August 10, 2018 - Investors in Regency Mines PLC (LON:RGM) have had to develop plenty of patience.
Projects over the years have included a new way to process nickel, tenements in the Fraser Range area in Australia, agrominerals in Sudan, nickel in Papua New Guinea, a stake in Horse Hill and tantalum in Greenland.
Now it looks as if Regency might finally make the jump from developer to producer through a move into the US coal business.
Indeed, first production under the ownership of Regency’s joint venture Mining Equity Trust (MET) has started at its Cedar Bluff operation in the Appalachians in Virginia, says Andrew Bell, Regency’s long-serving chairman.
Some 8,500 tonnes of metallurgical coal were produced over the first few days.
Met coal was traditionally used in the steelmaking process but less and less steel is being produced in the US, so, for now, sales will be to a local power station to be burnt.
That’s not ideal, says Bell, as it is lower margin than steel, but he is hoping President Donald Trump can engineer a revival in US production through his trade initiatives.
Regency’s partner LHC (Legacy Hill Coal) is the operator of MET and has a 53% stake, with the UK business owning the rest.
To get things going, Regency has invested US$2mln, funded partly by a US$1.6mln loan at a 10% coupon and convertible into shares if the loan is extended beyond six months.
No details have been published on the eventual costs or scale of operation but Bell says two highwall mining machines have been leased and are now working.
He expects to be in a position to provide accurate numbers once the operations have been running for a few weeks.
The eventual ambition is for MET to become a roll-up vehicle and add enough coal assets to make it a listable entity in a few years time.
Bell admits himself it’s been a long haul for Regency shareholders.
He blames the company’s exposure to nickel for its disappointing performance so far, but remains hopeful that a revival in the price of the metal will also rejuvenate some of its legacy interests.
For that reason, Regency still has a 50% stake in the Mambare asset in Papua New Guinea, which has cobalt mineralisation as well as nickel.
Both are tipped to become key metals in batteries and power storage in future.
To boost the company’s knowledge in this space, Regency set up EsTeq, a business focused on industrial batteries, storage and technology.
EsTeq’s first investment was Whitecar, a start-up renting out Tesla electric vehicles at airports in the UK and Norway.
Whether this diversification ultimately proves a better bet than the MET coal venture or its nickel assets remains to be seen.
But it’s worth noting EsTeq’s £400,000 investment in WhiteCar valued the Tesla renter at about £7mln, while at the current 0.45p share price, Regency itself is valued at around £4mln.
Flyover of Regency Mines' metallurgical coal asset in Virginia