MANILA, Philippines — Philex Mining Corp. continues its search for strategic partners in the development of the Silangan copper and gold project in Surigao del Norte, stressing that it is in close discussions with potential investors.

“We are closely working with our financial advisors in the search for a strategic partner and this includes several major Chinese mining companies,” Philex said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange yesterday.

Philex president and CEO Eulalio Austin said earlier that a financial advisor Morgan Stanley is helping the company in its equity search.

The mining firm said the project would be financed by a combination of equity investment from strategic partners, and debts.

It earlier targeted to raise at least $350 million by the first half of 2020 to be on track with the project. The $350 million would be raised as equity and the balance of $400 million through loans.

This, however, did not materialize as the search for partners has become more challenging.

“The pandemic has slowed down global M&A (merger and acquisition) transactions and the investors for Silangan project is no exception,” Philex said.

In December, Philex’s mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) was renewed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The MPSA covers another 25 years of its wholly owned subsidiary, Silangan Mindanao Mining Co. Inc., the operator of the $750-million Silangan copper and gold project.

Austin said the company is working closely with its financial advisor to bring Silangan into operation at the soonest possible time and at the same time optimizing its Padcal mine.

The company added that the recent positive trend in prices, and long term outlook for gold and copper have significantly increased the interest of global investors in its Silangan project.

Philex recently reported a 645 percent jump in its core net income in 2020 to P1.16 billion from P156 million in 2019, driven by the uptrend in gold and copper prices.

Realized gold prices were at their highest level in the third quarter, reaching $1,915 per ounce, while copper reached $3.43 per pound in December 2020.

Operating revenues jumped 15 percent to P7.8 billion from P6.79 billion.

Tonnage milled from the first to third quarters of 2020 averaged at 1.985 million tons per quarter. This, however, declined to 1.881 million tons in the fourth quarter due to a three-day temporary suspension of underground operations due to the necessary COVID-19 mass testing of miners.

Despite the virus-related temporary shutdown, gold production grew to 56,000 ounces, from 53,064 ounces in 2019.

Similarly, the company produced 26.38 million pounds of copper, higher than the 25.74 million pounds produced the year before.

Philex produced a total of 56,000 ounces of gold and 26.379 million pounds of copper, higher than full year 2019 production of 53,064 ounces of gold and 25.737 million pounds of copper.