Fresnillo deliver a robust operational performance in Q4

mining excavator

Fresnillo plc (LON:FRES) has announced its fourth quarter production report.

Octavio Alvídrez, Chief Executive Officer, said:

“The health and well-being of our people and our local communities has remained our priority in the last quarter. Once again I would like to thank them for their resilience and ability to adapt to the working practice changes we have made in light of the on-going impact of the pandemic. We will continue to support our local communities and the regional health authorities through education, the supply of PPE and other health initiatives.

It gives me real pride that despite the challenges, we have delivered a robust operational performance in the final quarter with both gold and silver production in line with expectations. We have also successfully progressed our development pipeline during the year. The Pyrites Plant and optimisation of the beneficiation plant, both at Fresnillo, were successfully completed in the last quarter, both on time and on budget – a remarkable achievement under the circumstances. The optimisation plant, which will improve our ability to process the higher lead and zinc content at the Fresnillo mine, is expected to start operations in February, while electrical permitting delays will push back start of the Pyrites Plant into the third quarter. Nevertheless, our high-quality team and resource base continue to give us grounds for confidence as we enter 2021″  

COVID-19 UPDATE

While 4Q20 production was in line with our expectations, we continue to closely monitor the spread of the virus and implement a range of safety measures across our business, following guidelines in accordance with the World Health Organisation and Mexican authorities. These measures are ongoing and we remain vigilant to any localised increase in Covid-19 cases. More details will be provided in our annual report.

TOTAL PRODUCTION

HIGHLIGHTS

Silver

•    Quarterly attributable silver production of 13.0 moz (including Silverstream), down 2.5% and 6.0% vs. 3Q20 and 4Q19 respectively, driven by a lower ore grade and volume of ore processed at Saucito, mitigated by a higher ore grade at San Julián Disseminated Ore Body (DOB).

•     Full year attributable silver production of 53.1 moz (including Silverstream), down 2.9% vs. FY19 due to the expected lower ore grade at Saucito, mitigated by a higher ore grade at San Julián DOB and development ore from Juanicipio being processed for the first time.

Gold

•     Quarterly attributable gold production of 215.6 koz, up 24.8% vs. 3Q20, due to the higher volumes of ore processed, ore grade and recovery rate at Herradura. This followed a weaker 3Q20 due to Covid-19 operational restrictions earlier in the year which resulted in lower volumes of ore deposited at our open pits during 2Q20 and subsequently affected the recovery cycle at the leaching pads in 3Q20.

•    Quarterly attributable gold production decreased 7.8% vs. 4Q19, due in part to a lower recovery rate at Herradura compared to the same quarter in 2019, which benefitted from the start-up of operations at the 13th leaching pad in 3Q19 which improved the overall speed of recovery in 4Q19. Furthermore, though to a lesser extent, a lower volume of ore was processed at Noche Buena, a result of the fewer available areas as the mine approaches its planned closure and a minor, non-hazardous local land slip in one of the pit walls which impacted the mining sequence together with a lower ore grade at Ciénega, also impacted production in the quarter.

•     Full year attributable gold production of 769.6 koz decreased 12.1% vs. FY19 driven primarily by a lower volume of ore processed at Herradura as a result of Covid-19 related working restrictions and the aforementioned issues at Noche Buena.

By-Products

•     Quarterly attributable by-product lead and zinc production increased 18.9% and 18.1% respectively vs. 3Q20, driven primarily by higher ore grades at Saucito and Fresnillo.

•     Quarterly attributable by-product lead and zinc production increased 20.1% and 25.2% vs. 4Q19 respectively and 13.5% and 15.4% vs. FY19 respectively, due to higher ore grades at Saucito.

Attributable4Q203Q20% Change4Q19% ChangeFY 20FY 19% Change
Silver (koz)        12,207        12,572-2.9        13,131-7.050,27051,764-2.9
Silverstream  (koz)             743             7094.9             64315.62,7802,850-2.5
Total Silver  (koz)        12,950        13,281-2.5        13,775-6.053,05054,614-2.9
Gold (oz)      215,581      172,71824.8      233,744-7.8769,618 875,913-12.1
Lead (t)        18,013        15,14418.9        14,99720.163,242 55,72213.5
Zinc (t)        31,092        26,32018.1        24,83225.2106,793 92,57815.4

DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

•     Continued progress was achieved on the construction of the Juanicipio processing plant during the quarter. Commissioning of the plant is now expected by 4Q21, a few months later than anticipated, as a result of delayed infrastructure contracts, as well as Covid-19 preventive measures and the brief stoppage of work earlier in the year.

