Canadian-headquartered gold explorer, Banro, with its big gold project area in the north eastern part of the DRC has suffered more than most from the big downward rerating of commodities stocks during the past year, but unlike many of its peers has not made a strong recovery from its low points despite having one of the largest and most exciting gold prospects in Africa. Timing and location are the main reasons for this. Only a little over a year ago Banro was looking to develop its Twangiza and Namoya projects on its own and was confident that with the strong results it was obtaining from its exploration programme it would be able to obtain the necessary finance to do this - but how things have changed. The company has been hit with lenders no longer keen to support what could be seen as risky projects - an opinion which has much to do with the seemingly unstable political situation in the DRC, coupled with rebel activity only a couple of hundred kilometres away from the proposed mine sites . Even though gold may now be the flavour of the month and we are beginning to see finance flowing into gold projects again, most of this is currently bypassing companies working in countries like the DRC where risk is perceived as high.Because of the huge dip in share price, raising equity finance is also well-nigh impossible for Banro despite the quality of the project, so that leaves it needing to look for a partner to develop a mine - or perhaps two - and take on the risk on what could be a very profitable venture if things go well.Consequently Banro has pressed ahead with full-scale feasibility studies on its major prospects and the latest of these to be released is on Twangiza where, the study reckons, a $410 million investment in new mine development could build a mine which would support an average annual production of 319,962 ounces of gold per annum for the first 3 years of operation at average total operating cash costs of US$274 per ounce; average annual production of 261,965 ounces of gold per annum for the first 5 years of operation at average total operating cash costs of US$358 per ounce; and total gold production of 2,615,807 ounces over 15 years life of mine, based on current resources, at average total operating cash costs of US$429 per ounce.The company also considers that extensions of the current zone and neighbouring gold targets at Twangiza have the potential to add significant oxide resources to the project. Total Project capital expenditure payback is put at only 2.53 years from start of production, yielding an IRR of 20.5% even assuming a slightly bigger capital investment programme totalling $476.5 million to cover a 50% funding of a proposed hydro-electric plant. Total project net cash flows after tax and after capital spending are put at US$593 million.Almost anywhere else in the world this would be a very enticing project for a major mining company to involve itself with. The deposit at Twangiza, as is that at the company's Namoya project, is world class and is located on a proven gold belt with enormous potential for other new operations in areas under Banro's license control. But - and it is a big BUT - will Banro be able to find a partner willing to take the risk of a big gold mine development in the DRC. If the feasibilty study accurately portrays the cash payback time for the project there is certainly a chance that someone may take up the risk - but at what cost? If this had been on the table only a year or so ago there's a good chance mine construction would be already under way on reasonable terms. Timing is everything.Meanwhile Banro is ploughing on with developing further reserves and uprating its feasibility study while it searches for a strategic partner to build a mine. Perseverance is also important and perhaps a major move upwards in the gold price, which many analysts feel is possible, may stimulate the necessary interest for a successful outcome, but overall it seems to be a daunting prospect for the company.
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