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Kalahari Copper Belt covert search while BCL lies moribund

International explorers with high appetite for copper mining have descended on Botswana ground to explore the untapped area of Kalahari Copper Belt whose underground soil is proven to have hid the treasurous red metal.

The Kalahari Copper Belt is said to contain millions of tonnes of copper and silver resources inside the 1,000-kilometre belt running south west to north east and foreign companies are already pouring billions of Pula in investment. This is despite government of Botswana shutting down a copper operation, BCL, citing failure of copper in the markets and the mine’s inability to be financially sustainably. BCL has been left flat on the ground and currently going through a controversial process of liquidation which is now on its third year; politicians and commentators alike are pointing a sharp finger at government as copper is now the new thing with the advent of Asia’s electric vehicles boom.

Recently international exploration companies have come out with their machinery and have eventually found a new home in the Kalahari Copper Belt. There are two mines on the offing at the Kalahari Copper Belt – the T3 (Motheo) project of Tshukudu Metals Botswana and the Zone 5 project of Khoemacau Copper Mining. These projects are expected to take off by 2020.

The most recent company showing desire for Botswana copper is the Australian copper producer Sandfire Resources which has even taken a bold step of engulfing a fellow Australian copper explorer MOD Resources, an entity with copper rights in this country. Sandfire will take over MOD together with its Botswana businesses or subsidiaries. 

MOD Resources, listed on the ASX and LSE, owns the T3 copper project in Botswana where a prefeasibility study estimated that the project would require a capital investment of P1.5 billion for development of an open pit operation and a plant with a 2.5-million-tonne-a-year throughput capacity, producing 23 000 t/y copper and 690 000 oz/y of silver in concentrate.

Sanfire Resources’ cornerstone asset is the high-grade, low cost DeGrussa Copper-Gold Mine in Australia. According to the company, it also has an interest in the Black Butte copper project in Montana, USA.  Before having an eye on African or Botswana, Sandfire is strategically focused on exploring for and bringing on new production that can in the short run augment its current production and in the long run, replace production as DeGrussa production diminishes and ultimately ceases.

Now Sandfire is aiming for the “highly prospective, dominant landholding on the underexplored Kalahari copper belt in Botswana.” According to information from the Australian bourse, combination of Sandfire and MOD leverages the strengths of both companies to both optimise and de-risk development.

According to information seen by this publication, the T3 Project in Botswana meets Sandfire's investment criteria, including returns, cost profile, scale, life and upside potential.  This also represents an attractive premium for MOD shareholders, whilst providing a funding solution for the development of T3 and retaining exposure to MOD’s significant exploration potential, according to information received.

Competition Authority has recently received a merger notification for the proposed acquisition of the entire issued share capital of MOD Resources by Sandfire Resources. The local antitrust body is interested in this acquisition due to MOD’s control on Botswana listed entities which will be involved in this transaction as subsidiaries or shareholders.  MOD controls MOD Resource Botswana which owns Tshukudu Metals Botswana.

Tshukudu Metals Botswana is a company incorporated in accordance with the Laws of the Republic of Botswana. Tshukudu Metal does not directly or indirectly control any firm in Botswana. According to Competition Authority, Tshukudu Metals is a mineral exploration company and currently does not provide any service or sell any products into or from Botswana. Its shareholders do not own shares in any other Botswana company.

The Directors of Tshukudu Metals are: Leutlwetse Tumelo; Gabaikangwe Chinyepi (both Batswana); Julian Phillip Hanna; and Mark Andre Clements (both Australians). MOD also controls Tshukudu Exploration Botswana whose directors are the same as those of Tshukudu Metals. Even though Tshukudu is a company registered in this country it does not directly or indirectly control any firm in Botswana. Though Tshukudu Explorations has not commenced trading, it is a mineral exploration company. Its shareholders also do not own shares in any other company incorporated in Botswana.

One of MOD’s local directors did Leutlwetse Tumelo want to divulge the details of the Sandfire takeover to BusinessPost. He only said, “the acquisition of MOD Resources by Sandfire is still going through some key regulatory approval processes. Until these processes are completed we cannot disclose more details around the transaction.”

Khoemacau bets billions on Kalahari Copper Belt

At last year’s Botswana Resource Sector Conference (BRSC) it was discussed that the Kalahari Copper Belt has a huge potential of becoming the copper hub of Botswana. But it will continue to be dwarfed by the gigantic production of the Central African Copperbelt of Zambia and the DRC. Those who speak for diversification from another mineral, to move from diamonds, hope for copper to take over-but it is still too far according to experts. Copper stands in a pole position at this time of the revolution of Asian markets demanding the red metal for electric vehicles manufacturing.

The Kalahari Copper Belt is referred as a ‘corridor’ of sediment-hosted copper/silver mineralization extending south-west from Maun in Botswana through to the Namibian border and beyond. The copper belt however has its mishaps. In 2015 February, 422 workers who went out to mine for a better life in the Kalahari had their hopes abruptly cut down when Boseto mine was closed. 

