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Blanket bullish after forecast busting show

PROFIT at Caledonia Mining Corporation rose by 50% to US$46,6 million during the year ended December 31, 2020, the firm said on Tuesday, attributing the growth to robust gold prices.

Caledonia operates Gwanda-based gold producer Blanket Mine, which has been on an aggressive expansion programme over the past five years.

Gold prices ended 2020 at an average of US$1 773 per ounce after kicking off at about US$1 393 per ounce.

Gold prices have defied the COVID-19 pandemic. And as infections rise, vaccines loom on the horizon and economies gradually recover, the bulls have predicted another resurgence that could see gold ending at US$2 300 per ounce this year.

The firm earned gross revenues of US$100 million while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation clocked US$43,3 million.

Commenting on the results, Caledonia chief executive officer Steve Curtis said operationally, the last 12 months were transformational.

“Production in the year was 57 899 ounces, which was at the top end of the guidance range and was a new record for annual production,” he said.

“The robust operating performance was supported by a rising gold price and gross profit for the year was US$46,6 million, almost 50% higher than 2019,” added Curtis.

He projected another good year in 2021 as Caledonia is due to commission a key shaft (Central Shaft) that will ramp up output to 80 000 ounces per year.

The Central Shaft holds the future for Blanket Mine.

It is set to be commissioned at the end of this quarter.

“Once Central Shaft is commissioned, we can start to expect further increases in production: guidance for 2021 is a range of 61 000 to 67 000 ounces while from 2022 onwards it is 80 000 ounces — 38% higher than in 2020,” Curtis said.

“We also increased the dividend for the fourth time at the start of January to 11 cents a share.  This is a 60% cumulative increase from the level of 6,875 cents since October 2019, creating genuine value and return for our shareholders,” he said.

Curtis said Caledonia entered into a contract to construct a 12 megawatt solar plant at Blanket Mine.

To fund the project, the company issued approximately 600 000 shares to raise US$13 million before expenses.

Around 27% of the mine’s daily electricity needs are expected to be catered for by the solar plant, thereby significantly reducing reliance on non-renewable energy sources.

It is expected to yield a modest return for shareholders.

In December, Caledonia announced that it had entered into option agreements on two properties, Glen Hume and Connemara North, in the Gweru mining district in the Midlands province which has historically produced significant quantities of gold.

These options give the company the right to explore each property for periods of 15 and 18 months and acquire the mining claims over it.

If exploration is successful, these properties will propel growth.

“Despite our operational success, 2020 has been a complicated year globally with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc throughout the world and disrupting many people’s lives and livelihoods,” he said.

Curtis said Blanket Mine operated throughout the whole period under strict restrictions on movement.

Measures to combat the coronavirus were constantly reviewed and monitored in line with World Health Organisation and government guidelines, he said.

He added that Caledonia’s immediate focus was to complete construction of the Central Shaft, which is expected to reduce operating costs and increase the flexibility to undertake further exploration and development, thereby safeguarding and enhancing Blanket’s long-term future.

“We will also conduct exploration activities at Glen Hume and Connemara North while evaluating further investment opportunities in the gold and precious metals sector in Zimbabwe and in other jurisdictions, with our long-term vision of becoming a mid-tier, multi-asset gold producer,” he said. NewsDay


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