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Alacer Gold Corp
Symbol C : ASR
Shares Issued 286,874,771
Close 2013-02-08 C$ 4.40
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Alacer estimates up to 365,000 oz 2013 Au production

2013-02-11 05:42 ET - News Release

Mr. David Quinlivan reports

ALACER GOLD ANNOUNCES COMPLETION OF MAJOR STRATEGIC REVIEW

Alacer Gold Corp. has completed its major strategic review. Alacer will be focused on the following four key strategic objectives:

  • Maximize free cash flow;
  • Maximize portfolio value;
  • Minimize project risk;
  • Return value to shareholders.

In keeping with these objectives and as a result of a systematic strategic review of all of Alacer's operations and exploration assets, Alacer is pleased to announce the following major developments:

  • Maximize free cash flow: Alacer is focused on continuously improving its cost base, as evidenced by its recent demobilization of two open-pit mining fleets, the reduction of the work force in Australia, and the targeting of higher-grade mining opportunities;
  • Maximize portfolio value:
    • Capitalizing on Copler's world-class potential: Alacer has identified a superior development approach for this asset which should substantially improve its economic returns, reduce capital intensity, and reduce implementation risk;
    • Significant improvements in Australia: Substantial changes to the mine planning at SKO and an improving grade profile at Higginsville should yield significantly improved cash flow and value from Alacer's Australian assets going forward;
    • Non-core asset sale: Alacer has entered into a binding agreement for the sale of its 49-per-cent minority interest in the Frog's Leg mine and an 18-month toll treatment agreement with a total transaction value of approximately $171-million;
    • Targeted, significant exploration: Alacer has revised its exploration priorities to place substantial focus on those targets with the greatest potential to return significant and immediate value, including oxide ore in the Copler district, line-of-lode at Higginsville, and SKO, which lies in the very highly endowed Boulder-Lefroy fault between the world-class gold deposits of Kalgoorlie's Golden mile and the St. Ives district in the Eastern goldfields of Western Australia;
  • Minimize project risk: Across its entire asset portfolio, Alacer has worked to ensure that the approach to any project is focused on minimizing project execution risk and lowering capital intensity.
  • Return value to shareholders:
    • Immediate cash distribution: As a result of the sale of Alacer's 49-per-cent interest in the Frog's Leg mine, Alacer intends to make a distribution to shareholders of approximately $70-million as a special dividend;
    • Dividend policy: Alacer will adopt a dividend policy to return a minimum of 20 per cent of free cash flow to shareholders annually beginning in 2014.

Alacer will host a conference call on Monday, Feb. 11, at 4:30 p.m. (North America Eastern Standard Time) and Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 8:30 a.m. (Australian Eastern Daylight Time) to discuss the strategic review in detail. Conference call details are provided below.

David Quinlivan, president and chief executive officer of Alacer, stated: "Two thousand thirteen will be a back-to-basics year for Alacer from an operational perspective as we focus on gold production to maximize free cash flow. In Turkey, we are very excited at having identified a superior, staged project development approach that should yield far better project returns. The decision to take a staged approach to the development of Copler demonstrates our disciplined approach to project development and risk management.

"In Australia, improved cash flow will come from mining higher-grade zones while we continue our extensive exploration programs in Australia's richest gold belt. The sale of the Frog's Leg mine crystallizes full value for Alacer's non-controlling, minority interest, and the cash realized will be used to repay debt and return capital to shareholders.

"Our focus is to produce the highest-margin ounces available in order to improve total shareholder returns and the measures we are putting in place to contain costs and improve grades across all of our operations should improve Alacer's operating and financial performance. I'm confident that the new operating philosophy will provide greater operational predictability and should allow Alacer to deliver on its guidance."

Turkey

Copler development

In parallel with the work on the whole ore pressure oxidation definitive feasibility study, Alacer has completed a first principles analysis of how to maximize the value of the world-class orebody at Copler. While a draft of the definitive feasibility study confirmed that processing Copler refractory ore using whole ore pressure oxidation is technically and economically feasible, with comparable economics with those presented in the Copler prefeasibility study, a review of a number of alternative approaches has identified a development plan that should significantly improve returns with lower project risk. Combined with the substantial oxide ore exploration potential that has been identified in the Copler district, as discussed in more detail below, Alacer believes that the best approach for Alacer to achieve its key strategic objectives of maximizing free cash flow, maximizing portfolio value, minimizing project risk and returning value to shareholders at this world-class asset is as follows:

