January 6, 2015 / 11:39 PM / in 3 years

Seabridge CEO eyes 2015 deal with gold, copper mine partner

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Despite weak metal markets, Seabridge Gold Inc’s (SEA.TO) chief executive is optimistic the company will find a partner this year to help fund and build its $5 billion KSM mine project, one of the world’s biggest undeveloped gold and copper deposits.

Part of Rudi Fronk’s confidence comes after the Canadian government gave its blessing to the project shortly before Christmas, only the second new mine approval in British Columbia in five years by both federal and provincial authorities.

“I believe that 2015 can be the year. I can’t tell you how important the federal approval was in terms of how the big companies look at this opportunity,” Fronk, who is also Seabridge’s chairman, said in an interview.

He said Seabridge has signed confidentiality agreements with seven groups interested in its Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) project in northern British Columbia, five of which are major base-metals companies.

With proven and probable reserves of 38.2 million ounces of gold and 9.9 billion pounds of copper, KSM was originally envisaged as a gold deposit with a lot of copper on the side. But recent discoveries of higher-grade deposits, especially copper, has piqued the interest of big base-metal miners.

For Cowen and Co analyst Adam Graf that should make it easier for Seabridge to find a partner, possibly one of the big multinational mining companies.

“To the BHP‘s, Rio Tinto’s and Vale’s of the world building a $5 billion project is much more credible at this point than for the Newmont‘s, the Barrick’s and the Goldcorp‘s,” Graf said.

Gold miners, which have been hard hit in the past three years by a 35 percent plunge in the price of gold, have pulled back from buying or building big mines after a series of high-profile cost overruns.

Fronk said there was a lot of interest from Asia in the project and although Asian smelting groups could come in as minority partners, his preference would be for a large, multinational operator.

Seabridge, which has a market value of C$498 million, would like to keep between 30 percent and 49 percent of the project, he said.

Seabridge’s stock rose 15 percent last year, outpacing the S&P/TSX Gold Index .SPTTGD, which fell 7 percent, and the S&P/TSX Mining Index .GSPTTMN, which dropped 18 percent.

The stock closed on Tuesday at C$10.51, up 9 percent. It is still well off its high of nearly C$38 hit in mid-2010.

Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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