Last week, First Majestic Silver (TSX:FR,NYSE:AG) announced initial production from its Del Toro mine in Zacatecas, Mexico. This year, the company projects production of 11.1 to 11.7 million ounces. Of that amount, Del Toro is expected to contribute about 2 million ounces. The opening of Del Toro is yet another step toward the company’s goal of becoming a senior producer.
First Majestic focuses on one metal — silver — in one country: Mexico.
The Del Toro silver mine was declared officially open in a special inauguration ceremony on January 23. On the 25, the company announced initial production. First Majestic now has five producing mines in its portfolio.
Del Toro is composed of four underground areas, including the historic San Juan mine, which some believe is the oldest mine in the Chalchihuites silver mining district, perhaps dating back 500 years. Perseverancia is also a historic mine and was a source of high-grade, silver-rich sulfide ore, First Majestic’s website notes.
Underground development at Del Toro has produced a stockpile of ore in excess of 97,000 metric tons (MT), according to the production announcement. This material is currently the source of feed for the processing plant.
The company expects commercialization of the 1,000-MT-per-day (tpd) floatation circuit by April 1. That will mark the conclusion of the the first part of its three-phase production plan.
During the first half of the year, work will be also be done to prepare Del Toro for phase two, which will include the addition of a 1,000-tpd cyanidation circuit that is expected to start up by July 1. The company expects that its dual-mill circuit will then be producing 2,000 tpd.
The final phase, slated for completion by Q3 2014, will aim to increase the capacity of the cyanidation and floatation circuits to a rate of 2,000 tpd each.
“The start-up of the Del Toro Silver Mine marks a very important milestone for First Majestic. This year, the Company will celebrate its 10 year anniversary by breaking through 10 million ounces of silver production as a result of Del Toro coming on stream,” said Keith Neumeyer, president and CEO of First Majestic, in the company’s press release.
First Majestic sees its newest mine becoming its largest operation. The company’s goal is to achieve annualized production of about 16 million ounces by 2014. Once phase three is completed, it anticipates that Del Toro will produce 6 million ounces of silver per year, along with “significant amounts” of lead and zinc, the press release notes.
In December, the company signed a $50-million forward-sale contract with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. In a press release, Neumeyer said the agreement will provide a sales outlet for a portion of the base metals from Del Toro and the La Parrilla mine.
Del Toro just the beginning
First Majestic’s aggressive strategy to achieve senior status involves keeping the ball rolling beyond its new mine.
Among other plans, First Majestic is expecting to acquire Orko Silver (TSXV:OK,OTC Pink:OKOFF) in the near future. The deal is valued at C$387 million and is expected to close in February. When that happens, First Majestic will have La Preciosa, an asset that the company describes as one of the world’s largest undeveloped primary silver deposits, in its portfolio.
First Majestic believes La Preciosa blends well with its organic growth structure. Start up is anticipated to follow both the ramp up at Del Toro and the company’s current efforts to increase capacity at La Guitarra.
Other companies also taking an interest
However, the market can be inhospitable, as First Majestic knows well — investors have not rewarded the company for its seemingly positive progress. First Majestic stock dropped about 2 percent on Friday, according to NASDAQ. In fact, the stock may be oversold, as is indicated by fact that the relative strength index has hit 27.6 and its share price kept falling on Monday.
Still, many companies, large and small, that are operating in Mexico continue to hail the nation as a world-class mining destination, and are optimistically forging ahead with their silver projects.
Prospero Silver (TSXV:PSL) is another explorer that has managed to attract interest from companies with deeper pockets.
In September, the company signed a letter of intent with Silver Standard Resources (NASDAQ:SSRI,TSX:SSO) for an option to joint venture the San Luis del Cordero property, where drill programs in 2010 and 2011 reportedly revealed high-grade silver, copper and zinc.
The month before, Prospero signed a joint venture agreement with Minera Hochschild Mexico to advance the Baborigame project in Chihuahua state. Then, earlier this month, the company signed option agreements to earn 100-percent interests in two additional claims. Prospero has noted that with these agreements, the Baborigame claim district is almost 100-percent controlled; it anticipates that drilling will begin in February.
El Tigre Silver (TSXV:ELS,OTCQX:EGRTF) commenced a drilling program at its El Tigre silver-gold property in Sonora. The company plans to drill 5,000 meters of core in 30 to 40 holes this year. The first phase is projected to be 2,700 meters, and El Tigre anticipates that it will have the assay results in hand by the end of March.
An updated technical report is expected to be completed by the end of Q2. And if the company’s agenda does not appear busy enough, Ross Stuart, president and CEO, said in a recent press release that El Tigre will also be constructing a new tailings facility from which silver and gold production is anticipated.
After spending the past year drilling, strengthening community ties and negotiating with claimholders, Silver Bull Resources (TSX:SVB,AMEX:SVBL) started 2013 by expressing a commitment to remain focused on advancing its flagship Sierra Mojada project in Coahuila state.
In Q1, the company plans to release its fourth NI 43-101 resource update for the property. A maiden preliminary economic assessment is expected to be completed in Q3. At that point, the company plans to dedicate the rest of the year to feasibility study programs.
“It is also not insignificant that many countries around the world are becoming less and less viable for mining and exploration activities due to increasing political risk. Mexico however is not one of these countries and remains one of the top mining jurisdictions in the world,” stated Silver Bull’s CEO, president and director, Tim Barry.
Securities Disclosure: I, Michelle Smith, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.