  • Oxides:
    • Construct a conventional carbon-in-leach treatment plant for oxide ore;
    • Based on existing resources, the oxide mill would be expected to have a mine life of approximately three years;
    • Any additional oxide ore reserves identified by the Copler district exploration program (see Copler district exploration update section below) would likely add substantially to the oxide mill economics;
    • Following completion of milling of the existing reserves and any additional reserves identified by the exploration program, the oxide mill would reprocess approximately five additional years of heap-leach residues;
    • Capital cost could likely be financed entirely from internal cash flows;
    • Testwork necessary to finalize design and engineering proceeding as a top priority;
    • On completion of test work and studies, a decision to proceed and commencement of construction is expected in the third quarter of 2013, subject to the receipt of necessary permits;
  • Sulphides:
    • Construct a flotation circuit to provide concentrate for sale or processing through a smaller-scale pressure oxidation facility or an ultrafine grinding circuit;
    • De minimis additional capital expenditure requirement following the construction of the oxide mill.

In addition to the above, the clay sizer and materials handling circuit project and new agglomerator project are currently on track to be operational during the second half of 2013 and should result in increased margins from Copler's current heap-leach operations.

Copler is a long-life mine with substantial production potential that will be developed in a disciplined and prudent manner. Alacer is committed to maximizing the value of this world-class orebody in a manner that maximizes free cash flow.

Copler district exploration update

Alacer believes that the Copler mine is likely to be the first of several significant gold deposits to be discovered and mined in the Copler district, an area defined as comprising approximately 225-square-kilometre surrounding the Copler mine, and held under licence by Alacer and its Turkish partner. The Copler district is Alacer's highest priority area for gold exploration and discovery.

In 2012, the first systematic, wide-spaced 200-metre-by-200-metre-spaced soil sampling geochemical program was completed near the eastern and northwestern margins of the Copler district. Although by the end of 2012, only 17 per cent (approximately 45 square kilometres) of the Copler district had been sampled by surface geochemistry, this program was highly successful in defining significant new gold-in-soil anomalies over a 12-kilometre strike length. Gold anomalies up to several grams per tonne require follow-up exploration and drilling. Importantly, in spite of limited drilling, oxide gold mineralization has been intersected in each area of gold anomalism tested to date in the Copler district.

The defined 12-kilometre-long gold-in-soil anomaly, together with the oxide gold in mineralization having been intersected in early stage drilling, demonstrates that:

  • Soil geochemistry is an effective and inexpensive exploration tool in defining surface gold anomalism around Copler;
  • There is excellent prospectivity for additional oxide gold discoveries to be made in the Copler district.

An exploration investment of $32-million ($19-million attributable to Alacer) in Turkey is planned to be made during 2013. This large investment is primarily aimed at commencing drill testing of numerous near-surface oxide gold targets recently defined in the Copler district as well as at defining the outer limits of the oxide gold resource at the Copler mine.

Australian business unit review

Since August, 2012, a strategic and operational review has been identifying opportunities to maximize value and improve shareholder returns from Alacer's assets in Australia. The key outcomes from this review are summarized below.

Higginsville gold operations

At HGO a number of opportunities exist to increase cash margins and to optimize the assets, such as reducing the overall tonnage of ore mined and processed with a focus on the extraction of ore from higher-grade zones, rather than keeping the mill full with marginal open-pit ore.

HGO is in a transitional period as mine development approaches the higher-grade orebodies at both Trident (Artemis/Helios) and Chalice (Grampians/Olympus). This sets HGO up for strong cash flow generation beginning in the second half of 2013 from increased gold production and lower unit costs with less capital expenditure.

Initial steps taken in the fourth quarter of 2012 to improve cash flow from mining at HGO include:

  • Reduction in total work force by 61 people (fourth-quarter 2012 saving of approximately $3-million);
  • Review and rationalization of mine plans to minimize capital and operating development;
  • Review of equipment requirements for the Trident and Chalice underground mines;
  • Postponement of the development of the Corona exploration decline;
  • Cessation of mining lower-grade open pits.

Continuous improvement in both the operational and cost performance at HGO remains a priority.

Higginsville exploration

Higginsville's exploration investment of $16-million in 2013 is targeting discoveries and resource extensions that would extend HGO's planned gold production of more than 150,000 ounces per year beyond 2017.

