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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


The Real Deal

We’ve written about Metalline Mining (MMG) as an incredible long-term investment opportunity since the beginning of last year, doing extensive research and analysis of the company, the sector, the metals markets, and many other companies to verify that Metalline truly was an exceptional value. However, even that extensive due diligence didn’t prepare us for what we saw when we visited their Sierra Mojada mine site in Mexico last week.

There were 3 main takeaways we got from this trip:

1) There’s an incredible amount of infrastructure in place at Sierra Mojada. It’s very rare that a world-class deposit will have a rail line, electric power, water, paved road, and 2 local mining towns with many low-cost workers with mining experience eager to work there.

Anglo American’s Skorpion mine, the world-class (8th biggest zinc mine in the world), low-cost (lowest cost in the industry) zinc mine in Namibia, Africa, after which this zinc project has been modeled, had none of that infrastructure. Ken Hart, who had been the Project Geologist for Skorpion, and whose hiring for the feasibility study’s geological report was announced in the recent President’s Letter, was amazed at everything this project has that Skorpion didn’t (including much cleaner metallurgy). He told us that there was nothing there when he started working at Skorpion -- it was 160 km to paved road, 260 km to power, they had to pump water across 60 km and 800 meters up, and the project had to, by contract, use mostly Namibians, many of whom were just out of the bush without much education. Like many other preproduction projects, it was basically just a few holes in the ground in the middle of nowhere. They also had to drill the project entirely from the surface, as there was no underground access. Ken also commented to us that everything at the Sierra Mojada project was incredibly well organized, and he was really enjoying himself. Even with all those drawbacks vs. Metalline, Skorpion was able to go to profitable production at $.35 zinc. Zinc is currently over 5 times that price, at $1.77/pound.

In addition to all the infrastructure at Sierra Mojada above ground, there’s also a tremendous amount of underground workings already there. There are over 45 mine shafts that had been worked by various miners over the last century, though only using old technology and only selecting very high grade ore that could be direct shipped without milling to concentrate it. You can walk 6 kilometers underground across the district, on several different levels. You can even walk over 600 meters directly through the proven resource high-grade ore body, as we did.

2) The enormity of the property and the resource was something we really couldn’t appreciate until we had walked through just a small portion of it. We were in awe that even after our long underground hike through all that amazing mineralization, we hadn’t even gone half way through it, as the proven resource stretches 1.5 kilometers (about 20-100 meters high and about 50-100 meters wide). This zinc proven resource area was only a small portion of the district, as we were only under 3 of the 45+ mines, and the district covered about 6 kilometers by 1 kilometer.

As the President’s letter stated, “Polymetallic mineralization (silver, copper, zinc, lead) north of the Sierra Mojada fault occurs over an area of 6 km east-west and 1 km north- south. This mineralization occurs on the dumps of over 45 shafts that all produced high grade direct shipping silver ore and in the host rocks surrounding the high grade underground stopes in these mines.” The silver that was direct shipped was nearly all likely over 1 kilogram/tonne, which is incredibly high grade by today’s standards. In the old days, the workers had to carry 100 kilogram sacks on their backs climbing out of the mines, so only took the very highest grades – the low-hanging fruit. There’s a huge amount of silver still there, and the drill program Metalline is implementing will begin to prove out just how much there is. Metalline’s training more and more of the locals to do the drilling, which will save a huge amount of time and expense vs. trying to hire gringo drill contractors (the local drillers get paid about $40 a day, whereas it’s hard to get a gringo drill contractor for $40 an hour, and you have to wait months for them to be available).

In addition, similar geology continues on to the Northwest for about 14 kilometers. Metalline also has far more exploration area, totaling over 60 square miles, or over 2 ½ times the size of Manhattan. It’s just staggering to think that the world class zinc ore body we saw a portion of is just the tip of the iceberg.

