Mr. Tony Makuch reports
KIRKLAND LAKE GOLD REPORTS STRONG FINANCIAL AND OPERATING RESULTS IN Q1 2020
Kirkland Lake Gold Ltd. has released its financial and operating results for the first quarter of 2020. A number of key developments occurred in Q1 2020, including the unprecedented challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic and extensive measures taken by the company to protect its work force: the acquisition of Detour Gold Corp. on Jan. 31, 2020, with Detour Lake mine contributing significant free cash flow in its first two months with the company, as well as the suspension of operations at non-core assets. Also during Q1 2020, the value creation potential of the company's three cornerstone assets was demonstrated, with strong year-over-year growth in net earnings and earnings per share and record levels of gold sales, revenue, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and free cash flow being achieved. The company's full consolidated financial statements and management discussion and analysis are available on SEDAR and on the company's website. All dollar amounts are in U.S. dollars, unless otherwise noted.
Key developments impacting Q1 2020:
Detour Gold acquisition: completed acquisition of Detour Gold on Jan. 31, 2020, adding a third cornerstone asset, Detour Lake mine; Detour Lake is a large-scale open-pit mine located in Northern Ontario with significant potential for growth in mineral reserves and production, improved unit costs, and regional exploration success;
- COVID-19 response: implemented extensive health and safety protocols to protect workers from COVID-19; transitioned Detour Lake and Macassa mines to reduced operations and temporarily suspended operations at Holt complex; company commencing gradual recall of workers at Detour Lake and Macassa (Holt complex remains on suspension); COVID-19 to impact production and costs during much of 2020;
$20-million donation: Subsequent to quarter-end, Kirkland Lake Gold announced plans to donate $20-million over the next 12 months to medical, social and community organizations in the areas of Canada and Australia where the company operates; donations to provide support to local health units and facilities, food banks, municipal services and other essential social support groups, which may encounter difficulties due to slowing economies and reduced financing as a result of COVID-19;
- Company guidance withdrawn: Based on the move to reduced operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company withdrew its full-year 2020 guidance on April 1, 2020; revised guidance to be issued as Detour Lake and Macassa make progress toward returning to more predictable levels of production; Holt complex guidance discontinued; company also withdraws three-year production guidance to assess long-term effects of COVID-19 and potential impact of pandemic on production profile of Fosterville, Macassa and Holt complex and while it works to incorporate Detour Lake into the company's long-term business plans.
Highlights of Q1 2020 performance:
Net earnings grow 84 per cent: net earnings of $202.9-million (79 cents per share), 84 per cent higher than $110.1-million (52 cents per share) in Q1 2019 and 20 per cent higher than $169.1-million (81 cents per share) in Q4 2019; adjusted net earnings totalled $179.2-million (70 cents per share) versus $113.8-million (54 cents per share) in Q1 2019 and $185.3-million (88 cents per share) in Q4 2019;
Revenue growth of 82 per cent: Revenue totalled $554.7-million, 82-per-cent increase from $304.9-million in Q1 2019 and 35 per cent higher than $412.4-million in Q4 2019 (revenue from Detour Lake of $179.4-million in Q1 2020); gold sales totalled 344,586 ounces, 48 per cent higher than 232,929 ounces in Q1 2019 and 278,438 ounces in Q4 2019; average gold price of $1,586 per ounce versus $1,307 per ounce in Q1 2019 and $1,481 per ounce the previous quarter;
EBITDA increases 94 per cent: EBITDA of $391.5-million, 94-per-cent increase from $201.6-million in Q1 2019 and 37 per cent higher than $285.6-million the previous quarter;
- Adjusted free cash flow of $191.4-million: net cash provided by operating activities of $241.5-million and free cash flow of $130.9-million; excluding the impact of $60.5-million of non-recurring transaction and restructuring costs, mainly related to the Detour Gold acquisition, adjusted net cash provided by operating activities totalled $302.0-million versus $175.8-million in Q1 2019 and $247.1-million the previous quarter, while adjusted free cash flow totalled $191.4-million versus $94.5-million in Q1 2019 and $132.8-million in Q4 2019 (Detour Lake mine contributed $78.0-million of free cash flow from Jan. 31, 2020, to March 31, 2020);
- Strong financial position: Cash at March 31, 2020, totalled $530.9-million with no debt;
Growth capital expenditures: Growth capital expenditures, excluding capitalized exploration expenditures, totalled $22.6-million, including $11.1-million related to the No. 4 shaft project; based on progress to date, shaft project scope and schedule modified with total project completion to depth of 6,400 feet now targeted for late 2022, over a year ahead of original schedule;
