, so the infrastructure is going into the soybean industry. That's sort of what's been opening this part of Paraa up. It's a mining area, but it's now getting the infrastructure coming in through the agriculture, which makes it a real win-win for us.
Maurice Jackson: That certainly will help out with the capital expenditures as we delve into that later. Why does TriStar Gold have full confidence that they have the next great discovery in Para?
Nick Appleyard: I think we already have the discovery, and I think what gives us the confidence is a word I'll probably repeat a few times through the interview is, it's simple. We have a very shallow ore body. We only drill 120-meter-deep holes. We have very simple metallurgy. We have very simple geology, simple open pits, a simple processing technique, no deleterious materials on the environmental side, so we have a simple tailings facility. As a mine developer, historically over the last 20–25 years, I know that mining projects get complex and as they get complex, they get expensive and difficult. The simpler I can keep it the better. I think that's what makes this project so special, the simplicity and the potential scale that it already has.
Maurice Jackson: Let's visit your project portfolio. Take us to your flagship, Castelo de Sonhos project, and share with us the project highlights and geology.
Nick Appleyard: Castelo de Sonhos, if you're interested—in English that's the castle of dreams. It is an ancient paleoplacer deposit. That means that the gold was effectively being shed from a mountain range with primary gold deposits in it, being poured in, then deposited in a large alluvial fan, and then buried for effectively 2.1 billion years.
What that means to us, and what we like about that, and what that really signifies to our shareholders, is this alluvial fan is huge. The plateau that we're developing is about 9 kilometers across and the conglomerates go edge to edge, and we haven't really found the limits of it yet.
Also, what that means to us is what I referred to earlier. It's simple because that gold had been winnowed down from primary deposits. All of the sulfides, all of the minerals the gold may have been tied up with, have been weathered away. We are left with sand and gold, and quartz cobbles in the conglomerate, and almost nothing else. It really makes it a deposit where it's simple to understand the geology, very predictable.
And it has the scale. The scale, again, is easy to predict, because we know if gold is in a stream at one point, it's going to be in that stream 500 meters downstream as well. It almost cannot be, because the laws of gravity require that it will be there. It becomes very predictable. I think that's what we really like about this. The geology is very well understood. That understanding allows us to understand the scale of this property.
Maurice Jackson: Sticking with geology, you have a tremendous amount of exposure to outcrops. How does that fit into the narrative?
Nick Appleyard: What that allows us to do is focus for the next 10-plus years on shallow, open pits. We don't have to worry about the underground side of the mine. There are two deposits around the world that are analogous to Castelo de Sonhos: Tarkwa in Ghana, Jacobina in Brazil. Both of them are very, very similar geologically. Both of them started as open-pit mines, and then developed into open pits and underground mines as they grew in time and age.
We haven’t even touched on the underground potential at Castelo de Sonhos yet, because we have at least 10 years in front of us to evaluate the shallow open pit, which is the cream. That's the bit we're after now. Having something like 16–19 kilometers of conglomerate that outcrops the surface with gold in it that we can identify, gives us a long horizon to look at with just the open pit technology.
Maurice Jackson: TriStar Gold has completed a PEA (preliminary economic assessment). When was the PEA completed? And please walk us through some of the numbers.
Nick Appleyard: We published our PEA in November 2018. It was a very successful one for us. Again, we focus on shallow, open-pit material. Also, being a smaller company, we have the opportunity with a deposit like this to go for a larger-scale mine, with a higher capex and a higher net present value (NPV), or a smaller scale with a lower capex and a higher rate of return. Due to the market, when we're looking at $1,250 gold and lack of liquidity in the market, we chose to go for a smaller, higher return project.
With that, we ended up with a PEA that produced 1.1 million ounces of gold at a base price of $1,250/ounce. With that was add an IRR (internal rate of return) pre-tax of 51% rate of return, or post-tax 43% rate of return, and an NPV of $320 million nearly. Initial capex is only $184 million and we get payback in less than two years. It's an astounding property from that point of view.
Maurice Jackson: The PEA was completed using a responsible, conservative number of a $1,250 gold price. How do the economics change at $1,500 gold price?
Nick Appleyard: That's interesting. I've had a look at that recently and we are, by nature I think, a very conservative group. We have never looked that high. The highest we've looked at was about $1,400, and at that $1,400, our post-tax IRR jumps into the mid-50s and our NPV is around $400 million. At $1,500, it would be even better, but then you would also see other moving parts within the deposit, as we would change to a larger-scale mine. I think that does show—I'd like to also reiterate this—we are a conservative group. When we looked at $1,250 gold, the highest we took our sensitivity test checks to was $1,400.
