COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works for many ASX-listed companies – unless you own a supermarket or an iron ore or gold mine – and it would be easy to respond to the pandemic by entering into a period of self-imposed hibernation.
Northern Minerals (ASX: NTU) is one of those companies impacted by COVID-19 as looming travel restrictions prompted it to temporarily move its Browns Range heavy rare earths mine in the Kimberley onto care & maintenance.
Northern Minerals made its move two weeks ago before travel restrictions came into place, giving it time to prepare for the shutdown but also for a work program that can continue outside of Browns Range and add long-term value to shareholders.
Some of that work bore fruit on Tuesday when Northern Minerals reported a 50% upgrade to the Inferred Mineral Resource of the Dazzler deposit, part of the broader Browns Range Project, to 214,000 tonnes at 2.33% total rare earth oxides (TREO).
Dazzler is now the second-largest rare earths Mineral Resource at Browns Range behind Wolverine though, importantly, Dazzler’s grade of the core dysprosium mineral – Northern Minerals’ flagship product – is 2,170 parts per million compared with 750ppm at Wolverine.
The importance of the Dazzler Mineral Resource upgrade is that it further underpins the Browns Range mine life. Notwithstanding the tough external market conditions, the in-the-ground strategic value of Dazzler is undiminished by COVID-19.
Dazzler was not the only piece of good news for Northern Minerals shareholders.
The George Bauk-run company also announced it had sold the first 100 tonnes of mixed rare earths carbonate produced at Browns Range to thyssenkrupp, marking a significant step in the pilot plant phase.
What Northern Minerals has illustrated well is that while corporate belt tightening is important, so is the need to continue to add value to fast-track a return to prosperity in the post-COVID-19 world.
Northern Minerals was not the only stock to use the pre-Easter trading week to remind investors it remained committed to a long-term strategy of building shareholder value.
Gold Road Resources (ASX: GOR), one of Australia’s most successful explorers over the past two decades, confirmed it would maintain its 2020 exploration budget at $26 million, to be spent mostly across the Yamarna greenstone belt in the north-eastern Goldfields. Gold Road’s strategy remains to discover a significant gold reserve base to support development for a stand-alone gold mining operation to complement its 50% share in the nearby world-class Gruyere gold mine run by South Africa’s Gold Fields.
St George Mining (ASX: SGQ), operator of Australia’s most advanced high-grade nickel sulphide project Mt Alexander near Leonora, also demonstrated to investors that it was continuing on its considered and methodical growth program. Mt Alexander remains the priority focus, but St George has also opened a second exploration front – in the Paterson Province hot spot in the east Pilbara – to drive additional shareholder value.
St George said this week an aeromagnetic survey across its Paterson Province tenement had identified “compelling areas of interest for precious and base metal mineralisation” as it uses the new information to help work up a maiden drilling program.
In the Northern Territory, Core Lithium’s (ASX: CXO) Finniss Project received positive news with the NT Government approving the Company’s Mine Management Plan, the final regulatory approval for the project. The market reacted positively to this news, with the share price climbing to pre-COVID levels of 4 cents per share.
Pacifico Minerals (ASX: PMY), whose flagship Sorby Hills lead-silver project in the Kimberley is affected by travel restrictions like Northern Minerals’ Browns Range, used its March quarterly report to highlight its strong cash position of more than $3.5 million at 31 March, and to confirm that work on an optimised pre-feasibility study was progressing, with an update expected later this month ahead of completion of the work later this quarter.
And, of course, investors are looking forward to newsflow from Magmatic Resources (ASX: MAG), which is diamond drilling a deep hole at its Lady Isla gold-copper porphyry prospect in the East Lachlan Fold, and next to Alkane Resources’ Boda discovery.
There will be curtailment to some exploration and development activities across the ASX boards, so it is imperative that companies articulate any change to work programs clearly and in advance to investors.
And the best way to keep investors interested is to demonstrate that COVID-19 has slowed, but not stopped, your business strategy.