Labrador Iron Mines: Canada’s newest iron ore producer

VANCOUVER — Toronto-based Labrador Iron Mines is first out of the gate as the race is on to cash in on Canada’s reinvigorated iron ore hotspot in the Labrador Trough district. Labrador Iron is one of a handful of Canadian developers...

VANCOUVER — Toronto-based Labrador Iron Mines is first out of the gate as the race is on to cash in on Canada’s reinvigorated iron ore hotspot in the Labrador Trough district. Labrador Iron is one of a handful of Canadian developers looking to take iron ore deposits to market in the region, and benefit from a US$220-million deep water port upgrade the federal government has committed to build at the Port of Sept-Iles, QC.

Labrador Iron’s James iron ore mine kick-started its maiden season of full production in early April, as the company reported a successful shipment of 170,000 wet tonnes of direct shipping ore (DSO) grading 64% [Fe] from Port of Sept-Iles in mid-May. James holds indicated resources totalling 8.1 million tonnes grading 57.7% Fe. The company reported a further stockpile of roughly 230,000 wet tonnes of DSO grading 63% Fe that remains at the port following the first shipment.

Labrador Iron entered into an agreement with the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOCC) late last year that would allow it to ship and sell all of its 2012 production on the Chinese spot markets through IOCC infrastructure and sales contacts. IOCC is 58.7% owned by mining-giant Rio Tinto, with Japanese mega-company Mitsubishi Corporation holding 26.2%, and the Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Income Corporation claiming the remainder.

Preliminary production at James focuses on waste removal from the mine’s historic pit in order to establish the required ore release needed for ramp-up. James is currently operating at a 17,000 t/d throughput rate, with eventual full scale production projections at 28,000 t/d.

“On the operations front, mining at James is progressing well and is now complemented with the start-up of the Silver Yards plant,” commented president and chief operating officer Rod Cooper. “As railway operations are critical to our success, we are very encouraged by the improvements evident in railway efficiency.”

Labrador Iron is aiming to have four train sets — totalling 120 cars each — in service by the end of May, nearly one month ahead of schedule. The Silver Yards processing plant started up production on May 17 with an initial throughput target of 8,000 t/d. The company’s phase three expansion plans would see that number rise to 12,000 t/d as new washing and screening plants, as well as upgraded magnetic separation facilities are brought online to streamline operations.

James is slated to produce roughly 3 million tonnes of iron ore during 2012, with two shipments anticipated per month during the operational year. According to chairmen and chief executive officer John Kearney the company is on pace to meet its guidance estimates,

“This has been an extremely positive start to 2012,” he commented. “We have executed on key milestones that will ensure a successful operating season. With the first shipment, we’re off to a great start to meet our production target.”

Labrador Iron holds 20 iron ore deposits that belonged to the IOCC through the early 1980s, and surround Schefferville, QC, on the 1,000-km Labrador Trough. The company's regional measured and indicated resource totals 39.6 million tonnes grading 56.95% Fe, not including a historic resource totalling 125 million tonnes grading 56.8% Fe.

Though the operation at James marks a major achievement for the company, Labrador Iron’s real gem will be the development of its flagship Houston iron ore project 16 km southeast of Schefferville. Houston’s three ore bodies hold indicated resources totalling 22 million tonnes grading 57% Fe. Houston’s deposits carry a mine life that exceeds 15 years, and have the potential to increase yearly production to 5 million tonnes by 2015.

Labrador Iron received environmental approval and project release for Houston’s first and second phases in late March, and pending the approval of its remaining permits, the company is targeting a construction start-up this summer — including a haulage road and railway siding — with pre-stripping of ore scheduled to begin in the next six months.

Labrador Iron is being viewed as a trailblazer of sorts, as a number of other Canadian outfits aim to develop similar iron ore projects around the Quebec-Labrador border.

New Millennium Iron, along with Indian joint-venture partner Tata Steel, is aiming for first production at its Menihek DSO project by year end, while Alderon Iron Ore recently signed a joint venture agreement with major Chinese steel player Hebei Iron & Steel in a bid to develop its regional Kami iron ore discovery.

Labrador Iron is jumping into the market without a major international joint venture partner, though British base metal outfit Anglesey Mining owns a 26% stake in the company, and chairman and CEO John Kearney also holds chairman duties at Anglesey.

Labrador Iron has strong institutional backing, with 40% share ownership held by major financial groups, and completed a US$70-million equity financing in late March that included 11.5 million common shares at $5.30 per unit. The company is debt free and has a fully diluted cash position of 69.9 million shares, with a press time market capitalisation of $187 million.

Share prices have taken a tumble to start the year, with valuations falling 31% or $1.57 per share since the beginning of January. Labrador Iron is also well off its 52-week high of $13.36 per share with a press time close of $3.49, though the company maintains a strong balance sheet.

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