Firesteel Resources, a top performing junior gold mining company listed on the TSXV, acquired Laiva gold mine located near Raahe, Finland. Laiva (Finnish word for ship), which was dormant since 2013, has already been restarted and gold production begins this year.
Firesteel Resources’ President and CEO Mr. Michael Hepworth is the new captain. Mr. Hepworth is an accomplished entrepreneur and business leader with more than 40 years of diverse international business experience. Mr. Hepworth has started and built 5 successful businesses from the ground up. He also consulted and advised businesses, in many sectors including professional and financial services, high tech, engineering and manufacturing. Mr. Hepworth has over 15 years of corporate development and senior management experience in the resources industry. Helsinki Times sat down with Mr. Hepworth to find out about his plans for Laiva and the future of gold. Below are excerpts of the interview.
HT: Tell us about Firesteel and the “Laiva” project. Why was Laiva shut down in 2013 and what are the changes and developments you are going to implement to make it profitable?
MH: Laiva shut down because it was losing money. The team operating it were competent exploration geologists but had no mining experience. There were no mining engineers directing operations and many mistakes were made. The operators were bulk mining a low-grade deposit that required very selective mining practices
HT: What has happened in the past few months regarding recruitment and operations in the mine?
MH: The last few months have been taken up with recruiting a new team. The management team is in place, but recruitment is still moving full steam ahead and there are many openings. See www.nordicgold.fi for job openings.
We have also been involved in getting the mine ready to start mining. This has now started, and we are currently stockpiling ore for when the mill and plant start running.
We have a significant amount of maintenance to do on the mill but most of it is low capex. We have relined the mills but there are still pumps and pipes to be replaced. Conveyor systems need new motors and servicing, and there are numerous small jobs which need to be completed before we start producing gold in late October.
HT: What are the challenges you see in your way?
MH: We are very lucky as there are few insurmountable problems. The biggest challenges appear to be finding suitably qualified and experienced people and the summer holidays. Summer is the best time to get all the work done to restart the mine, but many suppliers are running reduced operations at this time of the year and people are not available to do the work. Fortunately, we are profitable at current gold prices.
HT: Two research houses have placed target prices on Firesteel shares that range from $0.55 to $0.85. Firesteel is currently trading at $0.15. Why do you think Firesteel is so undervalued at the moment?
MH:This is a big frustration for me. I think it is due to several factors:
1. Gold is out of favour as an investment at the moment and this means Canadian investors (TSX is the largest resource investment market in the world) are looking to put their money that would have gone into gold into things like marijuana stocks and blockchain.
2. The other reason is that gold stocks typically go into the doldrums in the summer as people take vacation etc. I believe in the fall this will change.
3. People want to see if we can get to production before investing. My expectation is that once we start producing gold there will be a rapid repricing. Producers are measured on cash flow and once this starts the numbers are very clear.
HT: Mining cobalt is also becoming more attractive as demand for lithium-ion batteries increases. BBC just reported about the “new gold rush” for mining cobalt. Do you plan to recover cobalt from Laiva as well?
MH:There is clearly cobalt at Laiva and we have been using it as an indicator mineral for gold. We are currently testing our high-grade tailing dams for cobalt and may well be able to produce cobalt as a byproduct. Given that it is there, and it is already processed it is essentially free.
HT: Why is Finland ranked as the top mining jurisdiction in the world?
MH:The Fraser Institute does an annual survey on mining companies and this survey examines many issues that range from from property rights to ease of doing business with government departments and while there is still room for improvement in some areas Finland scores very well on most parameters.
Our experience in Finland has been very positive; The people are well educated, there is good infrastructure and the rules are clear. Our top people like the country and most of the expats have brought their families and have either bought or are planning on buying houses in Finland.
HT: How do you see the development of gold prices considering the ongoing financial and political situation?
MH: I wish I had a crystal ball and could tell what was going to happen, but I do believe the gold price will rise. The huge amount of debt and the continued money printing undermines the value of fiat currencies. The political uncertainties in the world today will ultimately be good for gold as will looming trade wars etc. Mr. Trump’s Twitter account adds to this uncertainty which will ultimately benefit gold investors. The good news for us is that our PEA gives us a sound financial model on which to base our plans and right now we would be profitable right down to $1100 gold. Investing in Laiva is a good way to buy gold in the ground cheaply and get good leverage to any improvements in price.
Image credits: Firesteel Resources