Drilling is planned to test both the down-plunge continuity of the Trident and Chalice orebodies during 2013 and this drilling has a high probability of adding further resources and reserves. Drilling in the Chalice area will also test for satellite ore deposits near the Chalice mine.

In addition to this mine extension work, multiple drill targets have been generated by the recently completed Higginsville line-of-lode framework diamond drilling program. Drilling in the Challenge area during 2013 will test several recently defined, mineralized structures with individual high-grade drill intercepts.

Sale of Frog's Leg mine

Alacer has entered into a binding asset sale and purchase agreement with La Mancha Resources Australia Pty. Ltd. to sell La Mancha its 49-per-cent minority interest in the Frog's Leg mine joint venture, its 24.5-per-cent interest in the Lake Greta joint venture and its 40-per-cent interest in the Avoca joint venture and to provide toll milling services to La Mancha for 18 months using its Jubilee processing facility located at its South Kalgoorlie operations. The total value of these transactions is approximately $166-million (Australian) (or approximately $171-million based on the Australian-Canadian-dollar exchange rate on Feb. 8, 2013).

Under the sale agreement, Alacer will receive approximately $141-million (Australian) for its interest in the Frog's Leg JVs. The Lake Greta and Avoca joint ventures are exploration stage projects. The sale of the Frog's Leg JVs is subject to customary negotiated terms and conditions, and completion of the transactions is subject to certain conditions, including the approval of the Foreign Investment Review Board in Australia.

Under the 18-month toll treatment agreement, La Mancha will pay Alacer approximately $25-million (Australian) in six equal, advance quarterly payments beginning on Feb. 22, 2013, and ending on April 1, 2014. In addition, certain amounts are payable for variable costs based on the actual use of certain key consumable items at the Jubilee processing facility. The obligation to toll-treat ore for La Mancha continues until 345 days of processing capacity has been provided, which is expected by June 30, 2014 (subject to processing schedule changes and force majeure events). The terms of the current Frog's Leg joint venture agreement will operate until completion of the sale and purchase agreement.

Pending completion of the sale of the Frog's Leg JVs, La Mancha and Alacer entered into an interim 12-month toll treatment agreement under which toll milling services are provided for ore produced from Frog's Leg on substantially the same terms as pursuant to the 18-month toll treatment agreement. Unless terminated earlier, the obligation to toll-treat the Frog's Leg ore pursuant to the interim toll treatment agreement continues until 230 days of processing capacity has been provided (subject to processing schedule changes and force majeure events). Any amounts paid pursuant to the interim toll treatment agreement shall be deemed to have been paid under the 18-month toll treatment agreement on completion of the sale of the Frog's Leg JVs.

South Kalgoorlie operations

Gold production at SKO in 2013 will focus on higher-margin ounces from the Pernatty open pit and SBS28 areas at SKO. The commencement of mining at the SBS28 area is significant in that several higher-grade mines will come into production in this historical high-grade mining complex. These open pits include Surprise, Barbara, Shirl, Pit 28 and Tuscany. The combination of these new, higher-grade mines planned for 2013 and the toll treatment agreement with La Mancha will ensure that the Jubilee plant has a sufficient supply of ore to continue to operate efficiently.

In addition, Alacer undertook a number of steps in the fourth quarter of 2012 to improve cash flow from mining and processing at SKO, including:

  • Reduction of mining fleets and associated employees to one fleet. This reduced the work force by 50 people and overall mining cost by $1.8-million per month;
  • Mining higher-grade, higher-value pits (Pernatty and Triumph) in the second half of 2012 and the the first quarter of 2013;
  • Revising mine planning to target several open pits in the SBS28 mining complex in the second half of 2013 to continue the higher-grade, higher-value mining strategy.

The combination of the cash generated from the new mines and the toll treatment agreement will finance the significant exploration activities Alacer is conducting at SKO.

Alacer believes that SKO represents one of the most prospective areas for gold exploration and discovery in Australia, as it lies on the very highly endowed Boulder-Lefroy fault between the world-class gold deposits of Kalgoorlie's Golden Mile and the St. Ives district in the Eastern goldfields of Western Australia. Significant recent resource and reserve growth has been achieved at both the Golden Mile and St. Ives, due to continuous exploration over the last 10 years. Exploration within the SKO district, however, has been largely neglected due to the splintered ownership and operational issues prior to consolidation under Alacer's ownership.

