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* Oceanic's project is located near Quebec's north coast
* Development plan unaffected by mothballed rail project
* Feasibility study for Hopes Advance project in progress
* Port would ship iron ore concentrate year-round
* Talks with potential partners are underway, Oceanic says
By Allison Martell
TORONTO, March 5 (Reuters) - For the dozens of junior miners with properties along the iron belt of Eastern Canada, rail is the key to unlocking the potential of their remote assets. Oceanic Iron Ore Corp is one of the few exceptions.
Oceanic's Hopes Advance project is near Quebec's northern coast, more than 1,500 kilometers (938 miles) north of Montreal, and the TSX Venture-listed company plans to build a port, not a rail line, to transport its iron ore to market.
That self-sufficiency is a big advantage, the company says. Several juniors operating in the so-called Labrador Trough - a geological formation sprawling across northeastern Quebec's border with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador - were counting on Canadian National Railway Co building a line to transport their ore to a St. Lawrence River port hundreds of kilometers to the south. CNR mothballed the plan in February.
"All the infrastructure that we need will be owned and controlled by us, and the timeline to execution and construction is owned and controlled by us," Oceanic Chief Executive Steven Dean, a former president of Teck Resources Ltd, said on the sidelines of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in Toronto.
Yet Oceanic can't escape the challenge of lining up financing, the main goal of hundreds of junior miners attending the huge conference. In 2013, with iron ore prices depressed and financing tight, that challenge is tougher than ever.
Oceanic's stock is down more than 50 percent over the last 12 months, and with a market capitalization of about C$33 million ($32 million), equity financing isn't an option, said President Alan Gorman.
As of Dec. 31, the company had C$3.4 million in cash, and C$4.2 million in receivables, mostly exploration tax credits. It is working on a feasibility study, and Gorman said it has about six months before shortage of funds could slow its progress.
"The most desirable situation would be to have a strategic partner fully engaged in the near term," he said. "The reality is, that will probably take a little longer than the next few months, but we do have some discussions in progress."
Gorman said Oceanic has signed about half a dozen confidentiality agreements with potential investors, mostly Asian steel manufacturers and miners.
Volatile iron ore prices have battered stocks associated with the Labrador Trough.
The price of iron, used to make steel, is driven by growth in China, the world's biggest producer and consumer of steel. Iron ore prices plunged in the fall on weak Chinese demand, and more recently, China's push to cool its property sector is clouding the outlook.
Several Asian steelmakers have invested in the Labrador Trough, but others are selling out. Rio Tinto , for instance, has hired bankers to sell its stake in Iron Ore Co of Canada, the country's largest producer, sources said last week.
Oceanic's pre-feasibility study, completed in the fall, calls for a 26-km pipeline to carry concentrate to port. It would ship year-round to Europe and Asia, through sea ice in the winter. Initial capital expenditure would amount to $2.85 billion.
The company says its cash costs, including transport to the coast, would total C$30 per tonne. Its head grade is 32.2 percent, but it would ship 66.5 percent iron ore concentrate.
Analysts that cover the company are generally positive. Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S shows one "strong buy," two "buy" and one "hold" rating on the stock, with a mean price target of 66 Canadian cents, more than three times Monday's closing price.