The Story of Voisey’s Bay: The Auction (Part 2 of 3)
Presented by: Equitas Resources, “Nickel exploration in Labrador”
The hit at diamond drill hole #2 of 33m of massive sulphides turned Voisey’s Bay from caribou pasture to one of the most exciting stories in the mining world. For a full recap of the events leading to this point, check out Part 1 of the Voisey’s Bay story.
In Part 2 of this series, we look at the ensuing bidding war that occurred once it was clear that Voisey’s Bay had all of the action. Again, we have turned to Jacquie McNish’s fabulous book The Big Score, which documents the history of the discovery, biographical elements of Robert Friedland’s life, and the ensuing bidding war between Inco and Falconbridge that led to one of the most spectacular takeovers in mining history. If you like these infographics, then look into buying Jacquie’s book. It was gripping and full of information.
Setting the Stage
The discovery of massive sulphides with Hole #2 brought increased attention to the former diamond play. However, the stock price didn’t really explode until the assays came in: 2.23% nickel, 1.47% copper, and 0.123% cobalt. Diamond Fields now traded in December 1994 at $13.50 per share, up from $4.65 just a month prior.
The company doubled down on drilling, and up until January 1995 they had hit nothing after Hole #2. The price dribbled down to $11.00.
However, it was in February 1995 that the results for Holes #7 and #8 were released, and they were some of the most significant holes for the entire project. The holes were in the Ovoid, which would soon be a famed and ultra-high rich section of the Voisey’s Bay discovery.
Hole #7 was 104m long and had 3.9% nickel, 2.8% copper, and 0.14% cobalt. Hole #8 was 111m long and had 3.7% nickel, 2.78% copper, and 0.13% cobalt. This propelled the stock price to $20.00 in February 1995.
Continued exploration of the Ovoid revealed a bowl-shaped orebody lying just below surface. This deposit had surface dimensions of some 800m by 350m, and extended to depths of about 125m. More nickel from Ovoid came in every month, and the stock price continued to rise.
At this point, Diamond Fields could no longer fly under the radar. Major mining couldn’t stand to watch as one of the world’s greatest base metal deposits blossomed outside of their influence.
Three major mining companies vied to get in on the action. Here’s some history on each of them:
At this time, the Canadian diversified mining company Teck had nine mines in operation and had a reputation as a swift deal maker.
- In 1947, Teck’s founder Norman Keevil Sr. was one of the first to use magnetic survey technology that was first employed by the US Military to find submarines. With this technology, he found one of the richest copper deposits in Canada.
- He once impressed a plane load of investors by flying them over a 150-foot copper vein that was exposed to the air. It shone like a newly minted penny as they passed over, stunning even the most skeptical investors. (He had previously parachuted a crew in to polish the ore in the bush.)
The International Nickel Company was founded in 1902 and for most of the 20th century it remained the dominant player in nickel exploration, production, and marketing.
The company virtually invented the nickel market:
- In 1890, global output of nickel was 3,000 tonnes
- Nickel was mainly used for military purposes but sales dried up at the end of WWI
- The company discovered nickel alloys that were marketed for use in automobiles, pipes, industry, coins, and even kitchen sinks
- By 1951, the world consumed 130,000 tonnes of nickel a year with 90% of it supplied by Inco
By 1995, Inco was still the market leader in nickel, producing 26% of the world’s nickel with $2.3 billion in sales each year.
In 1901, American inventor Thomas Edison found a nickel-copper ore body in the area northeast of Sudbury, Ontario.
However, it wasn’t until 1928 that Thayer Lindsley, the founder of Falconbridge, bought these claims and began to turn it into its first mine.
At the time, Inco had the only technology in North America to refine nickel, so Falconbridge sent its production to Norway where it purchased an operating refinery.
The company was smaller than Inco, but seen as more aggressive and nimble. The company produced 11% of the world’s nickel in 1995.
The Bidding Begins
While Inco, Falconbridge and up to a dozen other global miners spent resources on calculating the value of Voisey’s Bay, Teck was the first to approach with a different strategy.
In less than a day, and despite seeing any core, Teck was able to do a simple deal less than four pages long: $108 million for 10% of the company, or the equivalent of $36 per share. Teck also surrendered their voting rights to Friedland to prevent future hostile takeovers.