In 2012, Alacer began an extensive exploration program at SKO. This important program will be completed over the next 12 to 24 months, with a 2013 budget of $20-million. The results of this program will determine the strategic options available for SKO. The Frog's Leg toll treatment agreement provides Alacer with an 18-month time window for the geological team to fully focus on identifying and proving up new ore reserves.

Drilling has now begun to test quality conceptual targets that have the potential to deliver a large discovery. The three key areas with the highest probability of delivering exploration success are location 48, the Mt. Marion complex and SBS28. These targets will be tested in Alacer's $20-million exploration program at SKO during 2013. This drilling should enable management to determine if SKO has the potential to deliver a meaningful discovery.

2013 guidance

Alacer's focus is to maximize value in 2013 by targeting the highest grade ore available, while realigning the mine development programs to ensure Alacer is in a position to maximize production cash flow from high value ore zones from 2014 onward.

            ALACER'S 2013 GOLD PRODUCTION, UNIT COSTS AND CAPITAL EXPENDITURE FORECAST

                    2012 gold             2013 gold           2013 cash           2013 total  2013 capital 
Mine               production            production     operating costs           cash costs   expenditure 
                                        (000 ounces)              ($/oz)               ($/oz)  ($ millions)

Copler -- 80%         151,005            162 to 178        $340 to $375         $385 to $425           $52
Higginsville          136,687            138 to 152      $955 to $1,055     $1,125 to $1,240           $60
South Kalgoorlie       40,406              30 to 35    $1,200 to $1,320     $1,210 to $1,330           $10
                      -------            ----------    ----------------     ----------------          ----
Total                 328,098            330 to 365        $675 to $749         $769 to $851          $122
                      -------            ----------    ----------------     ----------------          ----

Alacer's planned capital expenditures for 2013 total $122-million, of which approximately 22 per cent is for projects and 78 per cent is for operations.

General and administrative expense is forecast to be $47-million, which includes depreciation and amortization expense for corporate of $5-million for the year.

Alacer's attributable exploration expenditure is planned to total $55-million for 2013, of which approximately 80 per cent is considered likely to be expensed.

                            SPENDING        
                   (in millions of dollars)

               Exploration 100%        Exploration attributable 

SKO                        $20                              $20                  
Higginsville                16                               16                  
Copler                      13                               10                  
Copler district             14                                8                  
Turkey other                 6                                1                  
                           ---                              ---
Total                      $69                              $55 
                           ---                              ---                 

Alacer intends to begin reporting an all-in approach to cash costs after the completion of the sale of the Frog's Leg mine. Alacer believes that an all-in approach to cash costs will provide investors with an alternative to better evaluate its cost structure. Included in the calculation of all-in costs will be corporate general and administrative expenses, exploration expenses and sustaining capital expenses.

Australian asset impairment

With the sale of the Frog's Leg mine to La Mancha, a detailed review of the carrying value of the ABU will be completed in conjunction with the completion of the full-year 2012 financial results. The outcome of this review will be included in Alacer's full-year financial results to be released on or about March 13, 2013.

Upcoming news releases

The financial statements and management discussion and analysis for the fourth quarter of 2012 and full year 2012 are planned to be released on or about March 13, 2013 (North America), and March 14, 2013 (Australia).

Alacer's mineral reserves and resources statement as at Dec. 31, 2012, is expected to be released in March, 2013.

Conference call details

Alacer will host a conference call on Monday, Feb. 11, at 4:30 p.m. (North America Eastern Standard Time), and Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 8:30 a.m. (Australian Eastern Daylight Time).

You may participate in the conference call by dialling:

  • 1-888-437-9315 for the United States and Canada;
  • 1-800-106-406 for Australia;
  • 800-901-111 for Hong Kong;
  • 800-101-2003 for Singapore;
  • 0-808-101-1147 for the United Kingdom;
  • 1-719-325-2249 for international;
  • 8456451 conference ID.

If you are unable to participate in the call, a recording of the call will be available on Alacer's website or through replay until Feb. 24, 2013, by using passcode 8456451 and calling:

  • 1-888-203-1112 for the United States and Canada;
  • 1-800-154-669 for Australia;
  • 800-901-108 for Hong Kong;
  • 800-101-2009 for Singapore;
  • 0-808-101-1153 for the United Kingdom;
  • 1-719-457-0820 for international.

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