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An Increasingly Valuable and Strategically-Located Phosphate Play

Dave Jackson Dave Jackson, Stockhouse
1 Comment| November 18, 2021

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Stockhouse investors looking for a different kind of metals & mining play may, or may not, be that familiar with rock phosphate…but it’s essential to feeding the world…especially since the dawn of the New Green Revolution. Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd. (NZP) (TSX-V:NZP, OTC: GELGF, Forum) is a company that’s laser-focussed on becoming the premier supplier of direct application organic phosphates to the New Zealand and global agricultural sector. To date, the company is the custodian of New Zealand’s only material resource of ultra-low cadmium, environmentally-friendly pastoral phosphate fertilizer. Stockhouse Media’s Dave Jackson was joined by company President & CEO Chris Castle to tell our investor audience more about this intriguing company.


(Click image to play video)

TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

SH: To start off with, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the history of the company?

CC: Okay. Well, I qualified as an accountant back in the mid seventies and then immediately joined an investment group that had a minerals arm. So I got interested in minerals from then on. After seven years for them, I set up my own group of companies in the eighties, which included two mineral companies. Subsequently in the nineties, I worked for KPMG and their corporate finance division and then went back to my love, which was minerals companies and investing in them back in 1999. Since then I've been doing that and focussing two or three different key projects but the one, we're talking about today is Chatham Rock Phosphate, which I initiated back in 2007, when the rock phosphate prices started to go crazy. The market price had been $40/tonne before then but for various reasons the market price nearly reached $500/tonne

So that prompted me to pick the only phosphate deposit here there in New Zealand which is offshore on the Chatham Rise east of the South Island, that was in 2007. We were granted a prospecting licence in 2010 and a mining permit in 2012. In 2015we applied for an environmental permit but we were turned down and I've been keeping the lights on since then raising money in order to reapply and as part of that (in order to degenerate a cashflow), we have started to initiate some acquisitions, which we'll talk about later.

SH: Can you update our investor audience and your Chatham shareholders on any new company developments, especially in the wake of COVID?

CC: Well, COVID hasn't really affected us believe it or not. COVID provided the opportunity for us to acquire Makatea in French Polynesia because they were dead in the water. They were well-developed and looking forward to getting project financed but they weren't able to raise funds because they couldn't ship samples to fertilizer companies because of COVID. So they started to look around to see who they could match with. That's what COVID actually provided us, the opportunity to acquire this company.

You’ve just reported progress towards the Makatea Mining Concession in French Polynesia. Can you expand on this initiative for our investor audience?
CC: Well, Makatea is actually right out on the ocean and it was once underwater and it's now an island, which has been pushed up by tectonic forces. It’s a project which has been mined from 1906 to 1966 by the French and it was only partially mined and then it closed, I think basically because the workers who were over there deserted the island because they could get paid more on another project nearby actually building the nuclear testing facility at Mururoa The project was subsequently discovered by a gentleman called Collin Randall who set up a private company that to recommence the project.

He's a mining engineer with 50 years experience. He's now joined me as an executive director. He has a whole range of skills that I don't have. He's one of the real assets that came with the acquisition of Avenir Makatea which also has its own management team in place and has started to progress its permitting process.

SH: You’ve recently commissioned an independent resource report for the Korella Mine, located in Northwest Queensland. This may be news to many investors. Can you unpack the benefits of this?

CC: The important thing about financing the development of a project like that and being able to talk about it is that you have an independent report that verifies all the information available and expresses a view about what you should be doing as a work program. Those reports already existed for Korella but they e done under the Australian mining code (JORC) And are they're not suitable or appropriate for a TSX listed companies. So we needed to duplicate their work by commissioning the national instrument 43-101 report. So that's really part of a normal development of a mining project in order to get it financed, to be able to talk about. So once the NI 43-101 is complete, we'll be able to quote from that in our press releases. At the moment we are unable to quote from the drilling reports. So that’s the reason for doing that

SH: In your corporate deck, the company says it aims to be an ethical, environmentally-friendly and highly-profitable phosphate business. Simply put, how so?

Click to enlargeCC: Well for a company to be ethical, it just needs to be transparent, display integrity, has to be accountable and it has to communicate with its stakeholders. We do all of that and more because we sell a food- safe product to reduce the incidence of cancer in human beings. I'll talk more about that later but further our product is sourced ethically in the sense that it's not coming from a regime, which is mining rock phosphate from a disputed territory and whether there are other issues around how people are being treated, there are United Nations sanctions against that country, which is the world's largest trader of rock phosphate.

On the environmental front. I've already touched on it, low cadmium is going to result in less damage to human beings and then the other important thing about our rock phosphate is that when it's used, it has less run off of the waterways. It also binds better with the root systems of plants and there's less water finishing out the lakes and rivers. So you've got a healthy soil profile and healthy waterways. So that's part of the environmental thing, I guess the other important thing of course is that because we are mining locally the carbon footprint of transporting rock phosphate around the world is far reduced. It's about 90% less and so if in New Zealand fertilizer companies used our phosphate rather than importing from Morocco that would be the equivalent of approximately 40,000 petrol driven cars off the road and replacing them with electric ones. So that's one of the key environmental benefits.