That got the market talking. Days later, the stock would trade at over $40 per share with a market capitalization of more than $1 billion.
In May 1995, after much posturing between Inco and Diamond Fields executives, another deal was struck. This time, Inco bought a 25% stake of Voisey’s Bay for US$386.7 million in preferred shares and cash, as well as 8% of Diamond Fields from company co-founder Jean-Raymond Boulle and early investor Robertson Stephens.
By the time the deal closed in June 1995, Diamond Fields’ stock price doubled again to $80.00.
After months of drilling misses outside of the Ovoid, finally in August there were signs of light: 1m of massive sulphides were hit on Hole #166.
In November, drill hole #202 retrieved 40m of massive sulfides, the largest section of sulfides found outside the Ovoid. It was now clear that there was a series of deposits at Voisey’s Bay. The hole assayed 3.36% nickel and became a part of what is known as the Eastern Deeps.
In December, Inco and Falconbridge both began to aggressively pursue Diamond Fields.
First, Inco presented a deal in principle for $3.5 billion, or $31 per share. Then, Falconbridge intercepted with an official offer for $4.0 billion, or $36 per share. This was a risky move for the smaller company, but it limited its downside by adding in $100 million in fees to the agreement in the case the deal were to not be finalized.
Next, the two competitors (Inco and Falconbridge) teamed together through a mutual connection to present an offer in tandem.
It was instantly shot down by Friedland.
Finally on March 26th 1996, Inco announced a takeover bid of its own for $4.5 billion of Diamond Fields – the equivalent of $43.50 per share or $174 pre-split. Inco’s stock price dropped but it held on, making the total value of the deal closer to $4.3 billion. On April 3, the deal was officially signed by all parties.
More Than Precious: Silver’s Role in the New Energy Era (Part 3 of 3)
Long known as a precious metal, silver in solar and EV technologies will redefine its role and importance to a greener economy.
Silver’s Role in the New Energy Era (Part 3 of 3)
Silver is one of the first metals that humans discovered and used. Its extensive use throughout history has linked its name to its monetary value. However, as we have advanced technologically, so have our uses for silver. In the future, silver will see a surge in demand from solar and electric vehicle (EV) technologies.
Part 3 of the Silver Series comes to us from Endeavour Silver, and it outlines silver’s role in the new energy era and how it is more than just a precious metal.
A Sterling Reputation: Silver’s History in Technologies
Silver along with gold, copper, lead and iron, was one of the first metals known to humankind. Archaeologists have uncovered silver coins and objects dating from before 4,000 BC in Greece and Turkey. Since then, governments and jewelers embraced its properties to mint currency and craft jewelry.
This historical association between silver and money is recorded across multiple languages. The word silver itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon language, seolfor, which itself comes from ancient Germanic silabar.
Silver’s chemical symbol, “Ag”, is an abbreviation of the Latin word for silver, argentum. The Latin word originates from argunas, a Sanskrit word which means shining. The French use argent as the word for money and silver. Romans bankers and silver traders carried the name argentarius.
While silver’s monetary meanings still stand today, there have been hints of its use beyond money throughout history. For centuries, many cultures used silver containers and wares to store wine, water, and food to prevent spoilage.
During bouts of bubonic plague in Europe, children of wealthy families sucked on silver spoons to preserve their health, which gave birth to the phrase “born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”
Medieval doctors invented silver nitrate used to treat ulcers and burns, a practice that continues to this day. In the 1900s, silver found further application in healthcare. Doctors used to administer eye drops containing silver to newborns in the United States. During World War I, combat medics, doctors, and nurses would apply silver sutures to cover deep wounds.
Silver’s shimmer also made an important material in photography up until the 1970s. Silver’s reflectivity of light made it popular in mirror and building windows.
Now, a new era is rediscovering silver’s properties for the next generation of technology, making the metal more than precious.
Silver in the New Energy Era: Solar and EVs
Silver’s shimmering qualities foreshadowed its use in renewable technologies. Among all metals, silver has the highest electrical conductivity, making it an ideal metal for use in solar cells and the electronic components of electric vehicles.
