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Paladin Energy turns the corner

Despite two months of unplanned shutdowns to upgrade the plant and complete remediation work due to land movement at its Kayelekera open pit uranium mine in Malawi, Paladin Energy still managed to increase production there by 14% in the fiscal...



Despite two months of unplanned shutdowns to upgrade the plant and complete remediation work due to land movement at its Kayelekera open pit uranium mine in Malawi, Paladin Energy still managed to increase production there by 14% in the fiscal year ended June 30, at the same time the junior boosted production 25% year-on-year at its Langer Heinrich open pit mine in Namibia.

Production from both mines totaled 6.89 million lb of uranium oxide in fiscal 2012 (a 21% year-on-year increase)after record production in the fourth quarter of 1.32 million lb U3O8 at Langer Heinrich (up 26% over the March quarter) and 726,299 lb U3O8 at Kayelekera (a slight increase over the previous quarter and 88% of nameplate).

In its quarterly activities report released on July 13, Paladin Energy also provided guidance for fiscal 2013 of 8.0 million to 8.5 million lb and pointed out that fiscal 2013 would mark the first time in the company’s history that no major construction is planned.

The mid-tier uranium producer also remarked that its strategic initiatives “are advancing well with selected nuclear parties with the potential to form long term, mutually beneficial relationships.” In May Paladin Energy said it was considering joint venture and strategic options offered from participants in the nuclear industry.

“The high level of interest from these parties has confirmed both the global demand for high quality uranium assets and the desire to partner with Paladin,” the company stated. “Due to the continued cancellation and postponement of new projects and brownfield expansions within the uranium sector, parties are increasingly interested in securing a partnership with a company that offers proven technical capabilities and low development risk.”

Paladin said it is currently evaluating “three mutually exclusive outcomes” and said decisions are expected in the August-October period.

In a research note, Orest Wowkodaw of Canaccord Genuity in Toronto, said he believes the company has “turned the corner” and has a price target of $2.10 per share. At press time Paladin was trading at $1.19 within a 52-week range of $1.07 to $2.85.

“Our buy rating is supported by our view of the company’s near term growth profile, attractive relative valuation, and gradually improving fundamentals,” he wrote. “While Paladin has struggled with its ramp-up at both operations over the past three years, the company appears to have finally turned the corner, having surpassed our production forecast for the third consecutive quarter. We note that the company achieved a record 96% of nameplate capacity in the fiscal fourth quarter of 2012.”

The mining analyst noted Paladin is currently trading at a 47.5% discount to his revised 8% net present value estimate of $2.38 per share, which compares to his uranium producer coverage universe of a 32.7% discount.

“After badly missing our expectations through fiscal 2009, 2010 and 2011, we note that fiscal 2012 appears to represent the turning point for the company,” he continued. “Paladin has now surpassed our production forecast for the third consecutive quarter. This compares very favorably to recent history where the company missed ten of eleven quarters.”

The Langer Heinrich mine lies in the Namib Desert, 80 km east of the major seaport of Walvis Bay and about 40 km southeast of Rio Tinto’s Rössing uranium mine. The Langer Heinrich deposit was discovered in 1973 and Paladin acquired it in 2002.

The Kayelekera mine is in northern Malawi, 52 km west by road of the provincial town of Karonga at the northern end of Lake Malawi, and 575 km by road north of the capital city, Lilongwe. Paladin acquired the project in 1998.

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