Canadian precious stones miner, Lucara Diamond Corporation, a multi-listed company that recently made back-to-back headlines globally with its rare mineral recoveries have started the year 2019 with impressive set of financial figures.
For the three months period ended 31st March 2019 the company raked in over P487 million in revenue from its wholly owned Botswana operation, Karowe mine, posting over 50 percent increase from 2018 quarter one revenue of just over P250 million. Karowe Mine is globally known for producing special stones over 1000 carat in the Boteti region. The mine is Lucara’s sole active rough diamond production, and Botswana’s most prolific mine outside De Beers’s bracket.
Lucara, listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) reported these figures on Friday last week. According to a statement dispatched from Vencuvour, Canada’s glamorous multi-trillion dollar business city, Lucara says 2019 Quarter 1 was characterized by a continuation of strong operating performance observed during the latter half of 2018. This conclusion according to Lucara emanates from the fact that the company has met and exceeded guidance with respect to all mining and processing activities.
During the three months period under review, Karowe processed a record 0.76 million tonnes of ore, putting 2019 Q1 up as the best quarter in the history of the 7 years old mine. During this period 1.0 million tonnes of Ore and 2.5 million tonnes of waste were mined at Karowe recovering 132,336 carats, achieving recovered grade of 15.9 per hundred tonnes processed. The carats recovered figure includes 10,899 carats unearthed from reprocessing historic recovery tailings from previous milling.
One of the key highlights during the quarter was recoveries of a 240 carat top white gem and a 223 carat high white gem with a total of 170 Specials recovered representing 4.1 percent weight percentage of total recovered carats. Lucara notes that the recovery figures post a satisfactory output in line with the mine plan expectations. A total of 7 diamonds were recovered greater than 100 carats in weight. In April 2019, the largest diamond to be mined at Karowe to date, an unbroken 1,758 carat near gem quality diamond was recovered.
This recovery is the largest diamond recovered in Botswana and one of the largest diamonds in recorded history, superseding the spot held by the 1,109 carat Lesedi La Rona recovered from Karowe in 2015. Several large, high-value specials , single diamonds larger than 10.8 carats were sold in the Company’s first tender of 2019 which resulted in quarterly sales revenue of $48.7 million an almost double growth when weighed against 2018 Quarter 1 revenue of $25.4 million.
This represents $512 per carat for Lucara sales in the first quarter, yielding an operating margin of $343 per carat. During these three months period the Company held a blended tender in which diamonds recovered in the period December 2018 – February 2019 were sold. The Toronto Securities Exchange (TSE) listed diamond house highlights that the blended tender process decreases the inventory time to market of higher value diamonds.
A total of 95,057 carats were sold mirroring a significant growth compared to 63,317 carats sold in 2018 quarter 1, achieving a strong first quarter average price of $512 and with 50% more carats sold than Q1 2018. Historically, Lucara has sold diamonds through both regular stone tenders (RSTs) and exceptional stone tenders (ESTs). In September 2018, the Company modified its tender sales to a blended tender process, combining the sale of exceptional stones with the balance of run of mine production into one sale.
This change according to Lucara management was made to decrease the inventory time for large, high value diamonds and to generate a smoother revenue profile that better supports price guidance on a per sale basis. Beginning in December 2018, certain stones from the Karowe production were offered for sale through the Clara platform. Lucara says as the number of carats increases from better recovery in the smaller, lower value sizes, the average sales price per carat is reduced accordingly.
“The significant increase in carats is due to continued strong performance in the plant which had a record quarter of production of 0.76 million tonnes and an improved mine call factor,” observes Lucara Chief Executive Officer & President Eira Thomas, adding that Karowe plant also achieved record high availability during Q1 2019. The increase in the number of carats available for sale in the Q1 2019 tender follows commissioning of the sub-middles circuit in Q3 2017 and increased efficiency in diamond recovery in the smaller sizes and improved mill throughput.
The number of carats recovered in Q1 2019, being 121,437 carats processed from the mine was 60 percent higher than the 75,698 number of carats recovered in Q1 2018. On the expense front, for the period under review operating expenses increased from $14.6 million in Q1 2018 to $16.1 million in Q1 2019 due to a combination of higher volumes of ore mined and processed as well as an increase in the average cost per tonne mined.
The operating cash cost for the three months ended March 31, 2019 was $30.52 per tonne processed while in 2018 quarter 1 was $39.97 per tonne processed while a full year forecast for 2019 was cash cost of $32-$37 per tonne processed. Lucara management highlights in the statement that operating cash cost per tonne processed was positively impacted by a reduction in waste mined and an increase in tonnes processed during the first quarter
Depletion and amortization expense increased from $5.1 million in Q1 2018 to $11.6 million in Q1 2019 due to the 50 percent higher volume of carats sold during the period. Depletion and amortization expense has increased significantly as compared to prior periods for several reasons: an increasing number of fine diamonds recovered following improvements to the processing circuit implemented in late 2017, a larger mineral property balance from the waste stripping campaign between 2017 and 2018, and a corresponding increase in the rate of unit of production depletion from an update to the reserve base of the mine plan in Q3 2018.
