Vitaly Nesis admits that it’s notoriously difficult to predict the price of gold. But as chief executive of gold and silver mining firm Polymetal International, it’s not surprising that he’s bullish about gold’s prospects - albeit he’s reluctant to make any bold assertions. Silver, however, is a different matter.
“On the silver side, I am a bull. I believe the silver price is about to go up pretty significantly,” he tells Panmure Gordon’s chief economist Simon French and our top-rated mining analyst, Kieron Hodgson.
“We are faced with rising demand, shrinking supply. That means the prices have only one way to go. We are consciously trying to expand the share of silver within our portfolio.”
Nesis has been chief executive of Polymetal for the past 14 years, and group CEO since December 2014. In the past, this Yale graduate has worked for McKinsey in Moscow and as an analyst at Merrill Lynch in New York.
Today the firm he heads up is valued at £4.4 billion and has operations in Russia, Kazakhstan and Armenia. It sits on the verge of entry to the FTSE 100 and has recorded a 34% per cent rise in share price over the past 12 months.
French wonders how Nesis and his team have managed to outperform the commodities sector over the last few years.
“The key factor is execution on our projects,” explains Nesis. “We achieve exactly what we promise the market. And I think investors have come to appreciate the consistency and the predictability of our performance. And the second factor is that unlike the majority of our peers we have managed to grow the business quite substantially, and we paid almost $1 billion of dividends over the course of five years. So we provided both the equity upside and the current income to investors who have invested in our stock.”
So what does Nesis think Polymetal’s growth prospects are going forward?
“If you look at the company short-term, I am clearly excited by the new operation at Svetloye. 2017 will be the first full year of operation at this mine and most likely it will be our lowest cash cost operation this year and it will drive more than half of our growth this year.
“Longer term, I’m very excited clearly about Kyzyl, our largest new project. We should end the production in the third quarter of the next year. Kyzyl definitely stands out in terms of its size and quality within our portfolio. It will be the lowest cash cost operation once it reaches full design capacity. It will also be a very long-lived mine and the largest mine in our portfolio. So have your eyes peeled for the start of production, most likely in September of the next year.”
With mine safety a key consideration for mining companies, Hodgson asks Nesis how the firm tackles the issue.
“Clearly this is a very important priority for the management team, and unfortunately our safety record for the last three or four years has been far from satisfactory. We have had six fatalities in 2015 and four fatalities in 2016. We hope to improve on this record in this year, and the key to ensuring the safety of our employees is not just to institute rigorous procedures for employee behaviour but also to analyse the root causes of those unsafe behaviours.”
He adds: “So we are rolling out a critical risk management programme in Polymetal this year, and we hope that the rollout of this system will ensure that we understand the sources of unsafe behaviour and this will pave the way for the eradication of the behaviours themselves.”
As the interview draws to a close, Panmure’s experts quiz Nesis on what he looks for when hiring management.
“Most of all I value the willingness and the ability to shoulder responsibility. I’d rather take a manager who doesn’t call you up and makes a decision and fails from time to time than a manager who calls you all the time asking questions and requesting permissions. I value independence and I also have a deep respect for people who go to work to uphold certain values and to make certain changes in the company and in their life for the better.”