Finally profitability. We own to be profitable because we expect our mining to be a fraction of what we can sell the d rock phosphate for. For example, our rock phosphate can be used as a substitute for triple superphosphate. Field trials established that it's 85% as effective as TSP. Our mining costs is about $70 a tonne. That's what it will cost to recover and triple superphosphate currently selling for more than $600 a ton. So if we can sell it as a substitute for triple superphosphate and also, it's classified as organic phosphate and it's not manufactured but just directly apply. You can see that there's some pretty good margins. states. A year ago, triple superphosphate was $300 a time, now it's more than 600 and so we were profitable at 300. The numbers are similarly good for the rock from Korella and for Avenir Makatea. So I think the profitable part of it is going to be the easiest part to achieve

SH: In regard to recent acquisitions, namely Korella, the Company looks set for strong growth in 2022. How are you placed to expand operations to meet this demand?

CC: Yeah, that's a good question because we're a pretty small operation at the moment. We're going to contract mine Korella and there's a large phosphate mine next door and so that contractor isn't occupied full-time mining there. So we'll be mining our project on a campaign basis when they're not busy next door. So we will have two people up there supervising them, but that's not going to be hard to manage the expansion. Now in terms of marketing it, Collin Randall has been looking at marketing rock phosphate for years and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of where we can sell this rock,

Much of which comes from Korella will be sold to people who turn up in a truck and have it weighed and when they go out, they hand us a cheque and we just sell at the door. So selling isn't going to be difficult.

SH: For company shareholders and potential investors, what kind of future development and progress can we expect at both your seabed and onshore mining operations?

CC:
Well, I think we can say Korella going into production in 2022. We can see Avenir Makatea in 23/24 and the last one is Chatham Rock Phosphate in 2026. The reason for that is we're going to use the cash flows from the first two to pay for the application costs for the final one. So we'll go to production of 250,000 tonnes a year to 500,000 and then 2 million tonnes a year progressively over the next five or six years.

SH: What separates Chatham Rock from the competition, Chris, and makes your business model unique?

CC: I think, initially, what made it unique was the fact that we were mining under water. What's become clear now is that the really important thing about the rock from all three mines is the low cadmium and the fact that it can be described as organic. Avenir Makatea rock is already certified as organic in Canada and the USA. So we're going to be an ethical supplier of low cadmium, organic rock phosphate, which is quite a different market from the rock being sold by Morocco which is made into processed fertilizers, such as MAP, DAP, triple superphosphate and so on. This is a simpler traditional way of fertilizing which is going to be become increasingly embraced and which will attract a price premium even though we're not assuming this in our forecasts. So that's the difference - low cadmium more organic phosphate.

SH: I have to mention your stock has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride over the past 12 months. What can you tell our investor audience regarding the current valuation of your stock and why you think it’s a good buy right now?

CC: I think they reacted to the two transactions that we've announced, one in December last year and one in October this year. There's been a surge of interest in both times and then back down again. The current market capitalization is about $9 million. Now that's for a company with three projects, one of which will be in production early next year. If you contrast that with our market capitalization back in February, 2015 before we were turned down for the environmental permit, that was about $40 million Canadian, we’re currently $9 million Canadian. The market hasn't really woken up here to the fact that we are a completely different company. We're not just sitting dead in the water in New Zealand with a project that can’t be permitted. We're actually moving quickly towards being an international trading with rock phosphate where we have three mines. I think every CEO thinks that his company is far too cheap and in this particular case, I think the evidence is compelling. We are a no brainer to invest in at the moment.

SH: What’s the long-term strategy for the company moving forward and what should retail and institutional investors be looking out for?

CC: That's a good question because we've already started along the path to continue to acquire other operations and we have at least five other projects we're looking at closely at the moment and we've made an offer on two of them. We are also developing relationships with major Japanese trading houses to become a partner with them and trade rock phosphate. So we're going to continue to expand, I would say almost exponentially from where our base is at the moment. So I think as far as investors are concerned, they're going to see a company that is more broadly based, there's less risk involved than investing in a single project company, which is what we were until a year ago. They can see a company that's going to grow and it's going to grow in the right part of the phosphate market because organic low cadmium phosphate is kind of become increasingly prized and I guess eventually one of the large phosphate companies or fertilizer groups might decide that they need to own a division which does what we do and so we might finish up being part of someone else. But that's not the plan. We're happy doing what we're doing at the moment. We're not building up Chatham in order to sell it.

SH: Can you tell our audience a little bit about your corporate management and board teams, along with the experience and innovative ideas they bring to the onshore and offshore phosphate mining space?

CC: Well, I think the strength we have on the marine mining side is one of our directors called Robert Goodden who has been an investor in Marine mining projects for the last 20 years and has a background in Marine mining exploration and development studies. He's the strength on the Marine mining side. We also have two Marine geophysicists in our team who were involved with the Chatham Rise project back in the late seventies, early eighties when it was first investigated by the New Zealand government. So we're pretty strong from the marine rock phosphate side. On the onshore projects Colin Randall has 50 years experience as a mining engineer and 20 years advising resource banks on how to finance coal projects.

He brings an immense range of skills to us, as well as his knowledge of the phosphate market, I've been studying the phosphate market for 14 years now and he's a great complement to the team. Between us we have those skills. We'll add other skills as we need them at the moment but basically, we know how to mine and we know how to sell. We have the usual accountants and comms people on the board and those sort of things, but those are the key skills.

SH: And finally, Chris, if there’s anything I’ve overlooked please feel free to elaborate.

CC: Well, Thanks for that. One strategy we are considering if our share price stays where it is or too low as we develop with our own cash flows, we'll start buying back our own shares. So that's sort of very much on the table because we are, I think, ludicrously underpriced. So that is one way of helping the shareholders appreciate gains from that is to start buying back shares and so that's a strategy that is on the table.

For regular updates, visit www.rockphosphate.co.nz.


FULL DISCLOSURE: This is a paid article produced by Stockhouse Publishing.


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