•     Construction of the Pyrites plant (phase II) at the Fresnillo district was commissioned on time in 4Q20 and in line with the budget. As previously disclosed, the start of operations has been deferred due to a delay in final inspections by the authorities as a result of Covid-19 restrictions on travel. These inspections are required in order to provide the energy permits needed to operate the plant. Once the final inspection by the authority is undertaken and electrical permits have been approved, we expect the plant to ramp up to full capacity within a quarter. Given the current Covid-19 situation in Mexico, we do not foresee inspections taking place in the first half of the year, and this is reflected in our 2021 production outlook. 

•     The Fresnillo flotation plant optimisation to cope with higher content of lead and zinc was commissioned on time and on budget during 4Q20. The connection of this new circuit to the beneficiation plant has been postponed until February to avoid unnecessary interruptions to the normal operation of the plant.

2021 OUTLOOK

Our 2021 guidance issued today is given in the context of continued uncertainty presented by Covid-19 in Mexico and operational challenges.

•     Attributable silver production expected to be in the range of 53.5 to 59.5 moz (including Silverstream) due to the Covid-19 related impact on the timings of the Juanicipio development and delay to the start of operations of the Pyrites Plant at Fresnillo, together with a partial shut down of 20 days at the San Julián lead circuit explained below, and lower production at Saucito.

•     Attributable gold production expected to be in the range of 675 to 725 koz mainly due to a minor land slip at Noche Buena which limited access to the deeper areas of the pit, thus changing the mining sequencing, and a lower ore grade at Ciénega.

FULL YEAR FINANCIAL RESULTS

•     Fresnillo will announce its full year 2020 results on 2nd March 2021.

MINING OPERATIONS

FRESNILLO MINE PRODUCTION

 4Q203Q20% Change4Q19% ChangeFY 20FY 19% Change
Ore Processed (t)590,449551,5897.0618,940-4.62,336,9432,461,785-5.1
         
Production        
Silver (koz)3,2133,0854.23,1920.713,05513,0070.4
Gold  (oz)9,4859,2952.011,723-19.138,38852,259-26.5
Lead (t)5,2544,58814.55,665-7.321,31921,472-0.7
Zinc (t)9,0517,32823.59,348-3.234,11631,5308.2
         
Ore Grades        
Silver (g/t)190193-1.91814.71941855.1
Gold (g/t)0.710.77-7.10.82-13.50.730.89-17.8
Lead (%)1.080.9513.31.08-0.81.081.016.4
Zinc (%)2.191.8319.52.104.22.071.8014.9

Quarterly silver production was up 4.2% vs. 3Q20 as a result of an increase in the volume of ore processed. This followed a quarter where fewer personnel were on site following Covid-19 preventive measures affecting employee attendance, development rates and equipment availability. While these measures continue to be enforced, better personnel management has improved production.

Quarterly and full year silver production remained flat vs. both 4Q19 and FY19 due to a higher ore grade resulting from incremental improvements achieved following the implementation of our performance improvement initiatives, offset by a lower volume of ore processed for reasons explained above.

Our performance improvement plan, as set out on the Capital Markets Day in December 2019, continues to be implemented. We continue to focus on controlling dilution and enhancing blasting and drilling techniques to cope with the narrower veins.

Development rates increased to an average of 3,241m per month in 4Q20 (3Q20: 2,878m per month), marginally missing our target of 3,300m per month by year end, but a good performance given the impact of Covid-19 related personnel issues (including self isolation and quarantine). For the full year, development rates increased to 3,130m per month on average, up 3.1% vs. FY19 (3,037m per month) as a result of the ramp up of the tunnel boring machine and the new contractor hired at the end of 2019.

Quarterly by-product gold production increased 2.0% vs. 3Q20 driven by a higher volume of ore processed, offset by a lower ore grade.

Quarterly and full year by-product gold production decreased 19.1% and 26.5% vs. 4Q19 and FY19 respectively due to lower ore grades, lower volumes of ore processed and lower recovery rates.

Silver ore grade in 2021 is expected to be in the range of 190 to 210 g/t, while the gold ore grade is estimated to be between 0.55 to 0.70 g/t.