Exploration expenditures: Total exploration expenditures totalled $36.0-million, including $5.9-million of expensed expenditures and $30.1-million of capitalized expenditures; subsequent to quarter-end, the company announced encouraging drill results at Macassa, including identification of new, large corridor of high-grade mineralization in close proximity to No. 4 shaft and continued expansion of the South mine complex (SMC);
9.7 million shares repurchased: 9,713,500 shares repurchased in Q1 2020 for $329.8-million ($443.1-million (Canadian));
Quarterly dividend doubled: Q1 2020 dividend doubled to 12.5 cents per share, paid on April 13, 2020, to shareholders of record on March 31, 2020;
Solid operating results:
- Production of 330,864 ounces, 43-per-cent increase from 231,879 ounces in Q1 2029 and 18 per cent higher than 279,742 ounces in Q4 2019 (excluding Detour Lake, production totalled 239,309 ounces, with change from prior quarters relating mainly to grades at Fosterville, which at 42.4 g/t increased 46 per cent from Q1 2019 and compared with record grade of 49.3 g/t in Q4 2019);
- Production costs totalled $161.6-million ($87.8-million from Detour Lake mine) versus $70.0-million in Q1 2019 and $71.2-million the previous quarter;
- Operating cash costs per ounce of $440 ($319 excluding Detour Lake) compared with $290 in Q1 2019 and $255 in Q4 2019; excluding Detour Lake, change from previous periods largely reflected lower sales and higher levels of operating developments at Macassa during Q1 2020 (lower sales due mainly to reduced average grade from record high of 29.6 g/t in Q1 2019 and lower tonnage versus Q4 2019 largely reflecting impact of reduced operations due to COVID-19);
- AISC per ounce sold of $776 versus $560 in Q1 2019 and $512 the previous quarter; excluding Detour Lake, AISC per ounce averaged $619, with the increase from prior periods due to lower sales and higher operating cash costs at Macassa (variance to Q4 2019 also resulted from increased sustaining capital expenditures from low levels during Q4 2019 due largely to increase in capital development metres and the timing of equipment procurement).
Tony Makuch, president and chief executive officer of Kirkland Lake Gold, commented: "Throughout my career, I have seen that, in times of adversity, quality people rise to the occasion. Faced with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team did extremely well protecting themselves and each other, while also turning in a very solid performance for the quarter. As a company, we have also risen to the occasion to support our local communities. We are donating $20-million to assist community groups in the areas of Canada and Australia where we operate in recognition of the essential services that these groups provide and the challenges they are, or may be, faced with in obtaining funding and social assistance as a result of a slowing economic environment.
"Turning to our Q1 2020 performance, we achieved strong earnings growth year over year and generated significant free cash flow. Our production increased from Q1 2019, even excluding Detour Lake, with Fosterville continuing to be a key driver of our performance. Looking at Detour Lake, the mine contributed $78-million of free cash flow in its first two months since the acquisition, and that included a period of running at reduced operations. In addition, we took steps to remove non-core assets from our portfolio, including placing the Holloway mine, part of the Holt complex, on care and maintenance, and suspending test mining and processing, as well as all exploration activities, in the Northern Territory. We also temporarily suspended operations at the remainder of the Holt complex as part of our COVID-19 protocols. We have since extended the period of temporary suspension at these assets. Our non-core assets have not been contributing to shareholder returns for the company, and when you consider the exceptional value of our three cornerstone assets, Fosterville, Macassa and Detour Lake, the right course of action clearly is to focus our investments and management time on realizing their full potential.
"Speaking of value potential, all three of these assets have substantial exploration upside, which we expect will drive future growth in mineral reserves, mine lives and possibly production levels. Last week, we saw a good illustration of this upside, with encouraging drill results being released at Macassa. These results included the continued expansion of the SMC. Very significantly, they also included the identification of a new, large corridor of high-grade mineralization along the historic Main break below the former workings at the Kirkland minerals property. At 700 metres long and 300 metres high, this corridor has considerable potential, which is enhanced even more by the fact it is located in close proximity to the location of the new No. 4 shaft, which we now expect to complete by late 2022, over a year ahead of the original schedule. We also have equally attractive exploration targets at Fosterville and Detour Lake and, though our exploration programs have been disrupted by COVID-19, we are taking steps to resume work and continue to see exploration success at our cornerstone assets as an important potential catalyst for value creation in 2020."
