Location, location, location: Bradda Head’s Ian Stalker talks lithium in the USA
It may turn out that Ian Stalker is only in an executive role at Bradda Head for a short period of time.
Certainly, the announcement of his assumption of the reins of leadership late in August was careful to ascribe his role as ‘interim’, and to state clearly that the search for a new chief executive was getting underway.
Even so, investors aren’t likely to be dissatisfied with the interim arrangement, given Stalker’s track record. Once-upon-a-time, there was a mining boom at the start of the new millennium, and it was Stalker who closed one of the biggest deals of that heady time, when as chief executive of Uramin, he presided over its US$2.5bn sale to French nuclear giant Areva.
He followed that up with a successful Aim-listed Niger Uranium Ltd performance returning circa US$400mln to shareholders in 2010.
Since then there have been other deals aplenty. Most notably in recent years the successful listing and subsequent operational performance of K92 Mining, listed on the Venture Exchange, which reached the dizzy heights of a market cap of circa C$2bn in 2022. Stalker was a founder in 2014 of K92, and the former CEO.
Then there was the C$111mln sale of LSC Lithium Corp in 2019. He’s also run another Venture-listed lithium company called PLU, and in addition his CV lists a stint as Vice President of Gold Fields, which at the time was the world’s fourth largest gold producer.
So this is a man who knows the mining industry, and who also has particular knowledge of the lithium space too.
What’s more, he’s meaningfully invested in Bradda Head, so his interests are well aligned to shareholders.
If anyone’s going to be running a company during a period in which it looks for a new chief executive, a better candidate than Stalker would be hard to find.
Still, enough background.
What’s actually happening?
Bradda Head’s strategic positioning has always been clear. It holds a suite of different types of lithium assets in the south-western USA, which it aims to develop in fairly short order with a view to selling product into the local American market. Major automobile manufacturing hubs in California are proximate to the portfolio, and the clamour for supply-chain security means that demand for product is likely to immediate, once Bradda Head starts producing.
“Location, location, location,” he says.
“USA, USA, USA - they want our product.”
Not surprisingly, Stalker expects off-take agreements to be a relatively straightforward matter when the time comes. But that time is still a little way away yet.
In recent weeks the emphasis has been on resource expansion at the Basin project in Arizona. Bradda Head’s latest drilling work has just delivered a significant boost to the resource, which now amounts to 210mln tonnes of ore containing 1mln tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent, with an additional 85,000 tonnes indicated.
That’s a nice enough development in itself, but as per previous agreements, there are other implications too.
Now that it’s met the first of its resource definition targets, Bradda Head is entitled to claim US$2.5mln in cash from Lithium Royalty Co, otherwise known as LRC, the first of a set of staged payments that will allow Bradda Head to press on with the next stages of its development.
“That’s been a bonus for us,” says Stalker.
“It takes the pressure off.”
And, he says, the company can now get to work on a step-out program that aims to add a further 1.5mln tonnes, and which will in turn trigger a further payment, this time of US$3mln.
It’s a tough market out there, but Bradda Head doesn’t look like it’s going to be diluting shareholders at silly prices any time soon.
On the contrary, it’ll be cashed up and adding value even as others flounder, and not only at Basin.
Because there’s also the San Domingo pegmatite district, also in Arizona.
Here, the company recently returned 1.6% lithium over 35 metres in drilling which, according to the best available data, was the sixth best lithium interception anywhere in the world this year.
Bradda Head now has 33 square kilometres of ground at San Domingo, following recent acquisitions, in a move that Stalker characterises as “protection from nearology”. If there are good assets in the ground, he wants them inside the Bradda Head portfolio and nowhere else, and it’d be a bold man who’d second guess him on that.
What’s more, the plan is to move fast on San Domingo.
“Drills have been turning,” says Stalker.
“We should have results within a month. We can see the spodumene.”
He talks of potential production in 2025, and notes the apparent eagerness with which the Americans are permitting lithium projects at the moment – not only has Thacker Pass been given the green light, but it’s also benefitting from hundreds of millions of dollars of US government funding.
Will similar funding be available for Bradda’s projects?
That can only be a matter of speculation at this stage, but what is worth noting is that the capital expenditure required to get San Domingo into production looks likely to be very modest, perhaps a long way below US$50mln.
Bradda Head has influential investors, both in terms of super high net worth individuals and institutions, so finding such funding is unlikely to present any real hurdle. The question will be how good the project actually looks when it comes to the economic studies.
But at this stage Stalker is confident.
“I think the margins will be robust,” he says.
Even with a depressed lithium price of around U$2,600 per tonne, a realistic operating cost might be US$600 per tonne. That’s plenty of room for manoeuvre, and ought to give anyone who thinks the lithium price might be due for a turn pause for thought.
“Our market capitalisation is currently peanuts,” says Stalker.
He’s not wrong. But it won’t be down at these levels forever.