Maurice Jackson: I had an opportunity to review TriStar Gold's key development metrics. Which metrics have the company most excited?
Nick Appleyard: As a mine developer, the one thing I just love about this is what I said earlier. Everything is simple. We're talking about a small mine, so mining costs are low and controlled. Process costs are low and controlled. I think the one thing that is best about this, compared to a lot of projects I've worked on recently, is that we are close to the infrastructure, so the costs of $184 million capex are nearly all directly related to the mining and the project. There're no huge costs for getting water to the site, or getting power to the site. Those things are all readily available for a small amounts of money.
We are close to infrastructure. That really helps. I think that's the one level that makes us really excited, is we are close the infrastructure, so there're no big cost blowouts. Then, everything else is simple so far, as far as we know.
Maurice Jackson: TriStar Gold has a current mineral resource in the Inferred and Indicated classification. Share some of the tonnage, grade and metal content from both of those classifications.
Nick Appleyard: We have total ounces at 2 million ounces, but within Indicated we have about 18 million tons, at 1.2 grams; 4.7 million ounces; and in Inferred we have 40 million tons at 1 gram; 4.3 million ounces. At this stage there's no measured resources.
Maurice Jackson: What can you share with us about metallurgical results?
Nick Appleyard: Metallurgical results on this are outstanding. That's the easy thing to remember. Due to the nature of the rock, it is literally like coarse sand with fairly fine gold between the sand grains. Once the rock is crushed to about 150 microns, we will get 98% recovery. Again, that sounds exceptionally high, and it is exceptionally high, but it is also the same as what they achieve at Jacobina and Tarkwa, so it's not unrealistic to expect that from a commercial scale as well. They do achieve that at those mines.
Maurice Jackson: Is TriStar Gold actively drilling?
Nick Appleyard: We are not. We have just completed raising money within the last week or two. We are now mobilizing rigs to the site, and we expect them to start drilling in September.
Maurice Jackson: Those rigs, are they diamond-core or RC (reverse circulation)?
Nick Appleyard: They will be RC rigs. One of the advantages of being able to drill just shallow holes is that the shallow pit allows us to drill RC. The massive benefit to us on that is it gives us a larger sample. It gives us, in theory, a better statistical analysis of the gold grade. We use an optical televiewer combined with the RC, so we get a crystal-clear image of the inside of the drill hole. With the RC we are about half the cost of diamond drilling, and we drill faster. We get better sample. We actually get more information because the optical televiewer gives us more information than you could derive from just looking at core.
Maurice Jackson: Have you identified your target areas?
Nick Appleyard: Yes, we have. We are effectively taking the PEA, and we will be upgrading that to a feasibility with the recent funding from the sale of a 1.5% royalty to Royal Gold Inc. (RGLD:NASDAQ; RGL:TSX). Their requirement—their guidance to us—was to take this PEA and turn it into a feasibility study. The PEA pits are our obvious target infill, then [we] increase the category and the resources.
Maurice Jackson: Let's discuss some important topics germane to the project. Beginning with reversionary interests, are there any on the project?
Nick Appleyard: No, we are in the property 100%. There are some royalties, as I've mentioned earlier, and as people may have seen on the news. We have just sold 1.5% royalty to Royal Gold for $8 million and we have an existing 2% royalty on the property already. There's a 3.5% royalty on the property. We are 100% into it.
Maurice Jackson: Now, we slightly alluded to this earlier regarding capital expenditures, how is infrastructure on your project?
Nick Appleyard: It's one of the sensational aspects of this project. We are, straight-line, probably 15 kilometers off of the main sealed highway that goes up the center of Para state. Along that highway are high-tension power lines, with available power for us. On the turnoff to the project there is a town of around 10,000 people, which has a labor force, and they are all skilled in heavy machinery, mining, logging, agriculture, so there's exactly the sort of people you will want working on a mine. They are also the sort of people who will not object to having a mine 20 kilometers down the road from them. The other side, there are no deleterious elements such as national parks or indigenous populations.
Maurice Jackson: Which is actually my next question: What is your relationship with the indigenous population as well as the local community? It sounds like there's no challenges there.
Nick Appleyard: No, the local population in the village, [which] is actually called Castelo de Sonhos, is very, very good. Most of those people were transplanted from southern Brazil during the 1980s and 1990s during the land reallocation programs. They're not people with deep roots in the area. They don't have a deep association with it. There are people who work in primary industry such as agriculture, logging and mining. They are supportive of us. They're very familiar with the project, and we have people in the communities most of the time. That's very good. There are indigenous populations—probably the closest are 70 or 80 kilometers away, [near] a river. We have no contact with them, and we do our best.
