Yesterday the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Azarga Uranium Corporation (PWE.TO--it still carries its symbol and trades as if it's Powertech, the company that will soon be absorbed by Azarga) its approval to go ahead and start its in situ mining venture in the southern Black Hills. That brought the requisite cheers from the company and some brassy projections about its outlook. I don't normally follow penny stocks, which I think are the most laughable component of the stock market, but the brouhaha over Azarga/Powertch's plans to extract uranium here in the Hills has caught everybody's attention, and with good reason. The company plans to inject water into the ground, dissolve the uranium that's down there, pump it to the surface where the uranium will be harvested, then release the water and all its contaminants back into the ground. The company says it's safe, the NRC says its safe, and a lot of people living in the immediate area seem excited about the prospect of a little economic development. But just as its pending merger with Azarga didn't particularly excite Powertech investors when announced earlier this year, yesterday's NRC news fell on a generally apathetic trading community
Seems contra-intuitive, but I note that as of midday today, the company's stock price is up a whopping penny, from 7 cents/share to 8 cents/share. Examining the stock a little more closely, I see that its average daily volume for the last 3 months is around 400,000 shares/day. Sounds like a lot, but were talking about less than $30 thousand dollars worth of stock. In fact, the stock market thinks the entire company is worth $12 million, so meager an amount that the company acknowledged last Fall in its 3rd quarter report (see the link below) that the expenses of permitting alone might be enough to take it under. Obviously everything hinges on getting itself permitted to start operations in the Black Hills. So naturally, the company couldn't have been more breathless about announcing the NRC news. But as I examined the announcement I couldn't help noting that the required disclaimers (check it out yourself via the link) take up almost as much space as the announcement itself. My favorite sentence is the one that reads "Forward-looking statements
consist of statements that are not purely historical, including any
statements regarding beliefs, plans, expectations or intentions
regarding the future." Get that? That's regulatory-ese for "don't believe everything that you read."
As iffy as the company's self-touting may be, I was really struck by the new Chairman's comments last February 26 regarding the permitting timeline. He said that permits should be completed within 90 days thence. Lessee, 90 days from last February 26 would make May 27 the target date for the permitting process to be done. Hmm. Not sure how he came up with that, considering that the State of South Dakota will be holding hearings on this next August, per the March 9, 2014 edition of the Rapid City Journal (sorry, couldn't get the link to work). There's no way permitting could be done before then, never mind by this coming May 27. I invite company officials in the area to comment here on this mis-statement, which, intentionally or not, gave investors the wrong impression about the company's regulatory progress. Do you see now why lengthy disclaimers are required when listening to company touts blowing their horns about how things are going?
All in all, it's not much of a surprise that investors are remaining wary about the Black Hills venture. Powertech surprised them and everybody else when it abruptly wrote down, by 85%, the value of a Colorado property during last year's 3rd quarter. That property had been one of company's centerpiece assets up to then. Last year's blow to the enterprise's credibility certainly hasn't been enhanced by its new chairman's claim that permitting is going on much more rapidly than it is. I won't say the company's reputation is shot, but there's a reason people won't pay more than a few pennies a share for a company whose principals think so highly of themselves and their company's prospects.