Owners of the Boseto mine, Discovery Metals Limited, had spent P1.75 billion on the project had to endure the slump of copper demand and prices in those years, but the mine is said to have been put on a deathbed by over-reliance on the unsustainable diesel generation which contributed to 35 percent of the mine’s operating costs. The Boseto mine used 17.1 million litres of diesel in generating its electricity, spending P26 million monthly, leading to its mothball.

The US-based Cupric Canyon Capital with its subsidiary Khoemacau Copper Mining purchased Boseto mine in 2015 including a new 3 Mt/a concentrator which was commissioned in 2012 by Australia’s Discovery Metals, and a Tailings Storage Facility (TSF). Cupric Canyon Capital has already spent almost P7.3 billion on the Kalahari Copper Belt for the Khoemacau mine. It is recently projected that Khoemacau copper production will increase to 62.000 metric tonnes while that of silver to 1.9 million ounces silver annually.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi evidently ushered the closure of the BCL copper mine in 2016 while still a vice president. But when ushering the opening of Khoemacau recently, Masisi is a man who now speaks with a renewed heart showing a lot of hope in the future of copper as an economic factor in the case of the newly reopened copper mine.

At a time when copper markets were raising most skepticism, government decided to put BCL on a sick bed and (government) claimed that it could not afford to fund the mine. That time Masisi stood firm and defended government’s decision to put the mine on liquidation as the most prudent. But his words and decisions have come back to haunt him and his presidency as copper is now in demand.

“The future looks bright for copper mining as the global forecasts indicated that copper demand globally was expected to exceed supply by mid-2020s because there was a surging growth from the power and utilities sector especially in China, India and other Asian nations,” said Masisi during the r recent opening of Khoemacau Mine.

When addressing attendees during the opening of Khoemacau Masisi said more than P4 billion was dedicated to be spent between 2018 and 2021 for developing the necessary infrastructure required to operate. He further touted Khoemacau to come with revenue of P10 billion over its 22 year operational life from 2021-2042, a tax revenue of P700 million and the creation of about 1200 jobs during the first phase including 1663 jobs on average per year as well as 883 direct jobs.

Copper prices

While appetite on copper mining and production is growing rapidly, latest figures show that there has been an unsettling trend of falling copper prices in recent months.  From a huge fall in price in the end of last year December, copper prices rose from $2.62/lb to $2.96/lb after February this year. This year the month of August shows it is a month of lows in the copper market.

Expects say this is due to US President Donald Trump last week statement that he would impose more tariffs on Chinese import and the Oriental giant retaliating that it will fight back, ending a month-long trade truce between the world’s two biggest economies. The failure of truce also further fuels the two nations’ long standing trade war.

China and its Asian brothers supply the world, including America, with electric vehicles and a lot of goods that uses copper. Hence a spike in tariffs by US means less production of copper using goods in Asia which also results in less demand for copper, subsequently red metal prices go down. The copper prices have been sharply plummeting since the end of July. At the wake of last week Trump announcement on tariffs prices went to the lows at $2.57/lb on 4 August. However there is a positive trend this week, much to the interest of copper producers, on Wednesday this week the prices even reached a high of $2.61/lb.

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P230 million Phikwe revival project kicks off

19th October 2020
industrial hub

Marcian Concepts have been contracted by Selibe Phikwe Economic Unit (SPEDU) in a P230 million project to raise the town from its ghost status.  The project is in the design and building phase of building an industrial hub for Phikwe; putting together an infrastructure in Bolelanoto and Senwelo industrial sites.

This project comes as a life-raft for Selibe Phikwe, a town which was turned into a ghost town when the area’s economic mainstay, BCL mine, closed four years ago.  In that catastrophe, 5000 people lost their livelihoods as the town’s life sunk into a gloomy horizon. Businesses were closed and some migrated to better places as industrial places and malls became almost empty.

However, SPEDU has now started plans to breathe life into the town. Information reaching this publication is that Marcian Concepts is now on the ground at Bolelanoto and Senwelo and works have commenced.  Marcian as a contractor already promises to hire Phikwe locals only, even subcontract only companies from the area as a way to empower the place’s economy.

The procurement method for the tender is Open Domestic bidding which means Joint Ventures with foreign companies is not allowed. According to Marcian Concepts General Manager, Andre Strydom, in an interview with this publication, the project will come with 150 to 200 jobs. The project is expected to take 15 months at a tune of P230 531 402. 76. Marcian will put together construction of roadworks, storm-water drains, water reticulation, street lighting and telecommunication infrastructure. This tender was flouted last year August, but was awarded in June this year. This project is seen as the beginning of Phikwe’s revival and investors will be targeted to the area after the town has worn the ghost city status for almost half a decade.

