Kinross walks away from Ecuador project with Lundin stake sale

Fruta del Norte overall construction almost finished. (Image courtesy of CNW Group/Lundin Gold.)

Canadian miner Kinross Gold (TSX:G) (NYSE:KGC) is selling its remaining 20.7 million shares in Lundin Gold (TSX:LUG), equivalent to a 9.2% stake, to the other two major investors in the Ecuador-focused company, in a deal valued at roughly C$150 million ($114m).

The buyers, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Newcrest Mining (ASX: NCM) and the Lundin Family Trust, will see their interest in Lundin increase from 27% to 32% and from 23% to 27%, respectively.

Newcrest, Australia’s No.1 gold miner, said it paid C$7.25 per share to acquire a further 4.9% stake in Lundin, which owns the touted Fruta del Norte gold-silver-mine in Ecuador.

Newcrest Mining and the Lundin Family Trust will see their interest in the miner increase from 27% to 32% and from 23% to 27%, respectively

“This was a great opportunity to increase our exposure to Fruta del Norte, a Tier 1 asset, which is expected to commence commercial production in the June 2020 quarter,” Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Sandeep Biswas said in a separate statement.

Kinross said the move was part of its portfolio streamlining strategy, which included last week’s sale of its full precious metal royalty portfolio to Maverix Metals (TSX:MMX). It also noted that the transaction is expected to close immediately.

Lundin, worth C$1.7 billion, acquired Fruta del Norte from Kinross in 2014 for $240 million. It kicked off production at the mine in November.

The Vancouver-based miner has been developing the asset for almost two years, following a 2016 agreement with Ecuador’s government, something its previous owner was never able to accomplish. The deal allowed Lundin to move ahead with the project, located in the southeastern Amazon province of Zamora Chinchipe.

The underground gold and silver mine contains six of the company’s 29 mining concessions in Ecuador and covers 70,000 hectares of land. Discovered in 2006, Fruta del Norte is expected to produce almost 4.7 million ounces of gold over a 15 year mine life.

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Ecuador has gained ground as a mining investment destination over the past two years, with top miners entering into joint ventures or investing in juniors to gain exposure to projects in the country.

Anglo American (LON: AAL) also landed in the South American nation through a deal with Canada’s Luminex Resources (TSX-V: LR). The company plans to develop two copper and gold concessions there.

Newcrest is also heavily invested in another Ecuador-focused company — SolGold (LON:SOLG) (TSX:SOLG). Until last week, it was that company’s largest shareholder until BHP further increase its stake in the Australian miner.

Currently, Ecuador’s emerging mining sector employs 5,000 people, but estimates the figure will rise to about 16,000 next year if the country’s finances don’t take a turn for the worse.

The outlook is dubious, however, as the Congress rejected in November a reform bill presented by President Lenin Moreno, which was part of a $4.2 billion financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The inconvenient reality is that if Ecuador loses IMF support, then they lose market access,” Siobhan Morden, head of Latin America fixed income strategy at Amherst Pierpont Securities, wrote in a note.

Moreno’s measures to comply with the IMF program have been criticized by the wide range of topics included — from student debt to mining policy and central bank autonomy.

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