In response to the extensive global health risks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the company introduced a number of measures in March to protect employees, their families and the company's communities. The health and well-being of the company's work force is Kirkland Lake Gold's top priority. Among these measures, the company took steps to reduce the number of people at mine sites by transitioning to reduced operations at Detour Lake (effective March 23, 2020) and Macassa (April 2, 2020), and temporarily suspended operations at the Holt complex (April 2, 2020). In addition, the company introduced an extensive list of health and safety protocols including remote work wherever possible, medical screening, enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices, increased food safety, social distancing of workers and the increased reliance on technology such as hosting virtual meetings. As part of the health and safety protocols, the company also suspended all non-essential work at and visits to all of the company's mine sites, including all exploration drilling and reduced levels of work at a number of projects, including the No. 4 shaft project at Macassa and surface infrastructure projects at Fosterville. Operations have continued at Fosterville throughout the COVID-19 crisis, with the company's health and safety protocols having been introduced.
On May 6, 2020, the company announced that it was beginning to recall employees who were off work as part of the COVID-19 protocols. The company expects the ramp-up of business activities to be gradual with the timing to be determined by continuing government actions and other developments related to the pandemic. The company does not anticipate achieving full production levels during the second quarter of 2020 and anticipates seeing some impact on production and costs during most of the year. At the current time, it is not possible to estimate the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the company's business performance in 2020.
On April 1, 2020, the company withdrew its 2020 guidance, which had been released on Dec. 18, 2019, and updated on Feb. 19, 2020, to reflect the acquisition of Detour Gold. As a result, there is no review of performance against 2020 guidance included in this press release. The company plans to release new guidance for 2020 once Detour Lake and Macassa have returned to more predictable levels of production. Included in the new guidance will be revised production and cost targets for Detour Lake, Macassa and Fosterville. Two thousand twenty guidance for the Holt complex is being discontinued given that these assets remain on temporary suspension with no timeline for a resumption of operations currently being contemplated. The company is also withdrawing its three-year production guidance while it assesses the long-term effects of COVID-19 and the potential impact of the pandemic on the production profile of Fosterville, Macassa and Holt complex, and while it works to incorporate Detour Lake into the company's long-term business plans.
Acquisition of Detour Gold
On Jan. 31, 2020, the company acquired all issued and outstanding shares of Detour Gold Corp. through a plan of arrangement announced on Nov. 25, 2019. Pursuant to the plan of arrangement, Detour Gold shareholders received 0.4343 Kirkland Lake Gold common share in exchange for each Detour Gold share held immediately prior to closing of the arrangement. In aggregate, the company issued 77,217,129 common shares of Kirkland Lake Gold to former Detour Gold shareholders as consideration for their Detour Gold shares. In addition, all outstanding stock options of Detour were exchanged under the agreement. Subsequent to the share issuance, Kirkland Lake and former Detour shareholders owned 73 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively, of the shares of the combined company. With the completion of the transaction, Detour Gold has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Kirkland Lake Gold, and the company is now the owner and operator of Detour Lake, a large-scale, open-pit gold mine in Northern Ontario. The acquisition adds a third cornerstone asset to the company's portfolio, with 2019 production at Detour Lake of 601,566 ounces. Like Macassa and Fosterville, Detour Lake combines free cash generating operations with significant in-mine growth potential and attractive regional exploration upside.
From Jan. 31, 2020, to the end of Q1 2020, Detour Lake produced 91,555 ounces of gold, with gold sales totalling 110,456 ounces, operating cash costs per ounce of $696 and AISC per ounce sold of $1,108. For the same period, revenue from Detour Lake totalled $179.4-million, earnings from operations were $45.3-million and the mine generated $78.0-million of free cash flow. The $78.0-million of free cash flow in Q1 2020 (excludes transaction-related costs).
