Mineral Exploration Roadmap
There is nothing more exciting than making some type of discovery.
Discoveries can come in many forms – they can be physical, scientific, personal, or even philosophical in nature. But while there are different types of discoveries that can be made, perhaps the most tactile kind of discovery is in the field of mineral exploration.
The discovery of a mineral deposit can transform a piece of “moose pasture” into a new economic asset, and it may enable millions or billions of dollars worth of metals and minerals to be used for human purposes.
These minerals get used all around us – they go into our houses, cars, infrastructure, jewelry, electronics, and they can even be used to power the green revolution.
From Prospecting to Production
Making an economic mineral discovery is the goal of many teams around the world, but these efforts can also be extremely difficult, costly, and time-consuming, and most companies engaged in exploration end up walking away empty-handed.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Orix Geoscience and it shows the steps of mineral exploration, and how teams can maximize their odds of success by using data to add value throughout the process.
Steps of the Mineral Exploration Process
1. Exploration Strategy
Where do you choose to explore? There are two basic strategies:
(a) Working from the known
Deposits tend to form in clusters in prolific belts, and exploration occurs outward from known mineralization.
(b) Working from the unknown
If you review all available information, prospective areas with potential for discoveries can be identified.
In this stage, boots are now on the ground – and it’s time to explore the backwoods for showings. Prospectors will stake claims, map outcrops and showings, and search for indicator minerals.
The goal of the prospecting stage is to find the earliest piece of the exploration puzzle: the clue that there is something much bigger beneath.
3. Early-Stage Exploration
Congrats, you’ve found something interesting – and now it’s time to ramp up exploration efforts!
This is where the amount of data and sophistication picks up. In this stage, companies are using existing maps and historical data, geophysics, ground truthing, geochemistry, and trenching to try and identify drill targets.
4. The “Truth Machine”
Geologists don’t call the drill a “truth machine” for nothing.
If you’re target hits, you’re in business. If your target misses, it’s time to go back a step and find new ones.
Eureka! You’ve found something. Now it’s time to see how far the mineralization goes!
Once you have enough information, you can get an official resource estimate. This data is another puzzle piece that will be crucial as you advance your discovery.
Even at the best of times, mining can be expensive, risky, and tricky.
That’s why your investors and backers will want you to source even more data – it’ll allow you to see a clearer picture of the deposit, and help your team see how it could take shape as a mine.
At this stage, drilling, metallurgical tests, environmental assessments, 3d models, and mine designs are used to increase confidence in the project.
Data starts to get very granular. Your company may do a Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) to assess the potential economic outcomes of a mine. Then after, they may conduct an in-depth Feasibility Study to help make a production decision.
By this point, you may have all the puzzle pieces – a clear vision of the deposit and its potential – to make a decision!
If the puzzle looks good, it’s time to make a production decision, construct the mine, and start commercial production. But the data doesn’t stop there – at these later stages, even more data gets created and it can help you make better decisions.
Volatile Returns: Commodity Investing Through Miners and Explorers
The companies that mine or explore for metals offer additional leverage to commodity prices, creating opportunities for astute investors.
Volatile Returns: Commodity Investing Through Miners
Investors consider gold and silver as safe haven investments. But the companies that produce gold and silver often offer volatile returns, creating opportunities for astute investors.
Volatility is a double-edged sword, particularly when it comes to commodity investing. During the good times, it can create skyrocketing returns. But during bad times, it can turn ugly.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Prospector Portal, and shows how investing in precious metals equities can outperform or underperform the broader metals market.
Capitalizing on Volatility: Timing Matters
Just like most investments, timing matters with commodities.
Due to the complex production processes of commodities, unexpected demand shocks are met with slower supply responses. This, along with other factors, creates commodity supercycles—extended periods of upswings and downswings in prices.
Investors must time their investments to take advantage of this volatility, and there are multiple ways to do so.
Three Ways to Invest in Commodities
There are three primary routes investors can take when it comes to investing in commodities.
|Direct physical investment||
Among these, commodity-related equities offer by far the most leverage to changes in prices. Let’s dive into how investors can use this leverage to their advantage with volatile metal prices.
The Fundamentals of Investing in Mining Equities
When it comes to commodity investing, targeting miners and mineral exploration companies presents fundamental benefits and drawbacks.
As metal prices rise, the performance of mining companies improves in several ways—while in deteriorating conditions, they do the opposite:
|Category||Rising Commodity Prices||Falling Commodity Prices|
|Outlook||- Improved outlook||- Deteriorated outlook|
|Stock Price Movement||- Equity growth||- Equity decline|
|Dividend Payouts||- Increased dividends||- Decreased dividends|
|Financial Performance||- Increased earnings||- Decreased earnings|
With the right timing, these ups and downs can create explosive opportunities.
Mining companies, especially explorers, use these price swings to their advantage and often produce market-beating returns during an upswing.
The Proof: How Mining Equities React to Metal Prices
Not only do price increases translate into higher profits for mining companies, but they can also change the outlook and value of exploration companies. As a result, investing in exploration companies can be a great way to gain exposure to changing prices.
That said, these types of companies can generate greater equity returns over a shorter period of time when prices are high, but they can also turn dramatically negative when prices are low.
Below, we compare how producers and exploration companies with a NI-43-101 compliant resource perform during bull and bear markets for precious metals.
