Renard’s earlier start date will put a second new Canadian diamond mine into production this year.

Not for the first time, Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY has exceeded its own expectations for Quebec’s first diamond mine. Late March 30 the company announced increases to Renard’s reserve, lifespan and anticipated output, as well as an earlier start date for commercial production. The company now expects to start processing ore by the end of September, with commercial production (60% of nameplate capacity) beginning by year-end. That marks a five-month improvement over the previously announced start date.

Among other felicitous news, Stornoway announced a 25% increase in probable reserves, from 17.9 million to 22.3 million carats. Grade, however, fell from 75 to 67 carats per hundred tonnes. That “reflects the addition of new lower-grade material within the open pit and underground mining envelopes,” explained president/CEO Matt Manson. 

Those 4.4 million extra carats extend Renard’s life expectancy from 11 to 14 years.

But average price estimates dropped to $155 per carat from $190 estimated in March 2014. The company noted a 19% decrease in world average rough prices during those two years. In early February, diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky forecast a 2016 global average of $92 per carat.

Renard’s annual production forecasts for the first decade now come to 1.8 million carats, compared to 1.6 million previously predicted. Beginning in 2018 Stornoway expects to process 2.5 million tonnes per year (7,000 tpd), boosting the earlier forecast of 2.2 million tonnes per year or 6,000 tpd.

An updated mine plan calls for a modified design for the Renard 2-Renard 3 open pit and a deepening of the Renard 2 underground mine.

Initial capex drops to $775 million, down from $811 million estimated in April 2014. The life-of-mine capex increases, however, from $1.013 billion to $1.045 billion.

A dramatic change puts the after-tax NPV at $974 million, previously $391 million, using a 7% discount rate.

The project now boasts “a cash operating margin of 59% after all taxes, royalties and the Renard diamond stream, despite the substantial recent reduction in rough diamond prices,” stated Manson. “We look forward to building on our track record to date of solid project execution as we bring Renard into production later this year.”

As for Canada’s other diamond mine-in-progress, Gahcho Kué reached 87% completion as of March 14 and remains on schedule for H2 production, Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPVreported. With a probable reserve totalling 55.5 million carats, it’s the “world’s largest new diamond mine and projected to be amongst the highest margin diamond mines due to the high grade and open-pit nature of the operation,” according to the company.

Mountain Province holds a 49% stake in the Northwest Territories JV with 51% owner De Beers.

See Chris Berry’s research report on long-term diamond demand.

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