Barton Gold: looking for icing on golden cake

There is a confluence of central bank policies, treasury liquidity impairment, inflationary pressures, and geopolitical factors that will have a further positive effect on gold prices in 2024.

In its Top 10 Themes for 2024, Sprott Asset Management says amid the Federal Reserve’s aggressive action to tame inflation throughout the past few years, the gold price reached all-time highs after breaching the US$2,000 mark multiple times throughout 2023.

It’s with this in mind that Barton Gold (ASX:BGD) Managing Director and CEO Alexander Scanlon and his team have been pooling together the right ingredients for success.

Scanlon tells this news service Barton continues to follow a tried and true recipe that includes growing its resource base, targeting efficiencies of scale in its exploration work, and in future operations. Remarkably, it is also not significantly diluting its shareholding register as it is on track to generate some $10 million in additional non-dilutive cash from its creative asset monetisation initiatives.

In fact, Barton is using this same recipe it has followed for some time to advance its Tunkillia Project, much in line with Capricorn Metals (ASX:CMM) and the Karlawinda Project it acquired in 2015. 

Capricorn grew the 650,000-ounce Karlawinda resource to 2.2 million ounces at 0.7g/t Au – not unlike what Barton has done with Tunkillia. Barton has once again very recently (on 4 March 2024) upgraded and almost tripled the resource base Tunkillia to 1.5 million ounces. That includes 3 upgrades for a total of 530,000oz Au in only 12 months’ time.

Scanlon says the company’s approach has been to demonstrate the broader footprint and scale of the mineralisation of its assets, including other projects it’s brought into its portfolio.

Cooking up a storm

The strategy is to establish a large-scale, long-term base of operations and then continually enhance the future as the company progresses operations. The first part now looks to have been achieved at Tunkillia, with drilling for calendar year 2024 shifting toward neighbouring high-grade targets like the historical ‘high-grade’ Tarcoola Goldfield, and the Tunkillia Project’s own Area 191 where Barton recently published a drill result of 3.83m @ 68g/t Au from 104.1m downhole.

“We’re following that same recipe [as Capricorn]. We’re establishing the base. And now that we’ve got that sort of base of bulk mineralisation, we’re out there looking for the icing to put on the cake as we move forward.”

As such, Scanlon has a very clear and strong message for potential and existing gold investors. 

“If you want to invest in a gold company making the most in a hard market, we are the one,” Scanlon says.

And now that we’ve got that sort of base of bulk mineralisation, we’re out there looking for the icing to put on the cake as we move forward.”

“We do stand apart in what we do and how we do it. And we are focused on creating long-term value and protecting today’s shareholders’ ownership. I think that makes us pretty unique in the market.”

It seems the proof is in the pudding. The 52-week range for Barton’s share price spreads from $0.180 to $0.295. The company is currently trading at $0.260 per share giving it a market capitalisation of $51.11 million.

Interestingly, neighbour and peer Indiana Resources (ASX:IDA), whose tenements straddle the boundaries of both Barton’s Tarcoola and Tunkillia projects, sits at $0.081 per share with a market capitalisation of $50.44 million. 

The company’s share price has rocketed from about $0.189 in September last year in what was a somewhat difficult year for gold minnows despite record-high prices for the precious metal.

Comparatively, Indiana has more than 615 million shares on issue, while Barton Gold has about 196.6 million shares on issue, hence the higher share price. When companies issue additional shares of stock, it can reduce or dilute the value of existing investors’ shares and their proportional ownership of the company.

This has not been the case for Barton. 

Scanlon says one only has to look at Barton’s share register expansion since listing on the ASX nearly 3 years ago to witness firsthand what sets it apart from other junior gold explorers.    

“If we look out across the markets, the vast majority of companies who have been doing dramatically less work than us have been raising more money more frequently and at large discounts. Sometimes their original shareholders might only own 30% to 40% of that company. 

We’re about 2 years and 9 months since our IPO and our share register expansion in that time has only been about 10%. Put in another way, the shares on issue at our IPO in June 2021 have only been diluted about 10%, so the owners of these shares still represent 90% of the company today.”

This performance may not be a coincidence, as during this time Barton’s share register has been consolidating around strong management ownership alignment, and increasing institutional support. 

Board and management are said to hold a 23% stake in the company, with institutional and corporates holding 24%, and high-net-worths and family offices holding 32%.

Recipe for success

Based in Adelaide, Barton has amassed an estimated landholding of 5,000km-square in South Australia’s Gawler Craton, comprising its Tarcoola, Tunkillia and Challenger projects, with the latter featuring the fully licensed Central Gawler Mill. 

This Central Gawler Mill which represents a strong leverage point among Barton’s many assets, and would be a gem for any aspiring gold producer. 