REVIEW OF FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE
(in thousands except per-share amounts)
Three months ended
March 31, 2020 March 31, 2019 Dec. 31, 2019
Revenue $554,738 $304,912 $412,379
Production (costs) (161,592) (70,040) (71,169)
Royalty (expense) (21,249) (8,284) (11,002)
Depletion and depreciation (loss) (92,839) (41,300) (52,865)
Earnings from mine operations 279,058 185,288 277,343
General and administrative (loss) (12,562) (12,099) (10,576)
Transaction (costs) (33,838) - (1,236)
Exploration (loss) (5,931) (12,022) (9,336)
Care and maintenance (loss) (2,890) (196) (239)
Earnings from operations 223,837 160,971 255,956
Finance and other items
Other income (loss), net 72,205 (2,117) (25,166)
Finance income 2,596 1,438 1,948
Finance (costs) (4,113) (703) (696)
Earnings before income taxes 294,525 159,589 232,042
Current income tax (expense) (70,130) (40,921) (62,414)
Deferred income tax (expense) (21,517) (8,522) (493)
Net earnings $202,878 $110,146 $169,135
Basic earnings per share $0.79 $0.52 $0.81
Diluted earnings per share $0.77 $0.52 $0.80
Revenue in Q1 2020 totalled $554.7-million, an increase of $249.8-million or 82 per cent from $304.9-million in Q1 2019, with a 48-per-cent increase in sales volumes (344,586 ounces in Q1 2020 versus 232,929 ounces in Q1 2019) providing $146-million of the improvement and a $279-per-ounce increase in the average gold price ($1,586 per ounce in Q1 2020 versus $1,307 per ounce in Q1 2019) having a $96-million favourable impact on revenue versus the same period a year earlier. In addition to volume and price factors, changes in foreign exchange rates increased revenue by $7.8-million compared with Q1 2019. Revenue in Q1 2020 was $142.3-million or 35 per cent higher than $412.4-million the previous quarter, reflecting a $98-million favourable impact from a 24-per-cent increase in gold sales volumes, from 278,438 ounces in Q4 2019, and $36-million of revenue growth from a 7-per-cent increase in the average realized gold price from $1,481 per ounce the previous quarter. Excluding the impact of Detour Lake in Q1 2020, which contributed $179.4-million of revenue from Jan. 31, 2020, to the end of the quarter, revenue in Q1 2020 totalled $375.3-million, based on sales volumes of 234,130 ounces and an average realized price of $1,583 per ounce. On the same basis, that is excluding the contribution from Detour Lake, revenue increased 23 per cent from Q1 2019 and was 9 per cent lower than the previous quarter due to a 16-per-cent reduction in gold sales volumes from the quarterly record level of 278,438 ounces in Q4 2019.
Net earnings and adjusted net earnings
Net earnings in Q1 2020 totalled $202.9-million (79 cents per share), an increase of 84 per cent from $110.1-million (52 cents per share) in Q1 2019. Strong revenue growth was the primary factor contributing to the increase in net earnings from Q4 2019. The 82-per-cent increase in revenue, to $554.7-million, was driven by both higher gold sales and an improvement in the average realized gold price. Other favourable factors driving growth in net earnings included a $72.9-million foreign exchange pretax gain related to the strengthening of the U.S. dollar against the Canadian and Australian dollars during Q1 2020, which resulted in other income for the quarter of $72.2-million pretax versus other loss of $2.1-million for the same period a year earlier, as well as lower expensed exploration costs with a higher proportion of exploration expenditures in Q1 2020 being capitalized compared with Q1 2019. Total exploration expenditures, including both expensed and capitalized exploration expenditures, totalled $36.0-million versus $17.6-million in Q1 2019.
Partially offsetting the favourable factors contributing to earnings growth were the impact of higher production costs and depletion and depreciation expense reflecting the addition of costs for the Detour Lake mine as of Jan. 31, 2020. In addition, net earnings were reduced by $33.8-million pretax of transaction costs related to the Detour Gold acquisition, as well as a $13.0-million pretax increase in royalty expense, with $7.2-million of the increase resulting from a new 2.75-per-cent royalty on gold sales at Fosterville introduced by the Victorian government effective Jan. 1, 2020. Finance costs increased year over year by $3.4-million pretax due largely to unrealized and realized mark-to-market loss on derivative contracts primarily related to hedge positions on diesel fuel held by Detour Gold. These contracts were closed out shortly after the acquisition was completed on Jan. 31, 2020. Higher average shares outstanding also had an unfavourable impact on earnings per share, with average shares outstanding in Q1 2020 increasing 22 per cent, to 257.4 million, from 210.2 million in Q1 2019. The increase in average shares outstanding related to the 77,217,129 shares issued as consideration for the acquisition of Detour Gold.
Net earnings in Q1 2020 of $202.9-million increased $33.8-million or 20 per cent from $169.1-million the previous quarter. Earnings per share of 79 cents compared with 81 cents in Q4 2019 with the change reflecting a higher level of average shares outstanding from 210.1 million in Q4 2019 to 257.4 million in Q1 2020, with the increase resulting from the shares issued for the Detour Gold acquisition. Favourable factors impacting the change in net earnings quarter over quarter included strong revenue growth, reflecting both higher sales volumes and an improvement in the average realized gold price, as well as the impact of the $72.9-million pretax foreign exchange gains in Q1 2020, which resulted in other income of $72.2-million pretax versus other loss of $25.2-million in Q4 2019. The other loss in Q4 2019 reflected foreign exchange losses due to a weakening of the U.S. dollar during the quarter. Partially offsetting the favourable factors contributing to higher net earnings were increased production costs and depletion and depreciation expense, largely due to the Detour Gold acquisition, the impact of the $33.8-million pretax transactions costs in Q1 2020 (versus transaction costs of $1.2-million pretax in Q4 2019) and higher royalty expense, due largely to the new 2.75-per-cent royalty on gold sales at Fosterville. Included among other factors that impacted the change in net earnings was a favourable impact from lower expensed exploration costs in Q1 2020, which was more than offset by higher levels of corporate G&A (general and administrative) expenses, care and maintenance costs, and finance costs quarter over quarter.
