South American focused mineral exploration junior Horizonte Minerals (AIM: HZM) leapt 17% in early trading after the company reassured investors that it was still making progress on several fronts and would be sharpening its focus on a pipeline of gold projects, and cut overheads to conserve cash.
Horizonte finds itself in a similar position to hundreds of mining companies around the globe. Commodity prices have undergone a savage correction in the second half of 2008, and funds for junior miners who rely on the stock market for capital have dried up. In response, nearly every mining junior has announced a cutback on exploration activity for 2009 and dozens of companies have announced a complete halt of all activities. At the same time, dozens of mining operations around the world have been put into care and maintenance until commodity prices recover. Nickel, zinc, copper and other base metal operations have been hardest hit.
One of Horizonte’s flagship projects is a 50% interest in the Lontra Nickel Laterite Project in the Araguaia mobile belt Brazil (mobile belt: an elongated zone of the Earth's crust subjected to relatively great structural deformation). Today Horizonte confirmed that drilling on the Raimundo target continued to intercept “potentially economic nickel” mineralisation.
The Lontra project is in close proximity to other nickel laterite projects being assessed by Teck Cominco (TSX:TCK) and Xstrata (LSE:XTA). Horizonte expects to release an initial resource statement in the first quarter of next year.
Jeremy Martin, CEO of Horizonte Minerals, summarised: “Our exploration work at the Lontra nickel project is progressing well with recent drill results in line with the major deposits surrounding the project area, providing further encouragement. Drilling over the Northern and Raimundo targets has returned good nickel grades and indicate the potential for a series of nickel resources that could constitute a significant new nickel deposit. The location of Lontra, with respect to the surrounding deposits, makes it an attractive asset for the company. The major players surrounding the project are taking a long term view on the nickel market and with this in mind, we are finishing the current infill drill programme which will allow an initial resource calculation to take place by Q1 2009”.
While the resource statement for Lantra will be an important milestone for Horizonte, the company made it clear that going forward the focus will lean towards gold projects.
“With the changes in the global marketplace and the drop in metal prices, our exploration activities over the next 12 to 18 months will primarily be focusing on gold. This will include the Pararapa Joint Venture gold project with Barrick Gold in Peru, as well as evaluating a pipeline of additional gold projects in Brazil.”
Pararapa is a potentially high grade gold-silver low sulphidation project. Hochschild Mining (LSE: HOC) operates two mines in the district, the Arcata silver-gold underground mine 30 kilometres to the East, and the world class Pallancata silver mine, 25 kilometres to the north-west.
Horizonte also reported on progress at the Tangara Gold Project, where TSX and ASX listed Troy Resources has optioned the project. Troy Resources has completed some 600 metres of diamond drilling and 5,000 metres of reverse circulation drilling, testing a 10 kilometre trend.
Drilling has confirmed mineralised zones at the ‘Gerson’ and ‘Vermelho’ targets, but Horizonte stated that the “mineralization is not extensive and will require further definition”. Highlights included 1 metre at 25.58 grams per tonne gold from 54 metres and 24 metres at 2.45 grams per tonne gold from 10 metres.
Looking ahead, Horizonte’s CEO confirmed that the company was “reviewing” a number of gold projects in Brazil.
“On a more general level, we would like to emphasise to the market that we are still exploring, there are some excellent mineral project opportunities in Brazil and Peru and the deal pipeline for future projects looks highly achievable. The mining companies remain focused on identifying quality reserves which we believe Horizonte is well positioned to deliver. We have a lean, aggressive team plus cash and we look forward to updating shareholders on progress as we advance our existing portfolio and identify new projects.”
At 30 June 2008 Horizonte Minerals reported cash and cash equivalents of £1.78 million.