Maurice Jackson: Are you fully permitted?
Nick Appleyard: Yes, we are fully permitted for where we are right now. As you move through and advance projects in Brazil, there are different targets to acquire. We have filed everything and we are up to date on the permits that we need. The main concession is in the process of being converted from an exploration concession to a mining concession; that should happen over the next year. Things will move forward quite well. As we said, it's very nice to be in a jurisdiction where the state government is very pro-mining.
Maurice Jackson: Is the ultimate goal for TriStar Gold to develop the Castelo de Sonhos project and sell it, or build a mine?
Nick Appleyard: I'm a little agnostic on that. For me, it's a business decision. Historically, when I've been involved in international minerals, we've discovered properties in the Andes in Peru. We recognized, after taking them through feasibility level, and groping at feasibility [that] Hochschild Mining Plc (HOC:LSE) were the world experts at underground mining in the Andes, and we could make more money for our shareholders if Hochschild Mining, rather than us, went through and did it.
We are totally capable of putting this mine into operation, but if a better scenario comes for our shareholders, it's a business decision. There's no ego involved that we have to be operators, or we have to own this mine and build it. It's purely a numbers game.
Maurice Jackson: We've discussed the good. Let's address the bad. What can go wrong and what is your action plan to mitigate that wrong?
Nick Appleyard: What could go wrong? [In] the mining projects I've been involved with, when things go sideways sometimes, it always comes down to community relations. Sometimes it'll have an environmental aspect, but generally, if you've lost the support of the communities, you risk the project. I think that's always the biggest thing that can go wrong.
We're talking specific problems other than, obviously, gold going down to $800, which I don't think anybody thinks it will do now. For me, it's all about the community. That's where you have to keep doing your work and you have to keep doing it continually now, as we move forward, because it's hard to gain their trust and it's very easy to lose it in any scenario, where ever you are. You can be in Nevada, Ontario or, for us, Brazil.
For me, the biggest risk in most projects is the community's trust—keeping them inside, keeping them informed and keeping them understanding of what you're doing with this project, how it's going to benefit them, and make sure it does benefit them, so you are being a good corporate neighbor.
Maurice Jackson: Switching gears, let's discuss the people responsible for increase in shareholder value. Mr. Appleyard, please introduce us to your board of directors.
Nick Appleyard: The company was founded by Mark Jones, when he sold Brazauro Resources Corp. to Eldorado Gold Corp. (ELD:TSX; EGO:NYSE) and so he's still on the board. He's our chairman. Brian Irwin is secretary; he's a lawyer, out of Ontario.
Dr. Quinton Hennigh, who is the chairman and founder of Novo Resources Corp. (NVO:TSX.V; NSRPF:OTCQX), which is another paleoplacer [miner]. Quinton is essential because he is one of the three or four world experts on paleoplacer, and he's a great asset to us, to have his knowledge available to us on the board. [He is] also a sort of nice checkmark for us in that he recognizes the quality of this paleoplacer deposit.
We have Leendert Krol who is an ex- Newmont Goldcorp Corp. (NEM:NYSE) geologist on the board. Then, critically important, we have a Brazilian component. We have Carlos Vilhena, who is one of the leading mining attorneys in Brazil, so he really helps us with the Brazilian side of moving a project forward and operating down there. Then, obviously, I'm on the board as well.
Maurice Jackson: Who is Nick Appleyard, and what makes him qualified for the task at hand?
Nick Appleyard: I am a geologist from Australia originally. But I've worked for a long time for a company called International Minerals (IMZ:TSX), living in Ecuador and Peru, and developing projects in those two countries, and then in Nevada. I became a resource estimator and a mine developer really. I began leading the team in doing discovery studies and feasibility studies for Ecuador; Gaby in Ecuador; Pallancata and Inmaculada in Peru; Goldfield and Converse in Nevada—doing those studies and bringing those assets forward to production decisions. Two of them—Pallancata and Inmaculada, core assets of Hochschilds Mining, sensational mines that we discovered—we put forward to production decision, and we worked out the best way, the most profitable way, to get them into production.
What happened when I was running the technical part of that company, I developed a team of people who I call friends and who I admire—hugely admire professionally—who also develop mines, and they have complementary skill sets to mine. When I took over TriStar about three years ago, I brought with me the CFO (chief financial officer). I brought with me great exploration geologists, a resource estimator, a process engineer, as well as access to environmental people and social community people that we've worked with, some of them for over 20 years now.