Adjusted net earnings
Adjusted net earnings totalled $179.2-million (70 cents per share) versus $113.8-million (54 cents per share) for the same period in 2019 and $185.3-million (88 cents per share) in Q4 2019. The difference between net earnings and adjusted net earnings in Q1 2020 related to the exclusion from adjusted net earnings of $72.9-million pretax ($52.5-million after tax) of foreign exchange gains, partially offset by the exclusion of $33.8-million pretax ($24.9-million after tax) of transaction costs related to the Detour Gold acquisition, $3.7-million pretax ($2.6-million after tax) of severance costs and $1.5-million pretax ($1.3-million after tax) related to a mark-to-market loss on fair valuing the company's warrant investments. The difference between net earnings and adjusted net earnings in Q1 2019 was the exclusion from adjusted net earnings of $2.3-million pretax ($1.6-million after tax) of purchase allocation adjustments on inventory. In Q4 2019, the main difference between adjusted net earnings and net earnings was the exclusion from adjusted net earnings of $23.3-million pretax ($16.1-million after tax) of foreign exchange losses.
Cash and cash flows
The company's cash balance of $530.9-million at March 31, 2020, compared with cash of $707.2-million at Dec. 31, 2019. The change in cash during the quarter largely resulted from the use of $474.6-million of cash for financing activities, which more than offset strong cash generated from operating activities and also cash received from investing activities, the latter representing cash acquired as part of the Detour Gold acquisition. Net cash provided from operating activities totalled $241.5-million. Excluding the impact of $60.5-million of non-recurring transaction and restructuring costs, mainly related to the Detour Gold acquisition, adjusted net cash provided by operating activities1 totalled $302.0-million, which compared with $175.8-million in Q1 2019 and $247.1-million the previous quarter. On the same basis, that is excluding non-recurring costs, growth in net cash provided by operating activities compared with both prior periods largely reflected higher levels of net earnings.
Net cash provided by investing activities of $60.7-million reflected the acquisition of $173.9-million of cash as part of the transaction to acquire Detour Gold. The addition of cash from the Detour Gold acquisition more than offset the use of cash for additions to mining interests and plant and equipment during the quarter. Contributing to the $474.6-million of net cash used for financing activities was $329.8-million of cash used to repurchase 9,713,500 shares through the NCIB, as well as $98.6-million to repay Detour Gold's outstanding debt and $30.3-million to close out that company's hedge positions relating to forward gold sales as well as hedges on currencies and diesel fuel. The company also used $12.6-million of cash for the payment of the fourth quarter 2019 quarterly dividend of six cents per share, which was paid on Jan. 13, 2020, to shareholders of record on Dec. 31, 2019.
Free cash flow and adjusted free cash flow
Free cash flow in Q1 2020 totalled $130.9-million. Excluding the impact of $60.5-million of non-recurring transaction and restructuring costs, adjusted free cash flow for the quarter was a record $191.4-million, more than double the $94.5-million of adjusted free cash flow in Q1 2019 and 44 per cent higher than $132.8-million the previous quarter. The increase in adjusted free cash flow reflected higher levels of net cash provided by operating activities, adjusted for non-recurring costs. Also contributing to the increases in free cash flow was $78-million of free cash flow from the Detour Lake mine from Jan. 31, 2020, the date it was acquired, to March 31, 2020. Additions to mineral properties and property, plant and equipment totalled $110.6-million in Q1 2020 versus $79.2-million in Q1 2019 and $114.3-million the previous quarter.
Review of operating mines
Macassa mine complex
Production at Macassa in Q1 2020 totalled 50,861 ounces compared with record quarterly production of 72,776 ounces in Q1 2019 and 56,379 ounces the previous quarter. Production in Q1 2020 resulted from processing 82,256 tonnes at an average grade of 19.7 g/t and average recoveries of 97.7 per cent. The change from Q1 2019 reflected a record average grade at Macassa in Q1 2019 of 29.6 g/t mainly due to grade outperformance in a number of stopes in the SMC, as well as the impact in Q1 2020 of lower-than-planned tonnes processed and average grades, with lower tonnes processed largely resulting from disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The change from Q4 2019 was mainly due to lower tonnes processed quarter over quarter.