“We’ve acquired this very significant resource and geology platform, but we also own the only gold mill in the region among a great many of our peers. And this is a fully licensed, fully permitted mill. So, when we want to start operations with our conceptual stage one approach, we are something like 2-3 years of permitting and construction, and $200 million in costs, ahead of our next competitor,” Scanlon says.

The Central Gawler Mill is the region’s only processing mill and comprises a 650,000-tonnes-per-year processing plant with a crushing circuit, 2 ball mills, gravity and carbon-in-pulp leaching circuits, and electrowinning of gold doré. 

Having the only mill in the region cannot be understated.

In June 2023, an independent valuation report for the mill valued the asset at more than $100 million on an ‘as new’ replacement value basis, inclusive of its associated infrastructure, or more than $50 million on an ‘as is’ indemnity value basis, as reported by this news service. 

The mill also has an integrated mine village with housing for up to 130 people complete with messing, recreational facilities, and supporting infrastructure, as well as an unpaved airstrip suitable for large turboprop aircraft offering fly in, fly out access, staffing and direct linkage to Adelaide domestic airport.

With access to such infrastructure and a multi-million ounce development platform coming up behind it, Barton is doubtless the region’s head chef when it comes to gold project development.

Another crucial ingredient in Barton’s recipe for success lies in its ability to generate cash without having to tap what Scanlon calls a “heavily depressed” market. 

“We also take our assets and we monetise them. We do everything from renting our camps, to disposing of surplus equipment that we do not need for our core strategy, to producing and selling gold concentrates from our mill and stockpiles. 

We’re constantly looking for ways to extract value from what we already have, in order to unlock more value in the assets that we are growing.”

This also includes the pursuit of grant and tax rebate opportunities. When Barton attended the Swiss Mining Institute Conference in November 2023, the company highlighted its strategy of applying new technologies and leveraging its asset base to accelerate regional development, reduce exploration and discovery costs, and minimise dilution. 

Scanlon shared with attendees of the alpine retreat that Barton has received more than $3 million in grants and tax rebates from the South Australian state and Australian federal governments, and also currently holds $4.3 million worth of gold in concentrates. 

Barton previously sold around $1.5 million worth of gold in June 2022 and March 2023, as reported by Mining.com.au

Taken together, the company is on track to generate nearly $10 million in additional non-dilutive cash for its shareholders, and as a consequence can claim to have covered all of its corporate overhead costs for the past 3 years with revenues – leaving more than 100% of its externally raised capital to be invested in exploration and project development. 

In essence, Barton has been trimming the fat whilst beefing up, and its shareholders have been reaping the rewards with non-stop progress. Its growth has also been extraordinarily cheap, with 530,000 ounces of gold added to the Tunkillia Project during the past 12 months at only A$15 per new ounce in the ground.

Order up!

Barton’s gold concentrates are currently the subject of a sales tender, with the company receiving offers from myriad miners, traders and processing plant owners.

Scanlon explains: “We currently hold around 1,400 ounces of gold in concentrates, and these are pretty high-grade materials that are around 3,900-grams-per-tonne. The contained value of those materials is somewhere just north of $4 million. 

We have received quite a bit of interest in that material. And one of the reasons for that is it is very high-grade and is only about 11 metric tonnes. 

This all fits in a single 20-foot shipping container. That’s a very attractive logistical proposition for a large number of people who either buy and process concentrates themselves, or who buy them and trade them. 

The money that we generate from these efforts is very high margin, and it is funding that we do not need to raise from the capital markets and the extra shareholder dilution that entails. 

And of course, in a capital markets environment where the price of gold equities has been heavily depressed for the past few years, that avoids having to suffer even more dilution at discounted prices.”

Barton’s Brigade de Cuisine

Barton’s track record is not only improbably fruitful for a junior, it also attracts the best people. Since listing in 2021, Scanlon has focused heavily on building up a strong board and management team to deliver the goods. 

“We have built a team that is different from your traditional explorer. We have a team that reflects our ambition of large-scale stage development and operations.

Our leadership team collectively has well over 200 years of experience exploring for, permitting, financing, building, operating and optimising major mining assets, with a particularly strong pedigree both in South Australia and in gold. And that is a really important factor for us. It is in fact our people that drive our creativity and our outcomes. 

So we really build what we do around the principle that a high quality, well-functioning and creative team is the ultimate predictor of success for an early stage business.”

Scanlon is not only the founder of Barton Gold, but also a financial economist with more than 20 years’ experience in consulting, structured finance, and natural resources.

Before founding Barton, he put his expertise to use as Managing Director of PARQ Capital Management and as Director with Lusona Capital, where he focused on corporate advisory and principal investments in the natural resources sector.

The rest of the Barton brigade comprises Non-Executive Chair Kenneth Williams, a 30-year corporate veteran who served as Group Treasurer, then CFO and Group Finance Executive for Australian gold major Normandy Mining and global major Newmont (ASX:NEM). 