SAUCITO MINE PRODUCTION

 4Q203Q20% Change4Q19% ChangeFY 20FY 19% Change
Ore Processed (t)671,429710,618-5.5721,963-7.02,767,4322,752,6380.5
         
Production        
Silver (koz)3,4283,963-13.54,280-19.915,53217,160-9.5
Gold (oz)23,19920,10515.421,7276.884,87879,5396.7
Lead (t)9,3547,26728.75,41872.628,59220,76437.7
Zinc (t)14,03810,99327.77,65883.342,77429,36545.7
         
Ore Grades        
Silver (g/t)195207-6.1220-11.7206228-9.6
Gold (g/t)1.401.1422.31.2611.21.241.194.0
Lead (%)1.651.2136.50.9181.61.220.9035.4
Zinc (%)2.952.2431.31.6578.82.211.5740.6

Quarterly silver production decreased 13.5% and 19.9% vs. 3Q20 and 4Q19 respectively due to the expected lower ore grade in accordance with the mine plan and, as noted last quarter, due to material being processed from several Western areas with a lower silver grade. Further, a lower volume of ore processed driven by higher absenteeism related to Covid-19 preventative measures, in addition to a lower recovery rate also led to lower silver production.

As seen in previous quarters and in line with our expectations, full year silver production decreased 9.5% vs. FY19 as a result of the gradual depletion of higher ore grade areas at the Jarillas vein.

Quarterly by-product gold production increased 15.4% and 6.8% vs. 3Q20 and 4Q19 respectively due to a higher ore grade, offset by a lower volume of ore processed.

Full year gold production increased 6.7% vs. FY19 due to a higher ore grade and to a lesser extent higher recovery rate.

The silver ore grade for 2021 is expected to be in the range of 200 to 220 g/t, while the gold grade is estimated to be around 1.10 g/t.

PYRITES PLANT (PHASE I)

 4Q203Q20% Change4Q19% ChangeFY 20FY 19% Change
Iron Concentrates Processed (t)47,86043,8719.141,93514.3172,233167,5132.8
         
Production        
Silver (koz)194221-12.3248-21.89201,171-21.4
Gold (oz)820837-2.17755.83,4524,045-14.7
         
Ore Grades        
Silver (g/t)172212-18.8273-36.9220299-26.5
Gold (g/t)1.641.87-12.42.22-26.31.922.32-17.2

Quarterly silver and gold production decreased 12.3% and 2.1% vs. 3Q20 respectively due to a lower ore grade of iron concentrates produced by Saucito, mitigated by a higher volume of iron concentrates processed.

Quarterly silver production decreased 21.8% vs. 4Q19 due to a lower ore grade of iron concentrates from Saucito’s flotation plant after the pre-operative high grade stockpile was depleted following the plant’s start-up in mid-2018. This was mitigated by the higher volume of iron concentrates processed and higher recovery rate.

Quarterly gold production increased 5.8% vs. 4Q19 driven by a higher recovery rate and volume of iron concentrates processed, offset by a lower ore grade of iron concentrates.

Full year silver and gold production decreased 21.4% and 14.7% vs. FY19 respectively, due to a lower ore grade of iron concentrates produced by Saucito as expected.

In 2021, we expect production from this plant at Saucito to remain unchanged year-on-year.

As noted in the highlights, the Pyrites Plant (phase II) was commissioned on time in 4Q20 but given the current Covid-19 situation in Mexico, we do not foresee inspections taking place in the first half of the year. As a result, we do not expect commercial production at the Pyrites Plant (phase II) at Fresnillo to start until the end of 3Q21.

CIENEGA MINE PRODUCTION

 4Q203Q20% Change4Q19% ChangeFY 20FY 19% Change
Ore Processed (t)334,977325,3923.0343,534-2.51,318,2631,329,134-0.8
         
Production        
Gold  (oz)13,60518,122-24.917,969-24.364,10165,583-2.3
Silver (koz)1,2721,522-16.41,492-14.85,7625,796-0.6
Lead (t)1,3391,536-12.81,678-20.26,1125,8394.7
Zinc (t)2,0782,275-8.72,390-13.09,2638,9863.1
         
Ore Grades        
Gold (g/t)1.361.85-26.91.75-22.51.631.66-2.1
Silver (g/t)139169-17.9158-12.2159159-0.2
Lead (%)0.610.71-14.70.74-18.10.70.674.6
Zinc (%)1.061.18-10.01.17-9.31.181.134.1

Quarterly gold and silver production decreased 24.9% and 16.4% vs. 3Q20 respectively, and 24.3% and 14.8% vs. 4Q19 respectively, as a result of a lower ore grade driven by an increase in dilution due to narrower veins.