Production costs in Q1 2020 totalled $26.4-million versus $22.4-million in Q1 2019 and $25.6-million the previous quarter. Operating cash costs per ounce sold averaged $536 in Q1 2020 versus $332 in Q1 2019 and $471 in Q4 2019. The increase in operating cash costs per ounce sold compared with both prior periods largely reflected lower sales volumes in Q1 2020 (50,765 ounces versus record sales of 67,305 ounces in Q1 2019 and 54,342 ounces the previous quarter) as well as higher costs related to increased levels of operating development and other mining costs during Q1 2020. AISC per ounce sold averaged $850 in Q1 2020 compared with $602 in Q1 2019 and $721 in Q4 2019. The change from Q1 2019 resulted from higher operating cash costs and the impact of lower sales volumes on unit costs. Sustaining capital expenditures were largely unchanged year over year, totalling $15.1-million versus $15.5-million in Q1 2019, but were higher on a per-ounce sold basis, averaging $297 per ounce sold in Q1 2020 versus $231 per ounce sold for the same period a year earlier. Compared with the prior quarter, the most significant factor contributing to the increase in AISC per ounce sold was higher sustaining capital expenditures in Q1 2020, which at $15.1-million in Q1 2020 were 40 per cent higher than $10.8-million in Q4 2019 (the lowest quarterly level in 2019). The increase in sustaining capital expenditures reflected higher levels of capital development in Q1 2020 as well as the timing for mobile equipment procurement, with a low level of procurement expenditures in Q4 2019. On a per-ounce-sold basis, sustaining capital expenditures averaged $297 versus $198 the previous quarter.
Growth capital expenditures at Macassa in Q1 2020 totalled $16.1-million. Of total growth expenditures, $11.1-million related to the No. 4 shaft project. During Q1 2020, sinking of the No. 4 shaft advanced 760 feet, reaching a total depth of 1,960 feet at March 31, 2020. Other work during the quarter included equipping the shaft, excavating the 1540 level station and completion of the compressor house heat recovery unit. At March 31, 2020, the project was on care and maintenance as part of the company's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with work resuming in late April. Based on the rate of progress to date, the company conducted a review of the project in Q1 2020 and, as a result, modified the project scope and schedule. The No. 4 shaft is now expected to be completed in one phase, to a depth of 6,400 feet, with project completion targeted for late 2022, over one year sooner than the initial project schedule. The project remains on budget with the revised schedule offering some potential for capital cost savings.
The Macassa mine began operating with a reduced work force in March due to concerns over COVID-19. Based on high levels of absenteeism caused in part by and the introduction of travel restrictions between Ontario and Quebec, the mine was placed on reduced operations effective April 2, 2020, until April 30, 2020. Essential work that continued during this period related mainly to production, though at reduced levels, as well as water and environmental management. All non-essential activities were suspended, including exploration drilling, sinking work on the No. 4 shaft project, work on a new surface ramp and mill upgrades. Sinking of the No. 4 shaft resumed near the end of April. During the period of reduced operations, Macassa operated with approximately 65 per cent of its normal work force. In early May, the company began a gradual ramp-up of operations at Macassa, with the timing for reaching full levels of production to be determined by continuing development related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Included among work resuming at the mine was underground diamond drilling as well as work on major capital projects, with work on the No. 4 shaft project having resumed in late April.
Detour Lake mine
Production at Detour Lake from Jan. 31, 2020, the date of acquisition by Kirkland Lake Gold, to March 31, 2020, totalled 91,555 ounces. Production for Q1 2020 was impacted by the transition of the mine to reduced operations effective March 23, 2020, as part of the company's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During Q1 2020, the mine processed 3,708,022 tonnes at an average grade of 0.84 g/t at average recoveries of 90.9 per cent. The average grade in Q1 2020 was lower than the previous quarter's average grade of 0.93 g/t mainly due to a higher proportion of mill feed coming from stockpiles during Q1 2020 where grades are typically lower than from mine production. The increased processing of stockpiles reflected the move to reduced operations, as well as the impact of severe winter weather conditions in Q1 2020 and reduced availability of drilling equipment.
Production costs at Detour Lake mine for the period Jan. 31, 2020, to March 31, 2020, totalled $87.8-million. Operating cash costs per ounce sold averaged $696 in Q1 2020, which was better than the guidance range of $720 to $740 prior to the company's 2020 guidance being withdrawn on April 1, 2020. AISC per ounce sold averaged $1,108, in line with expected levels. Sustaining capital expenditures at Detour Lake from Jan. 31, 2020, to March 31, 2020, totalled $48.3-million. All capital expenditures at Detour Lake mine are reported as sustaining capital expenditures.
