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Analysis

Positive Results Incite Mining Giant to Invest

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 07:50

Minera Frisco was formally constituted in 1962, but some of its mining sites date back to the 17th century. In 1985, Minera Frisco was acquired by Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, integrating it into his Grupo Carso holding company. Minera Frisco is now dedicated to the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources for the production and sale of gold and silver doré bars, but also produces copper cathodes and lead, zinc, and copper concentrates. Its exploration activities are supported by the might of Mexico’s richest man, with the company benefiting from technological advances researched by Grupo Carso’s R&D center. The company has nine mines in Mexico, including San Francisco del Oro, Ocampo and Concheño in Chihuahua, El Porvenir and Asientos in Aguascalientes, El Coronel and Tayahua in Zacatecas, San Felipe in Baja California, and María in Sonora.

The first exploration efforts in the underground mine of San Francisco del Oro were made between 1555 and 1563. Minera Frisco formally acquired this silver, lead, zinc, and copper producing mine in 1961. María, on the other hand, began operations in Cananea in 1980, first focusing on copper before beginning to produce copper cathode in 1999. Further west, San Felipe began underground operations in 1994 under a different name, shutting down production in 2001. Activities were restarted in 2010, producing gold and silver doré bars. In the southeastern portion of Zacatecas, the open-pit unit of El Coronel also produces silver and gold doré bars. This site began exploration and surface geological studies in 1999, but the construction of its plant did not happen until 2008 with operations starting a year later. Still in Zacatecas, Tayahua is an underground mine located in the northern portion of the state, producing silver, lead, zinc, and copper concentrates. Although it began operations in 1972, Minera Frisco acquired 51% of the mine’s shares in 1998, later increasing its participation to 90% in 2011. This mine is being given a lot of attention since 2013 when SEMARNAT authorized open-pit production at Tayahua, which was previously entirely underground. This new phase of production takes place across 300 hectares and includes an open-pit with a diameter over 40 hectares and a depth of 230m. In Aguascalientes, Real de Ángeles Asientos has been exploited since 1548. In 1991 Luismin and Frisco signed an exploration agreement but operations intensified in 2007, leading to the construction of a processing plant, which entered into full production in 2008.

With Slim behind it, Minera Frisco may be in a better position to survive the tough times than any other Mexican mining firm. For example, in order to reduce costs while improving operational efficiency, adjustments were made at the San Francisco del Oro plant, allowing Minera Frisco to improve the recoveries of different metals. Maintenance operations on San Francisco del Oro’s winch decreased the mine’s tonnage, but this did not affect production. Improvements were made in the crushing circuit of the San Felipe unit, allowing an increase of its crushing capacity, and better ore grades of silver were processed, resulting in a 109% year-on-year production increase in the third quarter of 2014. The crushing unit at El Porvenir was also improved, minimizing the negative effects of heavy rain. In consequence, production at this mine increased 17% from the third quarter of 2013 to the third quarter of 2014. This output compensated the low production rates seen at Ocampo and Asientos.

Concheño, San Felipe, and El Coronel were working at full capacity during the third quarter of 2014, increasing their milling and heap leaching by 23%, increasing the company’s total gold production by 103%, and its silver production by 31% when compared to the third quarter of 2013. San Francisco del Oro and Tayahua helped increase the production of copper concentrates by 18% from the third quarter of 2013 to the same period in 2014. However, some changes are nigh in 2015 as the mine life of María was forecasted to end in the last quarter of 2014. On a global scale, gold, silver, and copper represent 90% of Minera Frisco’s sales, which were estimated at MX$2.897 billion (US$197.6 million) in the second quarter of 2014, 22% more than the same period in the previous year. Due to the positive results obtained in 2014, Minera Frisco is preparing for an expansion program of its mines, for which it plans to invest US$180 million in 2015, mainly in machinery and equipment.