Boron: Making Modern Life Possible
When it comes to modern living, there are so many things we take for granted.
We sleep in warm and comfortable houses, while keeping our food fresh and refrigerated. We have screens in our pockets and throughout our homes that help us to connect with our friends and family – and we can drive across town in minutes to see them, if need be.
Oddly enough, many of these subtle aspects of modern living would not be possible without the existence of very specific minerals and the developments in technology that allow them to be used to their full potential.
Boron is an unlikely hero in this regard.
Today’s infographic comes from 20 Mule Team Borax, and it covers the properties, applications, market, and future trends surrounding boron. And even though you probably didn’t know much about this metalloid element before today, you’ll soon see that boron’s versatile applications make it an integral part of modern life in many ways:
In fact, boron has an incredible range of properties and uses that make it interesting to us humans:
- It’s an essential micronutrient for plants
- It improves the performance of cleaning products
- It captures neutrons, making nuclear reactors safer
- It absorbs infrared light, useful for energy efficiency
- Boron limits growth of bacteria and fungi on wood products
- It helps to balance acidity and alkalinity
- Boron makes glass resistant to heat or chemicals
- Boron prevents corrosion in many settings
- It be used to make advanced materials
- It can be used in materials and coatings to suppress flames
- Boron can be added to steel or aluminum, or used in super-magnets
- It can link alcohols and carbohydrates together in oil recovery
As a result of this vast array of applications, boron is used in everything from smartphone screens to fertilizer.
Small amounts of boron sit in the walls and ceiling of your home, your kitchen, your bathroom, and your driveway – and it’s even in a lot of food since it is an essential micronutrient for plants.
There are three megatrends that are driving future boron consumption: urbanization, energy, and agriculture.
By 2025, China will have 221 cities with over 1 million people. Boron is heavily used in cities and buildings, in applications such as glazed ceramics, LCD televisions and electronics, appliances, and textile fiberglass.
Because boron helps regulate the reproductive cycle of plants, it is needed to help maximize food production for a growing population. In India, the use of boron and other micronutrients is being supported by government projects and subsidies to ensure that farmers increase productivity.
Boron is also used in energy saving applications such as insulation, which will be key as green building practices are encouraged throughout the world. Borates are also used to create the high-powered magnets in applications like wind turbines, making them even more important for a green future.
The Impact of COVID-19 Shutdowns on the Gold Supply Chain
Chains are only as strong as their weakest link. The COVID-19 shutdowns affected every link in the gold supply chain, from producers to end-users.
How COVID-19 Shutdowns Impact the Gold Supply Chain
Chains are only as strong as their weakest link—and recent COVID-19 shutdowns have affected every link in the gold supply chain, from producers to end-users.
Increased investor demand for gold coupled with a constrained supply has led to high prices and a bullish market, which has been operating despite these pressures on the supply chain.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Sprott Physical Bullion Trust and it outlines the gold supply chain and the impacts COVID shutdowns have had on the gold market.
The Ripple Effect: Stalling a Supply Chain
Disruptions to the gold supply chain have rippled all the way from the mine to the investor:
Some gold mines halted production due to the high-risk to COVID-19 exposure, reducing the supply of gold. In many nations, operations had to shut down as a result of COVID-19 based legal restrictions.
Strict travel regulations restricted the shipment of gold and increased the costs of delivery as less air routes were available and medical supplies were prioritized.
Refineries depend on gold production for input. A reduction in incoming gold and the suspension of labor work shortened the supply of refined gold.
- Metal Traders
Towards the other end of the gold supply chain, traders have faced both constrained supply and increased cost of delivery. These increased costs have translated over to end-users.
- The End Users
Higher demand, lower supply, and increased costs have resulted in higher prices for buyers of gold.
Gold: A Safe Haven for Investors
As the virus spread around the world threatening populations and economies, investors turned to safe-haven investments such as gold to hedge against an economic lockdown.
This increase in investor demand affected the four primary financial markets for gold:
- Futures Contracts:
A futures contract is an agreement for the delivery of gold at a fixed price in the future. These contracts are standardized by futures exchanges such as COMEX. During the initial periods of the pandemic, the price of gold futures spiked to reach a high of US$70 above the spot price.
- Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs):
An ETF is an investment fund traded on stock exchanges. ETFs hold assets such as stocks, bonds, and commodities such as gold. From the beginning of 2020 to June, the amount of gold held by ETFs massively increased, from 83 million oz to 103 million oz. The SPDR Gold Trust is a great example of how the surge in ETF demand for gold has played out—the organization was forced to lease gold from the Bank of England when it couldn’t buy enough from suppliers.
- Physical Gold for Commerce and Finance:
The London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) is a market where gold is physically traded over-the-counter. The LBMA recorded 6,573 transfers of gold amounting to 29.2 million oz ($46.4 billion)—all in March 2020. This was the largest amount of monthly transfers since 1996.
- Coins and Small Bars:
One ounce American Gold Eagle coins serve as a good proxy for the demand for physical gold from retail investors. The COINGEAG Index, which tracks the premium price of 1 oz. Gold Eagles, spiked during the early stages of the lockdown.
Each one of these markets requires access to physical gold. COVID-19 restrictions have disrupted shipping and delivery options, making it harder to access gold. The market for gold has been functioning nonetheless.
So how does gold get to customers during a time of crisis?
Gold’s Journey: From the Ground to the Vault
Gold ore goes through several stages before being ready for the market.
Gold must be released from other minerals to produce a doré bar—a semi-pure alloy of gold that needs further purification to meet investment standards. Doré bars are typically produced at mine sites and transported to refiners.
Refineries are responsible for turning semi-pure gold alloys into refined, pure, gold. In addition to reprocessing doré bars from mines, refiners also recycle gold from scrap materials. Although gold mining is geographically diverse and occurs in all continents except Antarctica, there are only a handful of gold refineries around the world.