Full year gold and silver production were marginally lower, down 2.3% and 0.6% vs. FY19 respectively, in line with the year’s expectations.

The gold and silver ore grades for 2021 are expected to be in the range of 1.30-1.40 g/t and 150-160 g/t respectively.

SAN JULIÁN MINE PRODUCTION

 4Q203Q20% Change4Q19% ChangeFY 20FY 19% Change
Ore Processed  Veins (t)315,863317,134-0.4281,55212.21,254,9701,265,030-0.8
Ore Processed  DOB (t)572,962555,1613.2559,3892.42,229,6122,226,9560.1
         
Total production at San Julián        
Gold (oz)16,04817,342-7.513,92315.364,92564,6000.5
Silver (koz)3,7303,29813.13,38710.113,30613,0092.3
         
Production Veins        
Gold (oz)15,12316,426-7.913,19614.661,79062,207-0.7
Silver (koz)9659442.29521.44,0304,317-6.7
         
Production DOB        
Gold (oz)9259170.972727.33,1342,39331.0
Silver (koz)2,7652,35517.52,43513.69,2768,6926.7
Lead (t)2,0361,67621.52,235-8.97,1127,648-7.0
Zinc (t)5,8745,6274.45,4368.120,49222,697-9.7
         
Ore Grades Veins        
Gold (g/t)1.581.71-7.41.542.51.611.610.4
Silver (g/t)1031002.9114-9.1109115-5.9
         
Ore Grades DOB        
Gold (g/t)0.090.1-7.10.088.40.090.0813.0
Silver (g/t)17215411.415412.01501397.8
Lead (%)0.460.3916.60.48-4.10.410.44-6.8
Zinc (%)1.281.270.81.28-0.11.191.36-12.3

SAN JULIÁN VEINS

Quarterly silver production increased 2.2% vs. 3Q20, due to a higher ore grade.

Quarterly gold production decreased 7.9% vs. 3Q20, as a result of a lower ore grade.

Quarterly silver production increased 1.4% vs. 4Q19, due to a higher volume of ore processed following some efficiency gains in the maintenance programme, offset by a lower ore grade.

Quarterly gold production increased 14.6% vs. 4Q19 due to a higher volume of ore processed following the same efficiency gains in the maintenance programme mentioned above.

Full year gold production remained flat vs. FY19, as the volume of ore processed, grade and recovery rate were in line with 2019.

Full year silver production decreased 6.7% vs. FY19 due to a lower ore grade driven by the depletion of high ore grade areas at San Julián and Shalom.

We expect the 2021 silver and gold ore grades to average 110-120 g/t and 1.30-1.50 g/t, respectively.

SAN JULIÁN DISSEMINATED ORE BODY (DOB)

Quarterly and full year silver production increased against all comparable periods due to a higher ore grade. As previously mentioned, the mine sequencing was changed in 2019 to maintain the geotechnical stability of some high ore grade stopes. During 3Q20, we regained access to these higher quality areas, resulting in the higher ore grades, which continued into 4Q20.

The San Julián lead circuit housing suffered some minor structural damage at the end of December that only affected the conditioning tank, resulting in a short production outage. Though production was ramped back up within 20 days following immediate remedial work, the plant is now expected to operate at c. 6,000 tonnes per day (down from the previous 6,600 per day) while permanent repair work is completed. 2021 total silver production volume has been adjusted to reflect the lower volume produced in January.

The silver ore grade for 2021 is expected to be within a range of 160-170 g/t.

HERRADURA TOTAL MINE PRODUCTION

 4Q203Q20% Change4Q19% ChangeFY 20FY 19% Change
Ore Processed (t)6,875,1964,791,58543.56,172,93211.419,797,06322,926,542-13.6
Total Volume Hauled (t)28,976,19028,017,7853.4 29,856,230-2.9109,777,575127,637,495-14.0 
         
Production        
Gold (oz)134,43985,10258.0143,417-6.3425,288482,722-11.9
Silver (koz)231251-7.9518-55.41,3061,563-16.5
         
Ore Grades        
Gold (g/t)0.760.725.20.78-3.00.770.80-3.4
Silver (g/t)1.462.18-33.13.8-61.52.63.15-17.3

Quarterly gold production increased 58.0% vs. 3Q20 due to a higher volume of ore processed, ore grade and recovery rate. This followed a weaker 3Q20 as a result of Covid-19 operational restrictions earlier in the year which lowered the volumes of ore deposited during 2Q20 and subsequently affected the recovery cycle at the leaching pads in 3Q20. Further, increased irrigation on new areas of the leaching pads helped to recover additional gold ounces while the incorporation of additional personnel from Noche Buena helped to increase volumes hauled and processed.