Another key player for Barton’s team is also Non-Executive Director Graham Arvidson, a mechanical engineer with more than 20 years’ industry experience in key leadership roles including project studies, design, construction, commissioning, and operations management. 

Arvidson is also currently the CEO of Australian Vanadium (ASX:AVL), and was previously General Manager of Operations and Maintenance for Primero Group where he specialised in project development, operational turnarounds, and optimisation of mineral processing operations with complex metallurgy. 

In September 2023, Australian Vanadium (ASX:AVL) and Technology Metals Australia (ASX:TMT) agreed to a $217 million merger in a synergistic bid to become Australia’s first operating primary vanadium producer. The tie-up was completed at the start of February this year (2024), following Australian Vanadium acquiring all shares in Technology Metals Australia. 

On a management level, General Manager Exploration Marc Twining, as well as General Manager Projects David Wilson, also hail from the Normandy / Newmont stable. Between them they have over 65 years’ experience in the Australian and New Zealand markets, with another ~30 years’ experience chipped in by Ian Garsed, a well-regarded gold and copper exploration geologist with a long track record for recognised serial discoverers.

Together, it is this brigade, bolstered with the power to generate cash flow in a fickle market, that is utilising the tested and true recipe for growth.

Topping up Tunkillia

While the company continues to cook up fresh high-grade gold intercepts at its Tarcoola asset, it is Tunkillia which is really emerging as the base of long-term operations.

Scanlon compares its strategy at the recently upgraded 1.5-million-ounce project to that seen at Capricorn Metals’ Karlawinda Project in Western Australia, which he notes is the lowest cost gold producer in Australia. 

“When we bought the project [Tunkillia], it was a 550,000-ounce resource. When we looked at the data, we saw potential in that asset similar to what Capricorn has now developed. 

They acquired Karlawinda in 2015 as a 650,000-ounce resource before growing it to 900,000 ounces, then 1.1, 1.3 and 1.5 million ounces. Today it is a 2.2-million-ounce resource at a 0.7-grams-per-tonne resource grade, which is employing bulk open pit mining and a 5 million tonne per annum mill to produce 120,000 ounces per annum at a $1,300 Australian dollar all-in sustaining cost.

So we are quite literally following the leader in this space. It’s a winning recipe and we are glad to be reading from it

That’s a fantastic role model for us to follow. We bought Tunkillia as a 550,000 ounce asset, then grew it to 965,000 ounces, then to 1.15 million and 1.38 million – and now to 1.5 million ounces. So we are quite literally following the leader in this space. It’s a winning recipe and we are glad to be reading from it.”

Scanlon is a man who does not mince his words, confident that this same recipe will lead the company forward while it is also focused on that icing. Just a few weeks ago Barton posted the highest-grade intercept to date at Tunkillia, a very sweet intercept of 3.83m at 68 grams per tonne of gold from 104.1m (down hole) within Tunkillia’s own Area 191 target. 

The Area 191 zone, along with the neighbouring historical high-grade gold field, have serious potential to both enhance the combined overall project economics, and to feed a ‘Stage 1’ production strategy combining high-grade ore with the existing Central Gawler Mill.

“The more gold zones we add, the more options we have about what shape of mineralisation we might mine from where and what grade might contribute to the development profile at various stages of that development and operation.

The interesting advantage of Area 191 is that if it can actually be grown into a resource, that would give us the potential option to bring higher grade material into the Tunkillia development schedule as a blending feed, or into the earlier stages of the project to enhance the earlier economics and payback, which of course, is where you most dramatically boost net present value. All of these would be immensely valuable”

What else is on the menu?

What’s clear is that, with the region’s only gold processing mill, a driven team, a splash of finance finesse, and the right recipe in place, Barton has solidified itself as one of the hottest stops in South Australia for those looking to enter or diversify their palette in the gold space. 

And things are only heating up for Barton, as it prepares to enter the next stage of operations across its portfolio. 

Scanlon provides a taster for investors. 

What we’re talking about now is moving into a Scoping Study for Tunkillia, which is the most baseline form of study, to model up our preliminary economic analyses for a bulk open pit operation. Then we will go about chasing up – and hopefully adding – high grade ounces to enhance those economics and continue our march toward a goal of 150,000 ounces annual production.” 

For Barton Gold, it seems the recipe is attractive and the team is deftly following it, maintaining a steady pace and in position to satisfy a hungry market when time sounds on the start of the next gold equities boom.

Write to Adam Drought at Mining.com.au

Images: Barton Gold
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Written By Adam Drought
Born and raised in the UK, Adam is a sports fanatic with an interest in Rugby League and UFC/MMA. When not training in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Adam attends Griffith University where he is completing his final year of a Communication & Journalism degree.