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Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire

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Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire

Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

At its peak, the Roman Empire held up to 130 million people over a span of 1.5 million square miles.

Rome had conquered much of the known world. The Empire built 50,000 miles of roads, as well as many aqueducts, amphitheatres, and other works that are still in use today.

Our alphabet, calendar, languages, literature, and architecture borrow much from the Romans. Even concepts of Roman justice still stand tall, such as being “innocent until proven guilty”.

How could such a powerful empire collapse?

The Roman Economy

Trade was vital to Rome. It was trade that allowed a wide variety of goods to be imported into its borders: beef, grains, glassware, iron, lead, leather, marble, olive oil, perfumes, purple dye, silk, silver, spices, timber, tin and wine.

Trade generated vast wealth for the citizens of Rome. However, the city of Rome itself had only 1 million people, and costs kept rising as the empire became larger.

Administrative, logistical, and military costs kept adding up, and the Empire found creative new ways to pay for things.

Along with other factors, this led to hyperinflation, a fractured economy, localization of trade, heavy taxes, and a financial crisis that crippled Rome.

Roman Debasement

The major silver coin used during the first 220 years of the empire was the denarius.

This coin, between the size of a modern nickel and dime, was worth approximately a day’s wages for a skilled laborer or craftsman. During the first days of the Empire, these coins were of high purity, holding about 4.5 grams of pure silver.

However, with a finite supply of silver and gold entering the empire, Roman spending was limited by the amount of denarii that could be minted.

This made financing the pet-projects of emperors challenging. How was the newest war, thermae, palace, or circus to be paid for?

Roman officials found a way to work around this. By decreasing the purity of their coinage, they were able to make more “silver” coins with the same face value. With more coins in circulation, the government could spend more. And so, the content of silver dropped over the years.

By the time of Marcus Aurelius, the denarius was only about 75% silver. Caracalla tried a different method of debasement. He introduced the “double denarius”, which was worth 2x the denarius in face value. However, it had only the weight of 1.5 denarii. By the time of Gallienus, the coins had barely 5% silver. Each coin was a bronze core with a thin coating of silver. The shine quickly wore off to reveal the poor quality underneath.

The Consequences

The real effects of debasement took time to materialize.

Adding more coins of poorer quality into circulation did not help increase prosperity – it just transferred wealth away from the people, and it meant that more coins were needed to pay for goods and services.

At times, there was runaway inflation in the empire. For example, soldiers demanded far higher wages as the quality of coins diminished.

“Nobody should have any money but I, so that I may bestow it upon the soldiers.” – Caracalla, who raised soldiers pay by 50% near 210 AD.

By 265 AD, when there was only 0.5% silver left in a denarius, prices skyrocketed 1,000% across the Roman Empire.
Only barbarian mercenaries were to be paid in gold.

The Effects

With soaring logistical and admin costs and no precious metals left to plunder from enemies, the Romans levied more and more taxes against the people to sustain the Empire.

Hyperinflation, soaring taxes, and worthless money created a trifecta that dissolved much of Rome’s trade.
The economy was paralyzed.

By the end of the 3rd century, any trade that was left was mostly local, using inefficient barter methods instead of any meaningful medium of exchange.

The Collapse

During the crisis of the 3rd century (235-284 A.D), there may have been more than 50 emperors. Most of these were murdered, assassinated, or killed in battle.

The empire was in a free-for-all, and it split into three separate states.

Constant civil wars meant the Empire’s borders were vulnerable. Trade networks were disintegrated and such activities became too dangerous.

Barbarian invasions came in from every direction. Plague was rampant.

And so the Western Roman Empire would cease to exist by 476 A.D.

About the Money Project

The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

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Mining

How to Avoid Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks (Part 5: Funding Strength)

A mining company’s past projects and funding strength are interlinked. This infographic outlines how a company’s ability to raise capital can determine the fate of a mining stock.

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Funding Strength

A mining company’s past projects and funding strength are interlinked, and can provide clues as to its potential success.

A good track record can provide better opportunities to raise capital, but the company must still ensure it times its financing with the market, protects its shareholders, and demonstrates value creation from the funding it receives.

Part 5: The Role of Funding Strength

We’ve partnered with Eclipse Gold Mining on an infographic series to show you how to avoid common mistakes when evaluating and investing in mining exploration stocks.

