Recognising that the mining industry is wedded to the break-even cut-off grade rather than a cut-off grade that optimises value, the author examines some perils and pitfalls in the use of break-even grades that lead to what the author calls ‘negatively geared ore reserves’.
Negatively geared ore reserves occur when a portion of the ore reserves actually has a negative value and is effectively being subsidised by the more profitable portion of the ore reserves. This situation is generally difficult to detect with the level of information available to the public investor. The ore reserves can still be quite profitable in total, but now possess a level of risk that may not be appreciated.
The risk profile (financial risk) of a negatively geared ore reserve is far greater than for a non-negatively geared ore reserve. Like a negatively geared investment property in a falling property market (for readers familiar with the Australian tax minimisation investment strategy), when the price of a commodity falls, a company that possesses a negatively geared ore reserve loses value at a magnified rate relative to a company that has a neutral or positively geared ore reserve. In the extreme case of a major commodity price reduction, as happened with the gold price in mid-2013, the negatively geared ore reserve can easily become negative value in total, not just in part.
The negatively geared ore reserve is sometimes intentional – for instance in order to increase published ore reserve tonnages and meet the CEO’s key performance indicators – but is also often unintentional, resulting from various errors in the break-even calculation. Common errors in calculating a break-even grade include using fixed metallurgical recoveries, not including allowances for ideal laboratory versus real plant results, ignoring available operational data and using modal rather than mean parameter values in cost and performance calculations.
This paper examines a common value distribution profile in many ore reserves and the effect of common break-even grade errors on this profile.
Poniewierski, J, 2016. Negatively geared ore reserves – a major peril of the break-even cut-off grade, in Proceedings Project Evaluation 2016, pp 236–247 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).