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The Future of Gold Exploration is Under Cover

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The Future of Gold Exploration is Under Cover

The Future of Gold Exploration is Under Cover

Over billions of years, extraordinary amounts of gold and other metals were deposited and spread throughout the Earth’s crust. Humans have been searching for these rich deposits for centuries, and advances in geoscience and technology have helped us become more adept at finding them over time.

However, even with today’s advancements – almost all early-stage prospecting methods are still based on the same key principle: trying to find areas of exposed bedrock, called outcrops, that indicate an orebody is near.

But such outcrops only form in certain circumstances – and what happens when a geological system doesn’t come in contact directly with the surface?

The Problem of Cover

Today’s infographic comes to us from Nevada Exploration, and it identifies the problem behind finding these “hidden” deposits that do not leave a helpful trail of clues on the surface.

Instead of having outcrops where rocks can be readily sampled, these deposits are trapped underneath large amounts of soil and gravel. Geologists call this a covered setting, where they must first find a way to “see through” the cover in order to identify what geological systems really exist below.

Seeing through cover can be expensive and difficult to do, but it also has big potential upside.

There is no reason not to assume as much gold still exists as has been mined in the past, but prospectors, explorationists, and geologists have found the easy gold.

– Dr. Richard Goldfarb, Ph.D., United States Geologic Survey

In fact, many geologists think that the next game-changing gold deposit could be found under cover.

Exploration 2.0

For explorers, it is no secret that the cost per discovery is going up dramatically over time. The reality is that traditional exploration methods are achieving diminishing returns, and as a result companies are settling for lower grade deposits, more complex geological settings, and politically questionable jurisdictions.

Minex Consulting says that between 2007-2016, there has been $65 billion spent globally on gold exploration with only $30 billion worth of discoveries to show for it. Those aren’t exactly inspiring economics for future gold explorers.

But for every industry problem, there is often a precedent to be found elsewhere – and an interesting situation that is analogous was faced by the oil exploration industry years ago. They had reached diminishing returns with shallow water deposits, and developed technology to go deeper. Suddenly, monster deposits were being found again.

Experts involved in mineral exploration see the same thing happening with cover.

With the transition to under cover exploration, the minerals industry is undergoing a transformation much like the petroleum industry transformed to deep sea exploration some decades ago.

– Cam McCuaig, Principal Geoscientist, BHP Billiton

In other words: whoever can figure out how to explore under cover could be reaping big benefits.

The Prize

In the world’s most prolific gold jurisdictions, there are massive amounts of land that have not yet been explored because of cover. In Canada and in Australia, over 70% of land is covered. In Nevada, which produces the most gold ounces per square kilometer, about 55% of land is covered.

Interestingly, Nevada has produced 225 million oz of gold to date, but the majority of these discoveries have come from outcrop clues on the surface. Imagine what gold could be hidden under soil and gravel within the valleys of the state.

Global data so far suggests that deposits discovered under cover tend to be 2-4x bigger.

Exploring Under Cover

While the idea of unlocking this potential is extremely exciting, it also poses a significant technical challenge.

Conventional tools are poorly suited to covered settings, and existing techniques for systematic exploration don’t work. The end result is high-risk, high-cost exploration.

To successfully explore through cover, companies need:

  • New technology to see through cover
  • A way to lower the costs of testing targets
  • A way to directly test covered bedrock

So far, a few ideas have been pioneered for seeing through cover – and it will be interesting to see what results they bring in.

Biogeochemistry: In Australia, explorers are using biogeochemistry as a hint to see what lays beneath the soil. Plants accumulate pathfinder elements in them, or even tiny amounts of gold, which allows explorers to get a hint at what lies deep below.

Hydrogeochemistry: In a place like Nevada, there are massive valleys in the middle of prolific gold districts that have remained unexplored because they are covered with hundreds of meters of gravel. Testing groundwater might be the key, because groundwater flows by gravity from mountains to deep in the valley centers. On the way, this water interacts with bedrock – and any gold deposits that are hidden beneath the surface.

Explorers are looking at other ideas as well, ranging from regional-scale mapping to adapting other oil and gas industry techniques. If any of them are able to unlock the secret of exploring through cover, it could be the catalyst for industrywide change, as well as the discovery of the monster deposits that will meet our mineral needs of the future.

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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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