Lucky Friday Mine Is Back At Full Production Level
COEUR D'ALENE, ID - Hecla Mining Company reported a third quarter net loss applicable to common shareholders of $8.6 million. The Company reported a 42% increase in third quarter silver production to 2.3 million ounces compared to a year ago, with strong production from Greens Creek and the re-opened Lucky Friday reaching full production levels towards the end of the third quarter. In addition, with the June 1, 2013 acquisition of the Casa Berardi mine in Quebec, gold production increased 164% from the same period a year ago to 36,966 ounces.
"Hecla's third quarter saw the Lucky Friday get back to planned tonnage, Casa Berardi completing several key capital programs and Greens Creek lowering its cash cost, before by-product credits, per silver ounce(1) by 20%," said Phillips S. Baker, Jr., President and CEO. "And Hecla was recognized for its commitment to safety with an award from NIOSH, a federal government agency, for using innovative technologies to improve safety."
"The fourth quarter is expected to be our best quarter of the year with the Lucky Friday at its normal tonnage rate for the whole quarter and Casa at this year's highest tonnage and grade. We also are continuing to reduce capital, exploration and pre-development expenditures, so the annual projections for these largely discretionary expenditures should be down 26% from the beginning of the year. For 2014, we are planning to spend within Adjusted EBITDA, so our financial position should remain the strongest in Hecla's history. We believe Hecla is well positioned to weather any further weakness in metals prices and to take advantage of the higher prices we expect in the future."
Hecla had silver production of 2.3 million ounces at an average cash cost, after by-product credits, per silver ounce (a non-GAAP measure) of $7.40.2. Silver production for 2013 is expected to be near the high end of previous guidance of 8 to 9 million ounces with cash costs, after by-product credits, per silver ounce at approximately $6.50. The Lucky Friday mine, which re-opened in February, reached planned and historical throughput levels of more than 900 tons per day in September and have averaged above that rate since. Lucky Friday had a 121% increase in silver production and a 49% decrease in average cash costs, after by-product credits, per silver ounce, from the second quarter.
Gold production of 36,966 ounces, an increase of 164% over the third quarter of 2012, with 23,400 ounces from the Casa Berardi mine. Total gold production for Casa Berardi for 2013, starting June 1, is expected to be approximately 62,000 ounces. The company had operating cash flow of negative $5.2 million, primarily due to a $25.4 million concentrate shipment made late in the quarter that settled early in the fourth quarter, and a $5.0 million production inventory buildup, primarily at Casa Berardi. Capital, exploration and pre-development expenditures are projected to be 24%, 29% and 41% less, respectively, than estimated at the beginning of the year, a total savings of approximately $69 million since the start of the year. Net loss applicable to common shareholders of $8.6 million, due primarily to lower average silver and gold prices over the prior year period.
The Greens Creek Mine in Alaska maintained its consistent, low-cost production in the third quarter of 2013, with 1.8 million ounces of silver produced at a cash cost, after by-product credits, per silver ounce of $5.00, compared to 1.6 million ounces of silver at $3.52 per ounce in the same period in 2012. The increase in the cash cost, after by-product credits, comes despite the third quarter of 2013 having a $6.85 lower total cash cost, before by-product credits, per silver ounce than the prior year period. By-product credit was $8.33 per silver ounce less than the prior year period due to lower by-product revenue and more silver production. Mining and milling costs per ton were up by 10% and 24%, respectively, in the third quarter, as compared to the same period in 2012. The increase in milling costs was primarily due to diesel fuel costs related to the generation of more power on-site due to lower availability of less expensive hydroelectric power, the result of lower precipitation levels in Southeastern Alaska. Both mining and milling costs were impacted by an increase in labor costs.
For the first nine months of 2013, production totaled 5.6 million ounces of silver at an average cash cost, after by-product credits, per silver ounce of $4.18. Greens Creek is expected to produce approximately 7 million ounces of silver in 2013.
The US Forest Service has issued a Record of Decision (ROD) on the planned expansion of the Greens Creek Tailings Facility. The ROD supports construction of a facility that provides storage capacity that is sufficient for the current mine life. The ROD is in an appeal period through the remainder of the year. Assuming the appeal process is completed favorably, the ROD should be implemented and required permits are expected to be obtained in 2014.
The Lucky Friday Silver Mine in Idaho, which re-opened in February after a year of rehabilitation and enhancement, produced 479,188 ounces of silver during the third quarter and 816,776 ounces of silver for the nine months ended September 30, 2013. Annual production is expected to be approximately 1.6 million ounces in 2013. Cash cost, after by-product credits, per silver ounce should continue to decline to approximately $9.50 for the month of December.
During late September, the mine reached its full historical and targeted throughput rate of approximately 900 tons per day, an average rate the mine is expected to maintain for the remainder of the year. A total of 61,051 tons of ore was milled during the third quarter.
The #4 Shaft Project is currently at the 5900 level, having begun at the 4900 level. At the 5900 level, work has begun on the first of the three shaft stations, which will allow the loading and unloading of men and materials once the shaft is operational, expected in 2016. The approximately $200 million #4 Shaft Project is more than 50% completed. This shaft should allow access that is expected to increase production from deeper, higher-grade ore zones that could raise Lucky Friday's silver production to 5 million ounces in 2017.