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IMF projects deeper recession for 2020, slow recovery for 2021

19th October 2020

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its outlook the world economy projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.

On Wednesday when delivering its World Economic Outlook report titled “A long difficult Ascent” the Washington Based global lender said it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April.  For 2021, IMF experts have projected growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. “We are projecting a somewhat less severe though still deep recession in 2020, relative to our June forecast,” said Gita Gopinath Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.

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Botswana partly closed economy a further blow of 4.2 fall in revenue

19th October 2020

The struggle of humanity is now how to dribble past the ‘Great Pandemic’ in order to salvage a lean economic score. Botswana is already working on dwindling fiscal accounts, budget deficit, threatened foreign reserves and the GDP data that is screaming recession.

Latest data by think tank and renowned rating agency, Moody’s Investor Service, is that Botswana’s fiscal status is on the red and it is mostly because of its mineral-dependency garment and tourism-related taxation. Botswana decided to close borders as one of the containment measures of Covid-19; trade and travellers have been locked out of the country. Moody’s also acknowledges that closing borders by countries like Botswana results in the collapse of tourism which will also indirectly weigh on revenue through lower import duties, VAT receipts and other taxes.

Latest economic data shows that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. One of the factors that led to contraction of the local economy is the suspension of air travel occasioned by COVID-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering through the country’s borders and hence affecting the output of the hotels and restaurants industry. This will also be weighed down by, according to Moody’s, emerging markets which will see government losing average revenue worth 2.1 percentage points (pps) of GDP in 2020, exceeding the 1.0 pps loss in advanced economies (AEs).

“Fiscal revenue in emerging markets is particularly vulnerable to this current crisis because of concentrated revenue structures and less sophisticated tax administrations than those in AEs. Oil exporters will see the largest falls but revenue volatility is a common feature of their credit profiles historically,” says Moody’s. The domino effects of containment measures could be seen cracking all sectors of the local economy as taxes from outside were locked out by the closure of borders hence dwindling tax revenue.

Moody’s has placed Botswana among oil importers, small, tourism-reliant economies which will see the largest fall in revenue. Botswana is in the top 10 of that pecking order where Moody’s pointed out recently that other resource-rich countries like Botswana (A2 negative) will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue.

This situation of countries’ revenue on the red is going to stay stubborn for a long run. Moody’s predicts that the spending pressures faced by governments across the globe are unlikely to ease in the short term, particularly because this crisis has emphasized the social role governments perform in areas like healthcare and labour markets.

For countries like Botswana, these spending pressures are generally exacerbated by a range of other factors like a higher interest burden, infrastructure deficiencies, weaker broader public sector, higher subsidies, lower incomes and more precarious employment. As a result, most of the burden for any fiscal consolidation is likely to fall on the revenue side, says Moody’s.

Moody’s then moves to the revenue spin of taxation. The rating agency looked at the likelihood and probability of sovereigns to raise up revenue by increasing tax to offset what was lost in mineral revenue and tourism-related tax revenue. Moody’s said the capacity to raise tax revenue distinguishes governments from other debt issuers.  “In theory, governments can change a given tax system as they wish, subject to the relevant legislative process and within the constraints of international law. In practice, however, there are material constraints,” says Moody’s.

‘‘The coronavirus crisis will lead to long-lasting revenue losses for emerging market sovereigns because their ability to implement and enforce effective revenue-raising measures in response will be an important credit driver over the next few years because of their sizeable spending pressures and the subdued recovery in the global economy we expect next year.’’

According to Moody’s, together with a rise in stimulus and healthcare spending related to the crisis, the think tank expects this drop in revenue will trigger a sizeable fiscal deterioration across emerging market sovereigns. Most countries, including Botswana, are under pressure of widening their tax bases, Moody’s says that this will be challenging. “Even if governments reversed or do not extend tax-easing measures implemented in 2020 to support the economy through the coronavirus shock, which would be politically challenging, this would only provide a modest boost to revenue, especially as these measures were relatively modest in most emerging markets,” says Moody’s.

Botswana has been seen internationally as a ‘tax ease’ country and its taxes are seen as lower when compared to its regional counterparts. This country’s name has also been mentioned in various international investigative journalism tax evasion reports. In recent years there was a division of opinions over whether this country can stretch its tax base. But like other sovereigns who have tried but struggled to increase or even maintain their tax intake before the crisis, Botswana will face additional challenges, according to Moody’s.

“Additional measures to reduce tax evasion and cutting tax expenditure should support the recovery in government revenue, albeit from low levels,” advised Moody’s. Botswana’s tax revenue to the percentage of the GDP was 27 percent in 2008, dropped to 23 percent in 2010 to 23 percent before rising to 27 percent again in 2012. In years 2013 and 2014 the percentage went to 25 percent before it took a slip to decline in respective years of 2015 up to now where it is at 19.8 percent.

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