Net income for the three months ended March 31, 2019 was $7.4 million, a significant pick up compared to a net loss of $7.0 million in the comparative quarter of 2018. Lucara President says the net income and earnings per share performance were as expected and reflect the stronger carat recoveries being achieved due to the investments in the plant as well as the transition to a blended sales tender process in 2019 creating a smoother revenue profile.
On the Clara space, a rough diamond digital sales platform under wholly ownership Lucara has continued to focus on building its customer base through the first quarter after its inaugural sale in Q4 2018. Lucara completed two sales during Q1 2019 with rough diamond sales of $1.4 million transacted through the platform. The company says it expects Clara to continue to grow its supply and demand concurrently through 2019 by adding third-party production to the platform as well as increasing the number of manufacturers who are buying on the platform.
Eira Thomas, President & CEO Lucara Diamond says her company focus on operational excellence has delivered another strong quarter, having met or exceeded guidance with respect to ore mined and processed as well as carats produced. “Costs were significantly down quarter over quarter and the first sale of the year delivered revenues in excess of US$ 47 million, in line with expectations,” she said in the statement.
Thomas further highlights that Lucara’s technologically advanced, XRT diamond recovery circuit delivered one of the largest diamonds in recorded history, the largest diamond recovered in Botswana, and the largest diamond to be mined at Karowe to date. “The unbroken 1,758 carat diamond is a testament to the remarkable nature of the Karowe resource and the strong operating environment prevailing at the mine.”
A squeaky and glittering metaphoric smile was the look reflected from the Pula against the greenback this week and money market researchers lean this on optimism following Monday’s announcement of another Covid-19 vaccine which is said to have boosted emerging market economies.
With other emerging market currencies, the Pula too reacted to optimism and fanfare on the new Covid-19 vaccine against the weakening US dollar which has been losing its shine since the uncertainty laden US elections.
After bouncing back into the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) last week Friday, following a year of being in the freezer, the Choppies stock started this week with much fluidity.
Choppies was suspended in both the Botswana Stock Exchange and its secondary listing at the JSE for failure to publish financial results. Choppies suspension on Botswana Stock Exchange was lifted on 27 July 2020. On Friday last week, when suspension was being lifted, Choppies explained that this came into fruition “following extensive engagement with the JSE.”
Choppies stock, prior to suspension, hit a mammoth decline in value of more than 60 percent, especially in September 2018. Waking from a 24 month freezer, last week the Choppies share price was at R0.64 and the stock did not make any movement.
However, Monday was the day when Choppies stock moved vibrantly, albeit volatile. Choppies’ value was on a high volatile mood on Monday, reaching highs of 200 percent. At noon, the same Monday, the Choppies share had reached R1.05. Before taking an uphill movement, Choppies stock slightly slipped by 2 cents. But the Choppies share rode up high and by lunch time the stock had reached the day’s summit of R2.00 and that was at 13:30 when investors were buying the stock for lunch.
The same eventful Monday saw gloom on the faces of Choppies rivals, when Choppies gained by 220.31 percent around lunch time its rivals in the JSE Food & Drug Retailers sector were licking wounds. Spar lost 2.94 percent, Pick Pay fell by 2.43 percent, Shoprite 7.52 percent and Dis-Chem 1.98 percent. The only gainer was Clicks by a paltry 0.51 percent.
In an interview with BusinessPost, Choppies sponsors at the JSE PSG Capital Managing Director Johan Holtzhausen explained that the retailer’s stock was in high demand after a long suspension. He said when a company list or a suspension is lifted the market needs to find itself on the pricing of the share.
“Initially when the suspension was lifted there were more buyers than sellers. As far as we could see this created a shortage of shares so to speak and resulted in the price at which the shares traded going to R1.20 and eventually R2.05 before finding its level around R0.80 sent from a JSE perspective.
This is marked dynamics and reflect that there are investors that are positive about the stock in the long run. This is a snapshot over a short period and one requires a longer period to draw further conclusions,” said Holtzhausen in an interview talking about the Choppies stock.
On Monday this week where the Choppies value grew by 200 percent, the stock took a turn looking down, closing the day at R0.87 from a high of R2.00. According to local stockbroker Motswedi Securities on Monday while there was no movement by Choppies in the local stock exchange as the retailer appeared on the board as 141,000 shares traded at P0.60 each.
However in Choppies’ secondary listing the stock price rallied to over 200 percent during intraday trading on Monday before losing steam and declining to around R0.87 share.
Before press yesterday Choppies opened the market with the stock starting the day at R0.80 then went flat for few hours before taking a slide downward, dropping 5 cents in 30 minutes. Choppies then went flat at R0.75 for 50 minutes yesterday before going up at 10:20 am where it nearly recovered the open day price of 80 cents, but was shy of 1 cent. From 79 cents the price went flat until noon.
Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) has revealed that in its assessment of the Jet take over by Foschini, there were considerations on possible market rivalry and a clash in targeted classes.
According to a merger decision notice seen by this publication this week, high considerations were made to ensure that Foschini’s takeover of Jet is not anyhow an elimination of rivalry or competition or if the two entities; the targeted and the acquiring enterprise serves the same class of customers or offer the same products, to elude the anti-trust issues or a stretch of monopoly.
The two entities are South African retailers whose services stretched to Botswana shores. Last month local anti-trust body, CCA, received an acquisition proposal from South African clothing retailer, Foschini, stating their intentions to take-over Jet.
South African government’s Business Rescue Practitioners earlier this year after finding out that Jet’s mother company, Edcon, is falling apart, made a decision that Foschini can buy Jet for R480 million. This means that Foschini will add Jet to its portfolio of 30 retail brands that trade in clothing, footwear, jewellery, sportswear, homeware, cell phones, and technology products from value to upper market segments throughout more than 4085 outlets in 32 countries on five continents.
However the main headache for the CCA decision which was released this week, is distinguishing the targeted and the acquiring entity businesses and services.
When doing a ‘Competitive Analysis and Public Interest’ assessment, CCA is said to have discovered that Foschini is classified as a “standard retailer” which targets middle-to-upper income consumers and it competes with stores such as; Truworths and Woolworths. The targeted entity, Jet, is on the lower league when compared to its acquirer, it serves customers of lower classes and is regarded as a discount/value retailer targeting lower income consumers or a mass market. This makes Jet to be in direct competition with Ackermans, Pepkor, Cash Bazaar and Mr Price.
“Therefore, a narrower view of the market is that Foschini through its stores trading in Botswana is not a close competitor to Jet. Additionally, there exist other major rivals who will continue to exercise competitive constraints on the merged enterprise post-merger,” concluded CCA this month.
The anti-trust body continued to explain that in terms of the Acquisition of a Dominant Position, the analysis shows that the acquisition of the target business by Foschini Botswana will result in an insignificant combined market share in the relevant market.
This made CCA reach to a conclusion that there is no case of an acquisition of a dominant position in the market under consideration or any other market on the account of the proposed transaction.
What supports the merger according to CCA is that it is in compliance with regards to ‘Public Interest Considerations’ because the findings of the assessment revealed that the transaction is as a result of the need for a Business Rescue by the target enterprise. This is so because in the event that the proposed transaction fails, it will translate into the loss of the employment positions at the target business.
“On that note the Authority (CCA) found it necessary to ensure that the proposed merger does not result in any retrenchments or redundancies. In light of this, the assessment revealed the critical need to protect the employees of the merged entity from possible merger specific retrenchments/ redundancies,” said CCA.
Before making a determination that the recently proposed transaction is not likely to result in the prevention or substantial lessening of competition or endanger the continuity of the services offered in the relevant market, CCA said it then moved into a concern for public interest which is a protection enshrined in the Competition Act of 2018.
CCA’s concern was mostly loss of livelihood or employment by 126 Batswana workers at Jet stores, stating that possible retrenchments or redundancies may arise as a result of implementation of the proposed merger.
Much to the desire of trade union or labour movements in Botswana and across Southern Africa where the Jet stores are stemmed-who also raised concerns about the retail’s workers job security- CCA subjects Foschini to keep the target entity 126 workers.
“There shall be no merger specific retrenchments or redundancies that may affect the employees of the merged enterprises. For clarity, merger specific retrenchments or redundancies do not include (the list is not exhaustive): i. voluntary retrenchment and/or voluntary separation arrangements; ii. Voluntary early retirement packages; iii. Unreasonable refusals to be redeployed; iv. Resignations or retirements in the ordinary course of business; v. retrenchments lawfully effected for operational requirements unrelated to the Merger; and vi. Terminations in the ordinary course of business, including but not limited to, dismissals as a result of misconduct or poor performance,” said CCA.
CCA also orders that Foschini informs it about all the details of 126 Jet employees within thirty (30) days of the merger approval date. CCA should also know information of when Foschini is implementing the merger, within 30 days of the approval date.
Other conditions include Foschini sharing a copy of the conditions of approval to all employees of the Jet or their respective representatives within ten (10) days of the approval date.
“Should vacancies arise in the target, the merged enterprise shall consider previous employment at one of the non-transferring Jet stores to be a positive factor to be taken into account in the consideration of offering potential employment,” said CCA.
According to CCA, in cases of any job losses, for the Authority to assess whether the retrenchments or redundancies are merger specific, at least three months before (to the extent that this deadline can be practically achieved and in terms of the prevailing and legally required employment practices) any retrenchments or redundancies are to take place, inform the Authority of: i. The intended retrenchments; ii. The reasons for the retrenchments; iii. The number and categories of employees affected; iv. The expected date of the retrenchments.