Cygnus Metals eyes lithium and rare earths in Canada and Australia

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By Tim Treadgold - 
Cygnus Metals ASX CY5 Pontax lithium Canada Bencubbin rare earth Australia

It’s a long way from the dusty wheatbelt of WA to the forests of Canada but there is a small explorer with a plan to connect the two locations through a focus on energy transition, lithium in Canada and rare earths in WA.

Cygnus Metals (ASX: CY5), which had an indifferent early life as a WA gold explorer when it was called Cygnus Gold, woke with a jolt last year when it acquired a 70% stake in the Pontax lithium project in Quebec.

That deal was the start of a major makeover which has included the recruitment of a skilled management team led by David Southam, former chief executive of the WA nickel miner, Mincor, followed by the appointment in March of Kevin Tomlinson, a well-connected Canadian businessman, as chairman.

Injections of capital ensured that Cygnus could fund its work in Canada and Australia which this week moved up a notch with a decision to bring forward project development studies ahead of the release of a maiden resource at Pontax, which is located in the highly prospective James Bay area of Quebec.

Lithium, however, is not the only target of Cygnus with the company’s original gold exploration project flipping into a promising rare earths project after the discovery of clay-hosted rare earths near Bencubbin, in the heart of the WA wheatbelt.

Two global projects

Managing two projects focused on different commodities on either side of the world will be a challenge for a company with a modest stock market capitalisation of $60 million and with a cash balance of just $8 million at the end of March.

But with both lithium and rare earth exploration showing promise there will always be ways to monetise assets, perhaps by as spinning one into a separate business.

A split like that could be a future move for Cygnus, which has been an unrecognised star among smaller stocks over the past two weeks, rising by 40% from 20c to last sales at 28c, and a high on Tuesday of 30c.

There are multiple drivers behind Cygnus, including its status as one of many small Australian explorers active in Canada, the promise of rare earths in WA, and perhaps most important of all but rarely seen in such a small stock, an A-grade management team which understands the importance of money as well as minerals.

Pontax project shows early promise

Pontax, the project most likely to be the company’s first mine, was acquired by Cygnus from Canadian listed Stria Lithium in late July last year with early-stage drilling revealing a number of attractive intersections, including 4.8 metres at an ore-grade of 2.6% lithium from a shallow 19.4m.

That news was followed by the appointment of Southam in October accompanied by a $6.3 million capital raising. Another $8 million was raised just before Christmas to fund a busy drilling schedule which was followed by a boardroom shuffle which saw Tomlinson, who is also chairman of emerging Australian goldminer, Bellevue, take the chair.

There is, to an observant investor, a pattern forming which is often seen in successful exploration companies on the road to becoming a miner, it’s called getting the ducks lined up in a structured manner to ensure a successful outcome.

Broker interest

Over the past three weeks Cygnus has made a number of significant announcements and started to attract the attention of the broking community.

On May 22 it upgraded the exploration potential of its Canadian tenements with a report that 67 lithium bearing pegmatites with grades up to 1.2% lithium had been identified at Auclair, the company’s second project in the James Bay area, adjacent to Pontax.

That was followed on this week with an announcement of the initiation of project development studies of Pontax, starting with an environmental base line report, with the maiden resource statement expected in the next two months.

Splitting those reports was a reminder that the Bencubbin rare earth search has not been forgotten with a June 7 announcement that initial assays had included 19m at 0.15% total rare earth oxides from a depth of 8m, including 4m at 0.24% from 16m.

High readings of the most valuable rare earths, neodymium and praseodymium, were recorded in the drill core which is focused on a 49m thick band of clay over a rare earth enriched granite which Cygnus said indicated the potential for significant scale potential.

Big companies exploring in Bencubbin

Interestingly, Cygnus said two much bigger companies are exploring for rare earths in the Bencubbin area, Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) and IGO (ASX: IGO), though neither company appears to have filed details of their work.

A clue to the grand plan being hatched inside Cygnus was a paragraph in the June 7 statement which said that lithium and rare earths were “highly complementary” because of their role in energy transition which might indicate that the company plans to persevere with its Canadian lithium and Australian rare earths project development plans.

Euroz Hartleys, a Perth stockbroker, has latched onto the Cygnus story with a report which said the stock was a speculative buy with a price target of 45c thanks to a busy drilling program starting next month at Pontax and Auclair.

Shaw and Partners, in a June 7 note, said 46c was the target price though like Euroz largely ignored the Bencubbin rare earth project while focusing on the Canadian lithium.

Despite its small size, Cygnus has emerged over the past 12-months as a company punching well above its weight with high-class exploration assets and a management team which knows how to make things happen.