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.
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.
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.
View all five parts of the series:
- 1. Common mistakes made with the team
- 2. Common mistakes made with the business plan
- 3. Common mistakes with the jurisdiction of the project
- 4. Common mistakes with the project and technical risks
- 5. Common mistakes with raising money
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Listing Requirements: From Junior Explorer to Global Mining Company
The journey from a junior miner to a global company is a long route that requires a lot of money. This infographic outlines the listing requirements mining companies must meet when raising capital for each stage of a mineral deposit, from discovery to production.
Making it to the Top: Listing Requirements From Junior Explorer to Global Mining Company
Only a few companies ever meet the listing requirements of global stock exchanges, but the effort to list can be worth it.
In 2019, Newmont produced 6.3 million ounces of gold and earned a net income of $2.9B and returned $1.4B to shareholders in dividends.
This infographic from Corvus Gold looks at the requirements and stages a mining company could face along its journey from a mineral prospect to a global mining company.
The Odds of Discovery
Mineral exploration companies use drill bits that range in diameter from 76-320 millimeters to explore the subsurface. The deepest drill hole is the Kola Superdeep Borehole which measured 12.2 kilometers (7.6 miles). However, most mineral exploration companies rarely drill longer than a kilometer.
Finding a gold deposit, let alone an economic one is akin to using a hair to find a needle in the proverbial haystack. To mitigate this, a typical junior mining company improves its odds by building a portfolio of properties that show potential through hints of gold and other minerals revealed from surface sampling, aerial magnetic surveys, and historic data.
Then, to dig even deeper, a company can raise capital privately for the properties that show potential. Valuations of these mineral properties are largely subjective and difficult to establish. But if the company would like to raise further capital for more expensive exploration, it can tap into stock exchanges.
Canada’s Toronto (TSX) and Venture Stock Exchanges (TSXV) sit at the center of global mining finance. Over the past five years, companies listed on TSX and TSXV completed 53% of all global mining financings, amounting to $44 billion through 6,500 transactions.
Even an idiot can make a great discovery and drive a stock from three cents to three bucks, and those guys wouldn’t get funded privately. It has to be public.
– Ross Beaty, Founder, Chairman Equinox Gold
Risk Capital: TSX-V Listing Requirements
In 2020, there were 606 companies on the TSXV that have a gold property, or a property that showed potential to host a gold deposit. These companies met a minimum set of requirements to access public markets for further funding.
At this stage, a listed mining company will deploy capital to conduct geological sampling and drilling to produce technical studies that could improve the confidence of the presence of a mineable gold deposit.
If this round of work results in an improved understanding of a gold property, a company can move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 on the TSXV, allowing it to raise further capital to increase the scope of technical and economic studies.
TSX Venture Listing Requirements:
|TSXV Tier 1||TSXV Tier 2|
|Recommended Work Program||
|Net Tangible Assets||
|Management and Board||
At this point, a company should have a good understanding of the costs and methods to produce a profitable operation or the value of a resource. However, early investors take their profits and new ones are needed to take a mineral property to a mining operation.
One drill hole changes the game. It’s very hard to decide who gets to make it and who doesn’t. It’s a big gate, and yet very few make it through. But you have to let them try.
– Lukas Lundin, Chairman, Lundin Group
Financing Growth: TSX Listing Requirements
To develop and construct a mine, mining companies require larger amounts for development and construction, which requires a different class of investor and stricter requirements.
In 2020, there were 133 gold companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, whose primary metal production is gold and/or own a gold property. These companies meet or exceed a set of listing requirements set out by the exchange.
The TSX has three categories of listing for mining issuers: TSX Exempt Issuers, TSX Non-Exempt Producer and TSX Non-Exempt Exploration and Development Stage. These requirements of these categories reflect the stage of development of the issuer at the time of listing. Exempt issuers are more advanced and so subject to less stringent reporting requirements.
TSX Listing Requirements:
|TSX non-exempt (Exploration & Development)||TSX non-exempt (Producer)||TSX exempt|
|Recommended Work Program||
|Working Capital and Financial Resources||
|Net Tangible Assets||
|Management and Boards||
|Distribution, Market Capitalization and Public Float||
At this stage, bankers and lawyers set up the financing of a project based on geological and economic studies. Good financing terms can enhance the potential value of a mineral deposit and attract investors.
But sometimes, just this one listing is not enough to allow a company or project to meet its full potential.
Expanding Shareholders: NASDAQ and NYSE Listing Requirements
Companies that require more capital or to meet corporate governance rules in the countries they work in can seek a listing on additional stock exchange markets outside of their home countries. There are several benefits of additional listings:
- Gain exposure and access to more capital
- Help in improving a company’s structure of corporate governance
- Attract more and better talent
- Improves the reputation of a company
The NASDAQ and New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) can improve access to the American market. There are only 76 gold mining companies listed on the NASDAQ and NYSE exchanges.
|Pre-tax income||$0 to $750,000||$2,000,000|
|Market Capitalization||$0 to $75,000,000||$2,000,000|
|Total Assets and Revenue||$0 to $75,000,000||n/a|
|Market Value of Public Float||$3,000,000 to $20,000,000||$100,000,000 or $40,000,000 (if IPO)|
|Stockholders Equity||$4,000,000||No more than $60,000,000|
|Minimum Share Price||$2 to $3||$4|
|Operating History||0 to 2 years||n/a|
Increased trading, world-class investors, and a well-run operation can deliver a mining company a lot of prestige and generate significant returns.
Ultimately, the continued success of the company will rely on its ability to maintain production and continue to deliver gold to the market. This all comes back to a company’s ability to find, develop, and exploit new gold deposits.
I just want to remind you that the real wealth in the mining industry is generated by FINDING something.
– Robert Friedland, Executive Chairman, Ivanhoe Mines
Building Mineral Wealth to Last
The project development timeline and mine lifecycle is a very long one. It can take decades to move from discovery to production. Each stage requires different amounts of capital and investors.
The odds of building a mine are stacked against a junior mining company—but for the few that grow through the listing process requirements, they can become the next great investment.
A mineral discovery is rare, but a successful gold mining company is even rarer.
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