Once it’s refined, gold is transported to financial hubs around the world. There are three main ways gold travels the world, each with their own costs and benefits:
- Commercial Flights:
Cheapest of the three options, commercial flights are useful in transporting gold over established passenger routes. However, the volume of gold carried by a commercial flight is typically small and subject to spacing priorities.
- Cargo Planes:
At a relatively moderate cost, cargo planes carry medium to large amounts of gold along established trade routes. The space dedicated to cargo determines the cost, with higher volumes leading to higher shipping prices.
- Chartered Airlines:
Chartered airlines offer a wider range of travel routes with dedicated shipping space and services tailored to customer demand. However, they charge a high price for these conveniences.
- Commercial Flights:
After reaching its destination via air, armored trucks with security personnel move the gold to vaults and customers in financial hubs around the world.
The World’s Biggest Gold Hubs
The U.K.’s bullion banks hold the world’s biggest commercial stockpiles of gold, equal to 10 months of global gold mine output. London is the largest gold hub, with numerous vaults dedicated to gold and other precious metals.
Four of the largest gold refineries in the world are located in Switzerland, making it an important part of the gold supply chain. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai are surprising additions and remain significant traders of gold despite having no mines within their borders.
COVID-19: The Perfect Storm for Gold?
As countries took stringent safety measures such as travel restrictions and border closures, the number of commercial flights dropped exponentially across the world. For the few commercial airlines that still operated, gold was a low-priority cargo as space was dedicated to medical supplies.
This impeded the flow of gold through the supply chain, increasing the cost of delivery and the price of gold. However, thanks to the diverse geography of gold mining, some countries did not halt production—this helped avoid a complete stall in the supply of gold.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm for gold by disrupting the global supply chain while investor demand for gold exploded. Despite heightened delivery risks and disruptions, the gold market has managed to continue operating thus far.
How to Avoid Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks (Part 2: Business Plan)
Investing in mining stocks may seem like luck of the draw, but the sector can be de-risked by asking the right questions. Here we look at the business plan.
Everyone loves to talk about creating the next great mining business, but are they willing to put that talk into action?
There is real money and real management behind every company—but surprisingly, not every company has a concrete strategy to build a business and create value for shareholders.
Business Plan, or Lack Thereof?
Today’s infographic comes to us from Eclipse Gold Mining and it shows you how to avoid common mistakes when evaluating and investing in mining exploration stocks.
Specifically, we look at five ways that potential investors can detect the presence and viability of a mining company’s business plan.
Visit Part 1 of “Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks” on Team by clicking here
So, what should investors be looking for, when it comes to examining the business plan of a mining exploration company?
#1: Clear Vision vs. All Hope & Dreams
A company should articulate a clear vision rather just simply following the trends and hoping for the best. A long term vision for a business plan is critical as it will be guiding and reminding stakeholders of the company’s purpose through the thick and thin.
Signs of a Clear Vision:
- The company is actively reaching out to investors
- Projects can be profitable at today’s commodity prices
- Provide detailed timelines of work
- Funds committed to work
A clear vision in business will give the company a direction to aim for, allowing everyone to work quickly towards objectives.
#2: Sense of Urgency vs. Wait & See
Time is money, especially in mining. Companies need to build value fast to finance at higher share prices so that early shareholders do not get diluted. A company needs to make concrete decisions that drive towards value creation.
Signs of a Sense of Urgency:
- “Time is now” mentality
- Decisive actions
- Sense of purpose
- Solution-oriented thinking
It is expensive to maintain a company, especially one that does not yet produce income. Expenses add up quickly and that is why management needs to make sure they focus their efforts and money on activities that generate value for shareholders.
#3: Laser Focus vs. Spray & Pray
The mineral exploration business is tough and each project requires the undivided attention of managers. Smart companies maintain incredible focus to de-risk their projects while others spread themselves thin with multiple projects.
- Properties with a focused vision towards production
- Specialized management experience aligned with the project
- Aligning management skill sets with each phase of a project
Signs of a Laser Focus:
In order to assess whether a company has the right focus you have to see whether the company is aligning its human assets with its physical assets and a goal in mind.
This focus will help to clarify the story for investors.
#4: Tell the Story vs. Hiding Behind the Science
Communication and business acumen are the key to take a project to market. Mining requires massive amounts of geological knowledge, but that is not the investor’s job to handle. They do not want to want to know the subtleties of geochemistry—they just want to know whether they can make money from those rocks.
Companies that hide behind a wall of geological slides may not have not a real story to tell, and they may be pulling investors into funding their own science projects. At the same time, investors need to make sure that the data being presented matches the story being told.
Signs of Telling the Story:
- Aware of risks, and communicating those risks
- Clear understanding of local geology
- Data from drill results back up the story
- Consistent message
If a company cannot communicate effectively, how are they going to deal with other, more complicated aspects of a mining business plan?
#5: Endgame in Mind vs. Kicking the Can Down the Road
A journey begins with a single step, but without a business plan and commitment, there will never be an end in sight. Quality companies foresee how their project will come together to generate both liquidity and an exit plan for shareholders. There are several clues investors can use to tell if a company is moving towards its goals.
Signs of the Endgame in Mind:
- List of accomplished goals
- Clear vision of future goals and exit strategy
- Plan for liquidity events for shareholder
The goal in investing is to make money. If shareholders are not making money, what is the point? If a company has no plan, it has no hope.
Making the Right Decisions
Understanding the characters that create value for mining companies is the first step, and the second step is assessing whether there is a viable business plan at hand.
While the risks are high, an effective plan is the first step towards reducing risks and providing shareholders with value.
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