Part 5 of the series highlights six things to keep in mind when analyzing a company’s project history and funding ability.

Funding Strength

View all five parts of the series:

Part 5: Raising Capital and Funding Strength

So what must investors evaluate when it comes to funding strength?

Here are six important areas to cover.

1. Past Project Success: Veteran vs. Recruit

A history of success in mining helps to attract capital from knowledgeable investors. Having an experienced team provides confidence and opens up opportunities to raise additional capital on more favorable terms.

Veteran:

  • A team with past experience and success in similar projects
  • A history of past projects creating value for shareholders
  • A clear understanding of the building blocks of a successful project

A company with successful past projects instills confidence in investors and indicates the company knows how to make future projects successful, as well.

2. Well-balanced Financing: Shareholder Friendly vs. Banker Friendly

Companies need to balance between large investors and protecting retail shareholders. Management with skin in the game ensures they find a balance between serving the interests of both of these unique groups.

Shareholder Friendly:

  • Clear communication with shareholders regarding the company’s financing plans
  • High levels of insider ownership ensures management has faith in the company’s direction, and is less likely to make decisions which hurt shareholders
  • Share dilution is done in a limited capacity and only when it helps finance new projects that will create more value for shareholders

Mining companies need to find a balance between keeping their current shareholders happy while also offering attractive financing options to attract further investors.

3. A Liquid Stock: Hot Spot vs. Ghost Town

Lack of liquidity in a stock can be a major problem when it comes to attracting investment. It can limit investments from bigger players like funds and savvy investors. Investors prefer liquid stocks that are easily traded, as this allows them to capitalize on market trends.

Hot Spot:

  • A liquid stock ensures shareholders are able to buy and sell shares at their expected price
  • More liquid stocks often trade at better valuations than their illiquid counterparts
  • High liquidity can help avoid price crashes during times of market instability

Liquidity makes all the difference when it comes to attracting investors and ensuring they’re comfortable holding a company’s stock.

4. Timing the Market: On Time vs. Too Late or Too Early

Raising capital at the wrong time can result in little interest from investors. Companies in tune with market cycles can raise capital to capture rising interest in the commodity they’re mining.

Being On Time:

  • Raising capital near the start of a commodity’s bull market can attract interest from speculators looking to capitalize on price trends
  • If timed well, the attention around a commodity can attract investors
  • Well-timed financing will instill confidence in shareholders, who will be more likely to hold onto their stock
  • Raising capital at the right time during bull markets is less expensive for the company and reduces risk for investors

Companies need to time when they raise capital in order to maximize the amount raised.

5. Where is the Money Going? Money Well Spent vs. Well Wasted

How a company spends its money plays a crucial role in whether the company is generating more value or just keeping the lights on. Investors should always try to determine if management is simply in it for a quick buck, or if they truly believe in their projects and the quality of the ore the company is mining.

Money Well Spent:

  • Raised capital goes towards expanding projects and operations
  • Efficient use of capital can increase revenue and keep shareholders happy with dividend hikes and share buybacks
  • By showing tangible results from previous investments, a company can more easily raise capital in the future

Raised capital needs to be allocated wisely in order to support projects and generate value for shareholders.

6. Additional Capital: Back for More vs. Tapped Out

Mining is a capital intensive process, and unless the company has access to a treasure trove, funding is crucial to advancing any project. Companies that demonstrate consistency in their ability to create value at every stage will find it easier to raise capital when it’s necessary.

Back For More:

  • Raise more capital when necessary to fund further development on a project
  • Able to show the value they generated from previous funding when looking to raise capital a second time
  • Attract future shareholders easily by treating current shareholders well

Every mining project requires numerous financings. However, if management proves they spend capital in a way that creates value, investors will likely offer more funding during difficult or unexpected times.

Wealth Creation and Funding Strength

Mining companies that develop significant assets can create massive amounts of wealth, but often the company will not see cash flow for years. This is why it is so important to have funding strength: an ability to raise capital and build value to harvest later.

It is a challenging process to build a mining company, but management that has the ability to treat their shareholders and raise money can see their dreams built.

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Mining

How the World’s Top Gold Mining Stocks Performed in 2020

The GDX is an ETF that tracks the performance of the top gold mining stocks. How did the GDX and its constituents perform in 2020?

