Our strategy is based on developing and managing profitable mineral projects, primarily in the copper space, for the benefit of all of our stakeholders
Central to our strategy is maintaining low cost operations, and we have consistently remained in the lowest cash cost quartile for copper production.
We are a conservatively run company that believes in consistent and steady progress to reach our strategic goals.
Since our IPO in 2010, we have returned through dividends and share buybacks in excess of the $60 million we raised to shareholders, whilst constructing and then expanding through internally generated cash flow the Kounrad SX-EW plant on time and under budget. As a consequence, the company is currently debt free with a strong balance sheet ($40 million cash as of 31 December 2016).
Our dividend policy is to return a minimum of 20% of the gross annual revenues from Kounrad to shareholders, a figure which we have consistently exceeded.
Our highly experienced management and operations team has a proven track record in Central Asia, having over 100 years of combined experience working in the region.
Our people are central to everything we do and have been the key driver of our success so far. Our policy is to employ and nurture local talent in the countries in which we operate.
We currently have c.300 employees on site in Kazakhstan, almost all of whom have been recruited locally. At Copper Bay, we have used Chilean locals where possible to help us with our technical studies in-country.
These operational teams are underpinned by our London based headquarters, which oversees the business, driving strategy and direction. We also manage our provision of resources in terms of capital, human resources and technical resources from London.
Going forward, our strategy is to continue creating value for our shareholders by further expanding our business and diversifying on three fronts: at Kounrad, through our development pipeline with Copper Bay and Shuak and through inorganic growth.
At Kounrad, we have proved that we can successfully operate a low cost copper facility in Kazakhstan by constructing our SX-EW plant to exploit the potential of the Eastern Dumps. The stage 2 expansion at Kounrad has focused on accessing the Western Dumps. These dumps are estimated to contain 175,000 tonnes of total recoverable copper, and production from this area should ensure the life of the Kounrad operation to at least 2030.
In November 2016, we signed the framework agreement to acquire an effective 80% interest in the Shuak copper exploration property in northern Kazakhstan. We will begin exploring this site in spring 2017 and have a 2017 exploration budget of $1 million. In December 2016, the team completed the Copper Bay feasibility study, demonstrating a viable project with a positive NPV.
The third area of our strategy is to focus on additional value accretive acquisitions. As a conservatively run company with a strong balance sheet, we are actively looking for complementary opportunities. In the current market, we are well placed to take advantage of the right opportunities, but as a disciplined company these must make sense from a strategic and financial perspective.