Maurice Jackson: Who is on your management team? What skill sets to they bring to TriStar Gold?
Nick Appleyard: [We try to keep the] management team as streamlined as we can. Realistically it's myself, the company president. Scott Brunsdon, who was with me at International Minerals and Chaparral Gold, is our CFO. What he brings is a wealth of experience in international transactions. He was the CFO for Placer Dome NA, so he has got a great experience and exposure to the large companies and large corporations and knows how they work, knows how they like to see data presented to them. For doing any type of cross border transaction, I don't think there's anybody better than Scott. That's our CFO.
Our vice president, Mo Srivastava, is a resource estimator and a geologist. Again, he is exceptional. He actually, literally, wrote the book on resource estimation called Applied Geostatistics. He published the technical paper that defines the formula for the variogram. Dr. Harry Parker is an extremely good geologist; I would say he's a scientist. He will look at all the information and compile it and get you the right information to go where you need to go. Then, using meds and statistics that he has, [he will] be able to then predict what you're going to get when you get there.
Maurice Jackson: Who do you have on your technical team?
Nick Appleyard: In Brazil, we have Fabio Mozzer. He's our chief geologist in Brazil. He's a local Brazilian, very, very experienced, worked for a long time for RTZ. He is our main man at the project, and main person in Brazil, and also—very, very importantly, this is one of the skills I recognize in him that is so critical—he is very, very good in the local communities.
Every time I go to the site with him, he'll take me to what's happening and show me the geology, the outcrop. That's obviously critically important. He'll also take me and we'll talk to the local farmers. We'll talk to the local garimpeiros (informal miners), who are off of our project but we still want to keep them friendly. He'll take me through the local community and introduce me to the people, keeping everything friendly, keeping everything above board. He is fantastic for us down there in that manner.
We also have our process engineer, Tony Brown. He is in North America. He is a metallurgist. He founded a company called MRDI a few years ago, which is, through acquisitions, now become AMEC. Again, he has done more process design than I've probably, seen sunrises in Arizona. Very, very good.
Then we also have access to additional people, additional geologists, and some amazing environmental people who on our advisory technical team. We have Dr. Rael Lipson, who is, along with Quinton Hennigh, one of the preeminent paleoplacer experts in the world. Dr. Martin Williams is one of the three best environmental geochemists in the world. We have this great team to work with.
Our approach is always get someone really, really, really good in at the beginning of the project, have our project advance that work, and get that person who's really, really good in at the end of the project again to summarize it up and make sure it was all done correctly. That way you get efficient work, but you're not paying for a lower level expert the whole time. You bring them in. You get their information and then you run with it. That's the sort of philosophy we use.
Maurice Jackson: Now, this may be a first for me for calling someone out, and you did reference that you were very conservative, but from the board of directors to management and technical team, you guys have a proven pedigree of taking projects from exploration to development and into production. I want to underscore that for our audience members here.
Nick Appleyard: No, absolutely. I was reading through a Hochschild analyst report recently, and the Pallancata and Inmaculada mine we found and discovered, and which led to Hochschild buying International Minerals, is probably the critical aspect from a shareholder point of view. Those mines were sensational mines. We discovered them. We developed them. Then we got to the liquidity point with our shareholders because of them, which I think is the main aspect here. We've done it multiple times, and this is the next one in a series of mines. This one looks as good as anything else we've ever worked on because of its grade, the simplicity of the project, simplicity of the metallurgy. This is going to be a mine.
Maurice Jackson: Let's get into some numbers. Please share the capital structure of TriStar Gold.
Nick Appleyard: TriStar has 178 million shares outstanding right now. If we were going to fully dilute it, [it would be] to 216 million.
Maurice Jackson: How much cash and cash equivalents do you have?
Nick Appleyard: We have about CA$6 million in the bank right now, and we have, or we will receive from the Royal Gold transaction, another CA$4 million over the next seven months—as long as we keep advancing this project and keep the drilling going forward on this project, which we will do. That's it. We've got CA$6 million now, and another CA$4 million due in by March of next year.
Maurice Jackson: How much debt do you have?
Nick Appleyard: Zero.
Maurice Jackson: What is your burn rate?
Nick Appleyard: Our burn rate for purely holding the company together and doing nothing is around US$150,000 a month. When we get drilling now, we will be spending up to about $700,000 a month.
Maurice Jackson: Who are the major shareholders?