Silver in Solar Photovoltaics
Conductive layers of silver paste within the cells of a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell help to conduct the electricity within the cell. When light strikes a PV, the conductors absorb the energy and electrons are set free.
Silver’s conductivity carries and stores the free electrons efficiently, maximizing the energy output of a solar cell. According to one study from the University of Kent, a typical solar panel can contain as much as 20 grams of silver.
As the world adopts solar photovoltaics, silver could see dramatic demand coming from this form of renewable energy.
Silver in Electric Vehicles
Silver’s conductivity and corrosion resistance makes its use in electronics critical, and electric vehicles are no exception. Virtually every electrical connection in a vehicle uses silver.
Silver is a critical material in the automotive sector, which uses over 55 million ounces of the metal annually. Auto manufacturers apply silver to the electrical contacts in powered seats and windows and other automotive electronics to improve conductivity.
A Silver Intensive Future
A green future will require metals and will redefine the role for many of them. Silver is no exception. Long known as a precious metal, silver also has industrial applications metal for an eco-friendly future.
Visualizing China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals
Rare earth deposits exist all over the planet, but the majority of the world’s rare earth metals are produced and refined in China.
China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals
Did you know that a single iPhone contains eight different rare earth metals?
From smartphones and electric vehicles to x-rays and guided-missiles, several modern technologies wouldn’t be what they are without rare earth metals. Also known as rare earth elements or simply “rare earths”, this group of 17 elements is critical to a number of wide-ranging industries.
Although deposits of rare earth metals exist all over the world, the majority of both mining and refining occurs in China. The above graphic from CSIS China Power Project tracks China’s exports of rare earth metals in 2019, providing a glimpse of the country’s dominating presence in the global supply chain.
China’s Top Rare Earth Export Destinations
Around 88% of China’s 2019 rare earth exports went to just five countries, which are among the world’s technological and economic powerhouses.
|Export Destination||Share of China's Rare Earth Exports||Top Rare Earth Import (tons)|
|Rest of the World||12.1%||Cerium|
Japan and the U.S. are by far the largest importers, collectively accounting for more than two-thirds of China’s rare earth metals exports.
Lanthanum, found in hybrid vehicles and smartphones, was China’s largest rare earth export by volume, followed by cerium. In dollar terms, terbium was the most expensive—generating $57.9 million from just 115 metric tons of exports.
Why China’s Dominance Matters
As the world transitions to a cleaner future, the demand for rare earth metals is expected to nearly double by 2030, and countries are in need of a reliable supply chain.
China’s virtual monopoly in rare earth metals not only gives it a strategic upper hand over heavily dependent countries like the U.S.—which imports 80% of its rare earths from China—but also makes the supply chain anything but reliable.
“China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage to deal with the [Trade War] situation.”
—Gao Fengping et al., 2019, in a report funded by the Chinese government via Horizon Advisory.
A case in point comes from 2010 when China reduced its rare earth export quotas by 37%, which in part resulted in skyrocketing rare earth prices worldwide.
The resulting supply chain disruption was significant enough to push the EU, the U.S., and Japan to jointly launch a dispute settlement case through the World Trade Organization, which was ruled against China in 2014.
On the brighter side, the increase in prices led to an influx of capital in the rare earth mining industry, financing more than 200 projects outside China. While this exploration boom was short-lived, it was successful in kick-starting production in other parts of the world.
Breaking China’s Rare Earth Monopoly
China’s dominance in rare earths is the result of years of evolving industrial policies since the 1980s, ranging from tax rebates to export restrictions. In order to reduce dependence on China, the U.S. and Japan have made it a priority to diversify their sources of rare earth metals.
For starters, the U.S. has added rare earth metals to its list of critical minerals, and President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order to encourage local production. On the other side of the world, Japan is making efforts to reduce China’s share of its total rare earth imports to less than 50% by 2025.
Increasing rare earth mining outside of China has reduced China’s global share of mining, down from 97.7% in 2010 to 62.9% in 2019. But mining is merely one piece of the puzzle.
Ultimately, the large majority of rare earth refining, 80%, resides in China. Therefore, even rare earths mined overseas are sent to China for final processing. New North American refining facilities are being set up to tackle this, but the challenge lies in managing the environmental impacts of processing rare earths.
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