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Like the butterflies that flutter through performers' guts before they go out on stage, one small-cap copper miner is brimming with anticipation for the performance of a lifetime.
The audience clamors from beyond a closed curtain, chanting: "We want Prosperity!" But Taseko Mines (AMEX: TGB ) aims to quiet the crowd with a 38% increase in copper production from the company's flagship (now 75%-owned) Gibraltar mine. Net earnings nearly quadrupled to CAD$45.4 million for the second quarter, on the strength of an $8.9 million non-cash gain on derivatives and a CAD$15.7 million net tax recovery.
Because of a steep surge in both production costs and total cash costs at Gibraltar, operating profit grew only 4.2% to CAD$17.4 million, despite the higher production volume and a 50% increase in realized copper prices. Production costs rose 71% to USD$1.64 per pound for the quarter.
The jump reflected an array of factors, including a higher stripping ratio (working through more waste rock to access ore), a stronger Canadian dollar, and rising fuel costs. As a reference point, larger miner Southern Copper (NYSE: SCCO ) continues to dazzle copper investors with a second-quarter production cost of only $0.064 per pound after by-product credits.
Thanks to some very attractive copper hedges that I reported to you earlier in the year, Taseko will remain comfortably profitable, even with this near-term surge in costs. Meanwhile, a broader perspective reveals that Taseko is placing the finishing touches upon some meaningful upgrades at Gibraltar. A new in-pit crusher and conveyor system, a new Bucyrus (Nasdaq: BUCY ) shovel soon to enter operation, four 320-ton haul trucks, and a SAG mill direct feed system (targeted for completion in the fourth quarter) are just some of the latest developments in a multiyear campaign to enhance operations at Gibraltar. Collectively, I expect these improvements to reverse the recent surge in costs and promote a healthy cash flow stream for advancing Prosperity through construction.
Speaking of Prosperity -- the star of this show, leaving investors giddy with anticipation -- Taseko still expects that all-important mine permit to be approved in either September or October. The company has already awarded some preliminary contracts with the expectation of a positive finding. Prospective mine developers throughout the Canadian provinces -- from NovaGold Resources (AMEX: NG ) with its long-awaited Galore Creek project, to Agnico-Eagle Mines (NYSE: AEM ) with its desired advance into more frigid climes -- will likewise wait with bated breath for this impending word from the Canadian Federal Cabinet.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure: Taseko has never stood on a bigger world stage.
More than 1,680 Motley Fool CAPS members have lined up behind Taseko with high expectations for Prosperity. As a longtime shareholder, I stand right there with them. Join the free community today to share your views.