Nick Appleyard: Our largest shareholder is U.S. Global Investors, out of San Antonio, Texas. The second largest shareholder is Gold 2000 out of Zurich. Then we have RBC Global Asset Management out of Toronto, and Sun Valley probably holds 2–3% as well. Then, there's a few individuals who hold 5–7% as well.
Maurice Jackson: How much does management have?
Nick Appleyard: We consider the insiders management and friends and family and associates, [and they] have 27%. I believe management directly holds between 12% and 15%.
Maurice Jackson: What is the float?
Nick Appleyard: In retail float, the best we can estimate is around 30% of the shares outstanding.
Maurice Jackson: Are there any redundant assets on the books that we should know about?
Nick Appleyard: No. We've been focused solely on Castelo de Sonhos.
Maurice Jackson: Are there any change of control fees, and if yes, what is the compensation?
Nick Appleyard: Yes, our executive management, which is myself and Scott, CFO and the vice president, we have standard change of control clauses in place. I don't have the exact numbers of what they mean. I believe two years would be the pay-out. Again, that is there so they're motivated to get to a liquidity point for the shareholders rather than becoming reliant on a salary.
Maurice Jackson: Is management charging a consultant fee for any services?
Nick Appleyard: No.
Maurice Jackson: In closing, multilayered question, what is the next unanswered question for TriStar Gold? When can we expect a response? What determines success?
Nick Appleyard: The next unanswered question is, does the Inferred resource upgrade as we expect to Indicated? We start drilling then in September, so we should have our initial answers by December, January. It's not something we're concerned about, but that is the next unanswered question. We would expect to have an answer on that by January as we start infield drilling in September now.
Maurice Jackson: What keeps you up at night that we don't know about?
Nick Appleyard: Over the last year or two, it's been financing. I know the project has delivered everything we asked of it. However, we've gone from 280,000 ounces to 2 million in a very predictable fashion. What has been hard has been raising money in this market, which is not a unique situation for TriStar. That's something that fit all the juniors. We have the financing now. I know the project will deliver. Doing the feasibility study doesn't keep me awake at night. What does is how we get the market—how the market will react—and getting the liquidity up in the shares. That's what we're focusing on. That's the new area we're working on now.
Maurice Jackson: Mr. Appleyard, what did I forget to ask?
Nick Appleyard: What did you forget to ask? The only other thing, I think, that is relevant is the overall business plan for TriStar. We touched on whether we would [build] Castelo de Sonhos, or [whether] someone else would, or how we would do that. I said it was a business decision. Our market plan had always been multiple projects, multiple jurisdictions, so we are always on the lookout for another major project in another political jurisdiction, just to get political diversification.
That's something that we are open to and looking at all the time, but not aggressively. It's if we see an opportunity, we will take it. Again, we would be looking within the Americas, probably the initial focus on the Spanish-speaking part of the Americas. Obviously, our whole Brazilian team speaks Portuguese, but most of us speak fluent Spanish. Anywhere in Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking South America would be a great location for us to target a second project. We could then be advancing in parallel with this.
We have the sensationally good, high-level team. I want to keep them busy, and I don't want to burn Castelo de Sonhos with the salaries. You could have two or three projects, you can keep those people more focused, more at work, and more dedicated to TriStar by getting them more hours spread across more projects. That's always been our big thing too.
Maurice Jackson: Mr. Appleyard, for someone listening [who] wants to get more information about TriStar Gold, please share the website address.
Nick Appleyard: Our website is very simple. It is TriStargold.com. I would recommend that the first thing someone does is [watch] a little corporate video. It's only 90 seconds, two-minutes long, and I think it gives a really nice overview of the projects, and what it is and where it's going. I think that would be a starting point I'd recommend.
Maurice Jackson: For direct inquiries, call (480) 794-1244, or you may email [email protected] TriStar Gold trades on the TSX.V: TSG.
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Nick Appleyard, of TriStar Gold, thank you for joining us today on Proven and Probable.
Maurice Jackson is the founder of Proven and Probable, a U.S. based media company that has a dual prong approach. The first prong identifies undervalued junior mining opportunities, conducts site visits around the world, and interviews CEOs of companies that are on major world stock exchanges and some of the most respected names in the natural resource space. The second prong, Proven and Probable is an independent licensed representative of Miles Franklin to sell physical precious metals in a number of options to expand a precious metals portfolio, offering physical delivery to home or business of gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, a fully insured offshore depository, as well as precious metals IRAs, and ledger private blockchain distributed ledger technology stored at the Royal Canadian Mint.[NLINSERT]
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