Hecla's recently acquired Casa Berardi mine in Quebec produced 23,406 ounces of gold in the third quarter, slightly more than the target of 20,000 ounces, at a cash cost, after by-product credits, per gold ounce of $1,066, or 7% lower than the previous quarter. Mill throughput rate averaged 1,546 tons per day in the third quarter. The development of new, higher grade stopes in the 118 and 113 Zones is expected to increase the gold ounces produced, to an estimated 32,000 ounces in the fourth quarter. With increased production at Casa Berardi expected during the fourth quarter, the cash cost, after by-product credits, per gold ounce is expected to decline to approximately $950 in the fourth quarter of 2013.
The project to deepen the West Mine Shaft by 1,100 feet was initially started by Aurizon and requires approximately another 150 feet of shaft construction and shaft loading facilities to be completed. The project is expected to be complete by year-end with loading pockets finished in the first half of 2014. Development of a new drift on the 1010 level is planned by the end of 2014 to provide additional access to the 118 Zone and facilitate deeper exploration.
Additional mine enhancements completed since the acquisition earlier this year include a concrete plant and a paste fill facility, both of which are expected to increase the efficiency of operations.
At Greens Creek definition and exploration drilling of the Deep 200 South area has made significant progress in defining three stacked folds of high-grade mineralization that represent up to 600 feet of down-dip continuity. Drill intersections continue to include high grade silver, gold and lead/zinc intercepts including: 16.59 oz/ton silver, 0.51 oz/ton gold, 15.43% zinc and 9.01% lead over 24.6 feet and 21.01 oz/ton silver, 0.46 oz/ton gold, 12.75% zinc and 2.81% lead over 28.8 feet.
In addition, in-fill drilling is expected to convert up to 700 feet of strike length of the newly defined Deep 200 South resource to reserves, and step-out exploration drilling to the south has confirmed these mineralized folds for another 500 feet of strike length. The Deep 200 South resource remains open to the south, west and east. Portions of this mineralization are expected to be added to reserves over the next two to three years.
Surface drilling at Killer Creek, located approximately 0.5 miles west-northwest of the Greens Creek mine infrastructure, intersected broad mineralized zones up to 400 feet with stringer veins containing copper, gold, zinc, lead, and silver mineralization in the mine footwall rocks. In general, the northern holes are more copper-gold rich and the southeast area is more zinc, lead and silver rich. The 12 holes drilled in this area may have defined a vein-dominant mineralized vent that could be the feeder to either the Greens Creek deposit or a satellite deposit.
At Lucky Friday drilling from the 6200-56 Ramp station on the east side of the mine is expected to upgrade some of the 30 Vein and Intermediate Vein (40, 80 and 90 veins) resources above the 7300 level from inferred to indicated category. Drill intersections continue to include high-grade silver, gold and lead/zinc intercepts that are deeper than the current mining area providing further evidence of potentially higher-grade mineralization. The drill results and the levels on the primary 30 Vein include: 10.5 oz/ton silver, 6.7% zinc and 10.1% lead over 8.1 feet at the 7222 level and 27.9 oz/ton silver, 6.6% zinc and 16.8% lead over 10.1 feet at the 7600 level. A second drill from the 6400 level of the 55 Ramp will focus on upgrading the resource on the western-central region of the 30 Vein near the 7800 level.
At Casa Berardi a total of five drills have been operating underground to refine the current resource and potential stope designs and are currently defining the mineralization in the Principale Zone, 118 Zone and 123 Zone further east toward the East Shaft. Drilling of the 113 Zone was successful in extending a series of lenses to the east with high-grade gold intersections. Some of the drill results include: 0.80 oz/ton gold over 83.3 feet, 1.18 oz/ton gold over 23 feet, and 5.29 oz/ton gold over 11.8 feet.
Located along the Cadillac Break, a prolific gold mining district of Quebec, the Heva-Hosco properties were included in the acquisition of Aurizon. Based on a recently completed drill program measured and indicated mineral resources at Heva-Hosco have increased by 292,000 and 216,000 ounces, respectively, compared to the previous mineral resources announced by Aurizon on June 5, 2012. At Heva-Hosco the measured resources now total 1.6 million gold ounces, indicated resources now total 1.52 million ounces and inferred resources now total 0.6 million ounces, based on $1,300/ounce gold. In addition, the measured and indicated mineral resource grade at Heva has increased by 12% and 14%, respectively, and the inferred mineral resource grade has increased by 63%.
While the Company is encouraged by the expanded resource, the next steps in evaluating Heva-Hosco are in the context of a larger and more diversified Hecla, taking into account the recent declines in gold prices, to determine if it has greater potential to generate value.
At San Sebastian in Mexico an updated resource estimate is being finalized on the Middle Vein based on in-fill and exploration drilling during the first half of 2013 and is anticipated to upgrade most of the inferred resource to indicated category. The Middle and Francine Veins have been truncated to the northeast by the San Ricardo Fault and a trenching program has been initiated to define drill targets across the San Ricardo Fault to the northeast.
Pre-Development expenditures were primarily directed towards scoping studies to establish ramp access to the Middle Vein and Hugh Zone and determine mine sequencing, production rates and potential project viability. Extensive metallurgical test work is in progress to refine the metallurgical processing and mill designs. The Company is reevaluating the project in the context of a larger and more diversified Hecla, lower prices and potential changes in the tax regime in Mexico.
At San Juan Silver in Colorado development of the Bulldog infrastructure advanced with a breakthrough of the new decline into the previous underground workings. Rehabilitation of the old workings for resource confirmation and establishing drill platforms are conditional on receipt of state permits, available cash flow and prioritization of the Company's other opportunities.