Quarterly gold production decreased 6.3% vs. 4Q19 due to a lower recovery rate compared to the same quarter in 2019, which benefitted from the start-up of operations at the 13th leaching pad in 3Q19 which improved the overall speed of recovery in 4Q19. To a lesser extent, a slowdown in the gold recovery due to the presence of more sulphides in the areas mined also impacted 4Q20 production. This was mitigated by the higher volume of ore processed.

Full year gold production decreased 11.9% vs. FY19 due to lower volumes of ore processed during the Covid-19 operational restrictions. Additionally, the measures put in place to maintain social distancing have resulted in a decreased number of personnel on site, affecting the preparation of the mine. This limited access to deeper areas of the pit, thus impacting the mine plan. These adverse impacts were mitigated by a higher speed of recovery, driven by increased irrigation on the leaching pads.

The gold ore grade in 2021 is expected to be in the range of 0.70-0.75 g/t.

NOCHE BUENA TOTAL MINE PRODUCTION

 4Q203Q20% Change4Q19% ChangeFY 20FY 19% Change
Ore Processed (t)1,638,3051,714,258-4.42,376,495-31.16,682,61712,166,990-45.1
Total Volume Hauled (t)9,259,6389,937,248-6.810,244,063-9.634,914,28448,621,485-28.2
         
Production        
Gold (oz)17,73721,574-17.824,210-26.787,998127,166-30.8
Silver (koz)911-14.414-34.03958-32.0
         
Ore Grades        
Gold (g/t)0.500.491.90.55-9.10.520.55-5.7
Silver (g/t)0.841.25-32.80.31170.80.720.25190.0

Quarterly gold production decreased 17.8% vs. 3Q20 due to a lower overall speed of recovery as a result of the lower volume of material being deposited on the leaching pads. To mitigate this, increased irrigation of the pads is now happening.

Quarterly gold production decreased 26.7% vs. 4Q19 due to the lower volume of ore deposited as a result of expected depletion of the mine as it approaches closure and a minor land slip in one of the pit walls which impacted the mining sequence in 2020. The change in the mine plan is therefore expected to extend the mine life for an additional four to six months in 2022.

Full year gold production decreased 30.8% vs. FY19 due to the lower volume of ore deposited following the Covid-19 operational restrictions, which affected the recovery cycle at the leaching pads, in addition to the expected depletion of the mine as it approaches closure. These were mitigated by the higher speed of recovery due to increased irrigation on the pads and the installation of the carbon columns in 2019.

The expected gold ore grade in 2021 is predicted to be in the range of 0.40-0.50 g/t.

JUANICIPIO

As previously disclosed, the preparation of the first production stope was concluded in 3Q20 and on an attributable basis, a total of 349.2 koz of silver and 589.6 oz of gold were produced in 2020 at Juanicipio.

Continued progress was achieved on the construction of the Juanicipio processing plant during the quarter. Commissioning of the plant is now expected by 4Q21, a few months later than anticipated, as a result of a delayed infrastructure contracts, as well as Covid-19 preventive measures and the brief stoppage of work earlier in the year.

We expect to process an average of 16,000 tonnes per month through to 4Q21 on a consolidated basis, at which time we expect to start commissioning the Juanicipio beneficiation plant.

SILVERSTREAM

Quarterly Silverstream production increased 4.9% vs. 3Q20 due to higher ore grades, offset by a lower volume of ore processed.

Quarterly Silverstream production increased 15.6% vs. 4Q19 due to higher ore grade, offset by a lower volume of ore processed and recovery rate.

Full year Silverstream production decreased 2.5% vs. FY19 due to lower volume of ore processed and, to a lesser extent, the expected lower ore grade resulting from narrower veins and a lower recovery rate.

Expected silver production in 2021 is in the range of 2.5-3.5 moz.

SAFETY PERFORMANCE

Progress towards improving our safety record continues to advance with the number of accidents trending down year-on-year. A healthy and safe working environment builds trust with our people and we continue to be absolutely committed to instilling a strong safety culture across our mines, targeting zero harm through the reinforcement of our safety training for all employees and contractors, encouraging the implementation of the “I Care We Care” programme and the adherence to the safety policies throughout Fresnillo. 

1 Operations at Soledad-Dipolos are currently suspended.

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