The company transitioned Detour Lake mine to reduced operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic effective March 23, 2020. Continuing activities at the mine include mill processing of reduced feed from the open pit and stockpiled ore, management of water levels during the spring runoff and environmental management activities. During this time, the mine operated with one shovel and eight trucks, which compares with normalized operations of five shovels and approximately 34 trucks. All personnel not essential for the performance of essential activities were off work until April 30, 2020. Approximately 300 workers were on site during the period of reduced operations, approximately 30 per cent of the normal work force during full operations. In addition to company-wide health and safety protocols, a number of additional measures applicable to a remote camp operation have been added to Detour Lake's efforts to protect workers, including processes for the assessment, isolation and ambulatory evacuation of employees showing any kind of symptoms and increased food and camp accommodation hygiene safety. In early May, the company commenced a gradual ramp-up of operations at Detour Lake with the timing for reaching full levels of production to be determined by continuing developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Feb. 19, 2020, the company designated the Holt complex as a non-core asset with plans to review options for maximizing value. In mid-March, the company placed the Holloway mine on care and maintenance, with no plans for a future resumption of operations. On April 1, 2020, the company announced that operations were being temporarily suspended at the Taylor mine and Holt mine and mill as part of the company's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of May, 2020, the company extended the temporary suspension of operations at the Holt and Taylor mines and Holt mill for an indefinite period reflecting continuing developments related to the COVID-19 virus and while the company continues the strategic review of the Holt complex assets involving the consideration of all options for the maximizing of value.
During Q1 2020, the Holt complex produced 28,584 ounces, which resulted from processing 209,126 tonnes at an average grade of 4.6 g/t at average recoveries of 93.4 per cent. Q1 2020 production compared with production of 30,658 ounces in Q1 2019 and 31,469 ounces in Q4 2019. The change from Q1 2019 reflected lower average grades and tonnes processed at both the Taylor and Holt mines, which was only partially offset by higher tonnes processed at Holloway. Compared with previous quarter, the change in production mainly reflected a significant reduction in tonnes processed at the Holloway mine, which more than offset the impact of higher average grades at both the Taylor and Holt mines. During March, 2020, the Holloway mine was transitioned to care and maintenance with no plans at the present time for a future resumption of operations.
Production costs totalled $28.4-million in Q1 2020 compared with $26.2-million in Q1 2019 and $25.2-million the previous quarter. Operating cash costs per ounce sold averaged $955 compared with $780 in Q1 2019. The change from the same period in 2019 largely reflected the impact of a lower average grade at all three mines on production and sales volumes as well as higher production costs at Holloway as the mine was being transitioned to care and maintenance. Higher operating cash costs per ounce sold in Q1 2020 versus Q4 2019 mainly reflected increased operating cash costs at the Taylor mine due largely to higher contractor and maintenance costs as well as the impact of lower tonnes processed on production and sales volumes quarter over quarter, which more than offset an improvement in the average grade. AISC per ounce sold averaged $1,368 compared with $1,075 per ounce in Q1 2019 and $1,321 per ounce in Q4 2019. Sustaining capital expenditures totalled $9.1-million ($306 per ounce sold) versus $7.5-million ($224 per ounce sold) in Q1 2019 and $15.6-million ($490 per ounce sold) the previous quarter.
The company temporarily suspended operations at the Holt complex effective April 2, 2020, including the Holt and Taylor mines and Holt mill, initially until April 30, 2020. A small number of employees continued to work while operations were temporarily suspended in order to manage the sites during this period with the company's COVID-19 health and safety protocols being implemented at each site. At the beginning of May, 2020, the company extended the temporary suspension of these operations, reflecting continuing developments related to the COVID-19 virus, while the company continues the strategic review of the Holt complex assets involving the consideration of all options for the maximizing of value.
The Fosterville mine produced 159,864 ounces in Q1 2020 based on processing 118,701 tonnes at an average grade of 42.4 g/t and average mill recoveries of 98.8 per cent. Q1 2020 production increased 24 per cent from 128,445 ounces in Q1 2019, when the mine processed 140,184 tonnes at an average grade of 29.0 g/t and average recoveries of 98.3 per cent. The increase in production compared with the same period in 2019 resulted from a 46-per-cent increase in the average grade, reflecting higher levels of production from the high-grade Swan zone compared with Q1 2019. Q1 2020 production compared with record quarterly production of 191,894 ounces the previous quarter when the mine recorded its highest-ever average quarterly grade of 49.3 g/t at record average recoveries of 99.2 per cent. The higher average grade in Q4 2019 reflected mine sequencing in the Swan zone as well as the impact of grade outperformance in a number of Swan zone stopes during the previous quarter.