3) The locals were incredibly supportive of the project. The 2 mining towns, Esmerelda and Sierra Mojada (total combined population about 3000), have families with generations of mining history. Many workers commute 3 hours to an iron ore mine, and would love to be able to give up that commute to work locally at Sierra Mojada. The climate at Sierra Mojada is very comfortable, with a nice breeze and high enough elevation to keep it relatively cool, and the location is beautiful. Metalline is already the biggest private sector employer there, with about 60 employees. The lead Mexican geologist, who had worked at several other projects in Mexico, proudly called this project a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. A local contractor inquired about how to set up an American brokerage account so he could buy stock in the company. At the Sierra Mojada church, they even end service each week with a prayer for success at the mine site. This type of local support and excitement is a sharp contrast to the resistance other mining companies receive from locals and environmentalists at other projects.

These 3 features really distinguish MMG from the other zinc projects out there. Aside from the enormously discounted valuation based on their world class low-cost zinc proven resource, the incredible amount of infrastructure, the enormous growth potential, and the extraordinary local support make the company’s success a slam dunk in our minds. That combination is extremely rare to find in a junior miner at such a low valuation.

Here are some photographs from our trip:

Here’s the Sierra Mojada rail stop. It no longer is used for passenger traffic, but there’s a dolomite open pit mine next door operated by Penoles that uses the railroad, which has more than enough capacity for Metalline’s project.

Here are the site headquarters – about 7-8 buildings.

Other site buildings (for core storage, cleaning and processing samples, equipment maintenance and storage, etc.) with San Salvador mine shaft in the background.

A miner going down the San Salvador shaft, where we started the underground tour. Putting in a shaft like this would cost about $20-30 million today.

Underground drilling – this drilling was for the geotech analysis on the rock structure to determine pit wall steepness possibilities for potential open pit mining. The 3rd party geotech expert kept saying how solid the rock structure seemed.

Smithsonite mineralization underground – 40%+ zinc – was all around us.

LHD – Load haul dumper that replaced the old underground rail with more efficiency.

Iron Oxide zinc mineralization underground – 20%+ zinc – was all around us as we walked over 6 football fields through the ore body.

Encantada mine shaft – where we came up from the underground tour, with part of Penoles’ open pit dolomite mine in the background.

The Sierra Mojada town church where they pray for success at the mine site each week.

There are many more photographs of the mineralization and underground on slides 45-63 in the Metalline Mining corporate presentation. Those photos also show the mineral content of a lot of the rock samples. We were literally surrounded by this very high-grade rock for what seemed like miles, but was less than a kilometer. Slide 23 gives a good diagram of the ore bodies – we walked from the San Salvador mine to the Encantada mine area, so you can see it was just a small portion of the enormous resource.

On the weekly chart, one can see the triangle we highlighted in March is approaching its apex, meaning the stock is likely to break out from this formation within the next couple of months. The recovery from the financing related selloff has shown strong accumulation and sets the stock up well for a future breakout:

With the company now fully funded through feasibility and for an expanded drill program for the silver, there should be no more financing-related selloffs during the feasibility stage. The March financing had a relatively small number of shares, and those shares are restricted for a year.

With over $10 billion of zinc proven out (far more than producers like HudBay Minerals with many times MMG's market cap) and undergoing a feasibility study, and an enormous amount of zinc, silver, copper, etc. that isn’t yet proven out but we know is there because we've seen and touched it ourselves, MMG’s fully diluted market cap of about $175 million discounts way too much risk into the stock. With that deposit, that team (feasibility study led by Green Team International, who also did the feasibility study for Skorpion), that infrastructure, that local support, and the extremely strong economic advantages coming from their very low-cost processing all the way through to produce SHG refined zinc (not just concentrates sent to smelters, who take a huge cut of profits), we have no doubt that Sierra Mojada will be a world class producing zinc mine and that MMG will be much higher over the long term, even if zinc prices collapse. We also believe their high-grade silver that they’ll be focusing on developing next will provide a huge amount of upside that the market is not yet factoring in. The only real risks we see are short-term volatility that might cost the impatient shareholders who bail out on a dip and possible delays to get to production if the sector-wide shortages continue to affect them (they're bringing a lot of processes in house to avoid delays from 3rd parties). Patient investors who stay with Metalline Mining for the long term should be very handsomely rewarded.

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