All figures are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated.
|Mining Company||Company Stage||Primary Metal|
|Market Cap. |
Oct 31, 2019
|Market Cap. |
July 29, 2020
|Bull Market Performance|
(Nov. 1, 2019-July 29, 2020)
|Bear Market Performance
(Jan 02 – Dec 31, 2018)
|Auryn Resources||Exploration||Gold, Copper||$181M||$330M||60%||-39%|
|Wesdome Gold Mines Ltd.||Production||Gold||$1,104M||$1,885M||68%||110%|
|Red Pine Exploration||Exploration||Gold||$13M||$22M||29%||-55%|
|Revival Gold Inc.||Exploration/ |
|Erdene Resource Development||Exploration/ |
|Endeavor Mining Corp.||Production||Gold||$2,622M||$5,874M||54%||-13%|
|Yamana Gold Inc||Production||Gold||$4,572M||$8,279M||87%||-22%|
During the bear market period, the price of gold declined by 2.66%, and despite engaging in exploration activity, most companies saw a slump in their share prices.
In particular, exploration companies, or juniors, took a heavier hit, with returns averaging -31.66%. But even during a bear market, a discovery can make all the difference—as was the case for producer Wesdome Gold Mines, generating a 109.95% return over 2018.
- Average returns for gold producers including Wesdome: 24.83%
- Average returns for gold producers excluding Wesdome: -17.65%
During the bull market period for gold, gold mining companies outperformed the price of gold, with juniors offering the highest equity returns averaging 153.43%. Gold producers outperformed the commodity market, the value of their equities increased 69.61%—less than half of that of exploration companies.
Silver: Bears vs Bulls
Similar to gold mining companies, performances of silver producers and explorers reflected the volatility in silver prices:
|Company||Company Stage||Primary Metal|
|Market Cap. |
Oct 31, 2019
|Market Cap. |
July 29, 2020
|Bull Market Performance (Nov. 1, 2019-July 29, 2020)||Bear Market Performance (Jan 02 – Dec 31, 2018)|
|Pan American Silver||Production||Silver||$2,973M||$10,550M||125%||1%|
|Americas Gold and Silver||Production||Silver||$335M||$482M||10%||-56%|
|Dolly Varden Silver Corp.||Exploration||Silver||$28M||$74M||152%||-32%|
|Endeavour Silver||Production||Silver, Gold||$458M||$837M||72%||-10%|
During the bear market period for silver, its price decreased by 9.8%. Explorers and producers both saw a dip in their share prices, with the equity of silver producers decreasing by 21.63%.
However, the discovery of a high-quality silver deposit again made the difference for SilverCrest Metals, which generated a 116.85% return over the year.
- Average returns for silver exploration companies including SilverCrest: 8.32%
- Average returns for silver exploration companies excluding SilverCrest: -27.86%
On the other hand, during the bull market period, the price of silver increased by 34.33%. Silver exploration companies surpassed the performance of the price of silver.
- Average returns for silver producers: 69.04%
- Average returns for silver exploration companies: 95.36%
The potential to generate massive returns and losses is evident in both cases for gold and silver.
The Investment Potential of Exploration
Mining equities tend to outperform underlying commodity prices during bull markets, while underperforming during bear markets.
For mining exploration companies, these effects are even more pronounced—exploration companies are high-risk but can offer high-reward when it comes to commodity investing.
To reap the rewards of volatile returns, you have to know the risks and catch the market at the right time.
The World’s Gold and Silver Coin Production vs. Money Creation
In 2019, the value of global money creation was over 500 times higher than the world’s gold and silver coin production combined.
Global Gold & Silver Coin Production vs. Money Creation
Note: Data has been updated to correct a previous calculation error pertaining to Japanese Yen money supply.
Both precious metals and cash serve as safe haven assets, intended to limit losses during market turmoil. However, while modern currencies can be printed by central governments, precious metals derive value from their scarcity.
In this infographic from Texas Precious Metals, we compare the value of the world’s gold and silver coin production to global money creation.
Total Production Per Person, 2019
We calculated the value of global currency issuance in 2019 as well as precious metal coins minted, and divided by the global population to get total production per person.
Throughout, global money supply is a proxy based on the 5 largest reserve currencies: the U.S. dollar, Euro, Japanese Yen, Sterling Pound, and Chinese Renminbi.
|2019 Production||Ounces||Dollar Value||Dollar Value Per Person|
|Global Gold Coins||7,204,982||$10.9B||$1.42|
|Global Silver Coins||97,900,000||$1.8B||$0.23|
|Global Money Supply||$4.3T||$556.33|
All numbers are in USD according to exchange rates as of December 31 2019. Gold and silver values are based on the 2019 year close price of $1,510.60 and $17.90 respectively.
The value of new global money supply was 390 times higher than the value of gold coins minted, and 2,400 times higher than silver coins minted.
Put another way, for each ounce of minted gold coin, the global money supply increased by more than $593,000.
Change in Annual Production, 2019 vs. 2010
Compared to the start of the decade, here’s how annual production levels have changed:
|Global Silver Coins (oz)||95,900,000||97,900,000||2.1%|
|Global Gold Coins (oz)||6,298,331||7,204,982||14.4%|
|Global Money Supply (USD)||$2,936,296,692,440||$4,268,993,639,926||45.4%|
Annual increases to global money supply have increased by half, far outpacing the change in the world’s gold and silver coin production.
Even more recently, how has production changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 Effect
In response to the global pandemic, central banks have enacted numerous measures to help support economies—including issuing new currency.
The global money supply increased by more than $6.8 trillion in the first half of 2020. In fact, the value of printed currency was 930 times higher than the value of minted gold coins over the same timeframe.
Investors may want to consider which asset is more vulnerable to inflation as they look to protect their portfolios.
Want to learn more? See the U.S. version of this graphic.
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