Production costs were $18.9-million in Q1 2020 versus $21.4-million in Q1 2019 and $20.3-million the previous quarter. Operating cash costs per ounce sold averaged $126, a 13-per-cent improvement from $144 in Q1 2019, with the favourable impact of a 46-per-cent increase in the average grade on production and sales volumes and lower costs related to operating development largely accounting for the improvement. Operating cash costs per ounce sold in Q1 2020 were slightly higher than $106 in Q4 2019 when a record quarterly average grade of 49.3 g/t resulted in production for the quarter of 191,894 ounces and sales of 192,213 ounces. AISC per ounce sold averaged $313 versus $315 in Q1 2019 and $258 in Q4 2019. The comparison with both prior periods was impacted by a new 2.75-per-cent royalty introduced by the Victorian government effective Jan. 1, 2020. The new royalty contributed $7.2-million or $47 per ounce sold to AISC per ounce sold in Q1 2020. Excluding the impact of the new royalty, AISC per ounce sold in Q1 2020 was $266, 16 per cent better than $315 in Q1 2019 and largely unchanged from the previous quarter. Sustaining capital expenditures in Q1 2020 totalled $17.3-million ($113 per ounce sold) compared with $18.9-million ($143 per ounce sold) in Q1 2019 and $25.3-million ($132 per ounce sold) in Q4 2019. Sustaining capital expenditures in Q4 2019 were higher than in Q1 2020 mainly due to significant levels of lateral and vertical capital development in the final quarter of 2019.
Growth capital expenditures at Fosterville in Q1 2020 totalled $6.5-million (excluding capitalized exploration expenditures). Work on growth projects during Q1 2020 focused on the mine's new ventilation system, targeted for commissioning in Q2 2020, and construction of a new power transformer, refinery and gold room, as well as a number of other projects.
Fosterville mine continued to operate throughout Q1 2020, with production largely remaining at target levels. The company's COVID-19 health and safety protocols were implemented, including remote work, social distancing, increased cleaning and hygiene, and the suspension of all non-essential work and visits to site. Non-essential work suspended mainly involved all regional exploration drilling and work on a number of surface infrastructure projects, such as office, core shed and storage facility expansions, as well as Aster (thiocyanate destruction) plant construction.
The Cosmo mine and Union Reefs mill were placed on care and maintenance effective June 30, 2017. Following this move, the company undertook extensive exploration programs at Cosmo, Union Reefs and, more recently, other selected targets. In addition, the company's advanced exploration work at both the Cosmo mine and Union Reefs mill, which resulted in the commencement of test mining of mineralization in the Lantern deposit at Cosmo and test processing of this material at the Union Reefs mill in October, 2019.
On Feb. 19, 2020, the company announced that the Northern Territory assets had been designated as non-core with the company planning to consider strategic options for maximizing the value of these assets. In March, 2020, the company announced the suspension of test mining and processing in the Northern Territory and also the suspension of exploration activities. The decision reflected results of the test production to date, as well as other priorities within the company. A small work force remains in the Northern Territory to complete continuing rehabilitation work.
Q1 2020 financial results and conference call details
A conference call to discuss the Q1 2020 results will be held by senior management today, Wednesday, May 6, 2020, at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Call-in information is provided below. The call will also be webcast and accessible on the company's website:
Date: Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Toll-free number: 833-968-2183
International callers: 825-312-2102
Changes to corporate branding
As of May 1, 2020, the company has changed its e-mail convention and website URL (uniform resource locator) to end with "kl.gold" instead of the former convention of "klgold.com." The change comes during the integration of Detour Lake and is intended to provide a consistent corporate branding across the new Kirkland Lake Gold. The new branding also recognizes the truly unique, highly competitive position the company has achieved within the gold mining industry with industry-leading profitability and financial strength. The old corporate branding will continue to be functional, both for e-mail addresses and the website address for a period of time to provide a transition period.
The technical contents related to Kirkland Lake Gold mines and properties have been reviewed and approved by Natasha Vaz, PEng, vice-president, technical services, and Eric Kallio, PGeo, senior vice-president, exploration. Ms. Vaz and Mr. Kallio are qualified persons as defined in National Instrument 43-101 and have reviewed and approved disclosure of the technical information and data in this press release.
About Kirkland Lake Gold Ltd.
Kirkland Lake is a growing gold producer operating in Canada and Australia that produced 974,615 ounces in 2019. The production profile of the company is anchored by three high-quality operations, including the Macassa mine and Detour Lake mine, both located in Northern Ontario, and the Fosterville mine, located in the state of Victoria, Australia.
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