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GDX and Top Gold Mining Stocks Performance 2020

How Top Gold Mining Stocks Performed in 2020

Gold mining stocks and the GDX saw strong returns in 2020 as gold was one of the most resilient and best performing assets in a highly volatile year.

But picking gold mining stocks isn’t easy, as each company has a variety of individual projects and risks worth assessing. This is why the GDX (VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF), is one of the most popular methods investors choose to get exposure to players in the gold mining industry.

While the GDX and gold miners can generally offer leveraged upside compared to gold during bull markets, in 2020 the GDX returned 23%, just a couple of points shy from spot gold’s 25.1% return.

This graphic compares the returns of gold, the GDX, and the best and worst performing gold mining equities in the index.

Understanding the GDX ETF and its Value

The GDX is one of many index ETFs created by investment management firm VanEck and offers exposure to 52 of the top gold mining stocks.

It provides a straightforward way to invest in the largest names in the gold mining industry, while cutting down on some of the individual risks that many mining companies are exposed to. The GDX is VanEck’s largest and most popular ETF averaging ~$25M in volume every day, with the largest amount of total net assets at $15.3B.

In terms of its holdings, the GDX attempts to replicate the returns of the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index (GDM), which tracks the overall performance of companies in the gold mining industry.

How the Largest Gold Miners Performed in 2020

As a market-cap weighted ETF, the GDX allocates more assets towards constituents with a higher market cap, resulting in larger gold mining companies making up more of the index’s holdings.

This results in the five largest companies in the GDX making up 39.5% of the index’s holdings, and the top 10 making up 59.3%.

An equally-weighted index of the top five GDX constituents returned 27.3% for the year, outperforming gold and the index by a few points. Meanwhile, an equally-weighted index of the top 10 constituents significantly underperformed, only returning 18.4%.

Newmont was the only company of the top five which outperformed gold and the overall index, returning 37.8% for the year. Wheaton Precious Metals (40.3%) and Kinross Gold (54.9%) were the only other companies in the top 10 that managed to outperform.

Kinross Gold was the best performer among the top constituents largely due to its strong Q3 results, where the company generated significant free cash flow while quadrupling reported net earnings. Along with these positive results, the company also announced its expectation to increase gold production by 20% over the next three years.

The Best and Worst Performers in 2020

Among the best and worst performers of the GDX, it was the smaller-sized companies in the bottom half of the ranking which either significantly over- or underperformed.

K92 Mining’s record gold production from their Kainantu gold mine, along with a significant resource increase at their high-grade Kora deposit nearby saw a return of 164.2%, with the company graduating from the TSX-V to the TSX at the end of 2020.

Four of the five worst performers for 2020 were Australian mining companies as the country entered its first recession in 30 years after severe COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Bushfires early in the year disrupted shipments from Newcrest’s Cadia mine, and rising tensions with China (Australia’s largest trading partner) also contributed to double-digit drawdowns for some Australian gold miners.

The worst performer and last-ranked company in the index, Resolute Mining (-36.9%), had further disruptions in H2’2020 at their Syama gold mine in Mali. The military coup and resignation of Mali’s president Ibrahim Keïta in August was followed by unionized workers threatening strikes in September, slowing operations at Syama gold mine. Outright strikes eventually occurred before year’s end.

How Gold Mining Stocks are Chosen for the GDX

There are some ground rules which dictate how the index is weighted to ensure the GDM and GDX properly reflect the gold mining industry.

Along with the rules on the index’s weighting, there are company-specific requirements for inclusion into the GDM, and as a result the GDX:

  • Derive >50% of revenues from gold mining and related activities
  • Market capitalization >$750M
  • Average daily volume >50,000 shares over the past three months
  • Average daily value traded >$1M over the past three months

Gold mining stocks already in the index have some leeway regarding these requirements, and ultimately inclusion or exclusion from the index us up to the Index Administrator.

What 2021 Will Bring for Gold Mining Stocks

The GDX has had a muted start to the new year, with the index at -2.3% as it has mostly followed spot gold’s price.

Gold and gold mining stocks cooled off significantly following their strong rally Q1-Q3’2020, as positive developments regarding the COVID-19 vaccine have resulted in a stronger-than-expected U.S. dollar and a rise in treasury yields.

This being said, the arrival of new monetary stimulus in the U.S. could spur inflation-fearing investors towards gold and gold mining stocks as the year progresses.

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