Visualizing the Life Cycle of a Mineral Discovery
Mining legend Pierre Lassonde knows a little bit about mineral exploration, discovery, and development. Drawing from decades of his experience, he created the chart above that has become a staple in the mining industry—the Lassonde Curve.
Today’s chart of the Lassonde Curve outlines the life of mining companies from exploration to production, and highlights the work and market value associated with each stage. This helps speculative investors understand the mining process, and time their investments properly.
Making Cents of Miners: The Stages of a Mineral Discovery
In the life cycle of a mineral deposit, there are seven stages that each offer specific risks and rewards. As a company proves there is a mineable deposit in the ground, more value is created for shareholders along the way.
This stage carries the most risk which accounts for its low value. In the beginning, there is little knowledge of what actually lies beneath the Earth’s surface.
At this stage, geologists are putting to the test a theory about where metal deposits are. They will survey the land using geochemical and sampling techniques to improve the confidence of this theory. Once this is complete, they can move onto more extensive exploration.
There is still plenty of risk, but this is where speculation hype begins. As the drill bit meets the ground, mineral exploration geologists develop their knowledge of what lies beneath the Earth’s crust to assess mineral potential.
Mineral exploration involves retrieving a cross-section (drill core) of the crust, and then analyzing it for mineral content. A drill core containing sufficient amounts of metals can encourage further exploration, which may lead to the discovery of a mineable deposit.
Discovery is the reward stage for early speculators. Exploration has revealed that there is a significant amount of material to be mined, and it warrants further study to prove that mining would be feasible. Most speculators exit here, as the next stage creates a new set of risks, such as profitability, construction, and financing.
This is an important milestone for a mineral discovery. Studies conducted during this stage may demonstrate the deposit’s potential to become a profitable mine.
Institutional and strategic investors can then use these studies to evaluate whether they want to advance this project. Speculators often invest during this time, known as the “Orphan Period”, while uncertainty about the project lingers.
Development is a rare moment, and most mineral deposits never make it to this stage. At this point, the company puts together a production plan for the mine.
First, they must secure funding and build an operational team. If a company can secure funding for development, investors can see the potential of revenue from mining. However, risks still persist in the form of construction, budget, and timelines.
Investors who have held their investment until this point can pat themselves on the back—this is a rare moment for a mineral discovery. The company is now processing ore and generating revenue.
Investment analysts will re-rate this deposit, to help it attract more attention from institutional investors and the general public. Meanwhile, existing investors can choose to exit here or wait for potential increases in revenues and dividends.
Nothing lasts forever, especially scarce mineral resources. Unless, there are more deposits nearby, most mines are eventually depleted. With it, so does the value of the company. Investors should be looking for an exit as operations wind down.
Case Study: The Oyu Tolgoi Copper-Gold Discovery, Mongolia
So now that you know the theoretical value cycle of a mineral discovery, how does it pan out in reality? The Oyu Tolgoi copper deposit is one recent discovery that has gone through this value cycle. It exemplifies some of these events and their effects on the share price of a company.
- Concept: 15+ Years
Prospectors conducted early exploration work in the 1980s near where Oyu Tolgoi would be discovered. It was not until 1996 that Australian miner BHP conducted further exploration.
But after 21 drill holes, the company lost interest and optioned the property to mining entrepreneur Robert Friedland and his company Ivanhoe Mines. At this point in 1999, shares in Ivanhoe were a gamble.
- Pre-Discovery/Discovery: ~3 years
Ivanhoe Mines and BHP entered into an earn-in agreement, in which Ivanhoe gained ownership by completing work to explore Oyu Tolgoi. A year later, the first drill results came out of drill hole 150 with a headline result of 508 meters of 1.1 g/t Au and 0.8%. To get a sense of how large this is, imagine the height a 45-story building, of which a third of story is copper. This was just one intersection of an area that could stretch for miles.
Wild speculation began at this stage, as steadily improving drill results proved a massive copper-gold deposit in Mongolia and drove up the share price of Ivanhoe.
- Feasibility/Orphan Period: ~2 years
In 2004, the drilling results contributed to the development of the first scoping study. This study offered a preliminary understanding of the project’s economics.
Using this study, the company needed to secure enough money to build a mine to extract the valuable ore. It was not until two years later, when Ivanhoe Mines entered into an agreement with major mining company Rio Tinto, that a production decision was finalized.
- Development: 7 years
By 2006, the Oyu Tolgoi mineral deposit was in the development phase with the first shaft headframe, hoisting frame, and associated infrastructure completed. It took another two years for the shaft to reach a depth of 1,385 feet.
Further development work delineated a resource of 1.2 billion pounds of copper, 650,000 ounces of gold, and 3 million ounces of silver. This first stage of development for Oyu Tolgoi made Mongolia the world’s fastest growing economy from 2009 to 2011.
- Startup/Production: Ongoing
On January 31, 2013, the company announced it had produced the first copper-gold concentrate from Oyu Tolgoi. Six months later, the company stated that it was processing up to 70,000 tonnes of ore daily.
- Depletion: Into the Future
The Oyu Tolgoi deposit will last generations, so we have yet to see how this will affect the value of the mine from an investment perspective.
It’s also worth noting there are still other risks ahead. These risks can include labor disruptions, mining method problems, or commodity price movement. Investors will have to consider these additional conditions as they pan out.
The More You Know
Mining is one of the riskiest investments with many risks to consider at every stage.
While most mineral discoveries do not match it perfectly, the Lassonde Curve guides an investor through what to expect at each stage, and empowers them to time their investments right.
How to Avoid Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks (Part 3: Jurisdiction)
“Location, location, location…”
This famous real estate adage also matters in mining. After all, it’s an industry that is all about the geology—but beyond the physical aspects and the location of a mineral deposit, there are also social and environmental factors that create a mining jurisdiction.
Common Mistakes With Jurisdiction
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 3 of the series focuses on six signals investors can use to gauge a company’s preparedness for the jurisdictions they operate in.
#1: Geological Potential: Methodical Prospecting or Wild Goose Chase?
It all starts with a great drill result, but even these can be “one-off” anomalies.
Mineral exploration is a methodical process of drawing a subsurface picture with the tip of a drill bit. A mineral discovery is the cumulative effort of years of research and drilling.
The key to reducing this geological risk is to find a setting that has shown previous potential and committing to it. Typically, a region is known to have hosted other great discoveries or shares a geology similar to other mining districts.
Signs of Methodical Prospecting:
- Lots of geological indicators
- Potential for further discovery
- Sound science
#2: Legal Environment: Well-Paved Path or Minotaur’s Maze?
Now that you have identified a region with the prospective geology you think could host a discovery, a company will have to secure the permits to explore and operate any further.
However, a management team that cannot navigate a country’s bureaucracy will face delays and obstacles, costing investors both time and money.
Without clear laws and competent management, a mining company’s best laid plans become lost in a maze with legal monsters around every legal corner.
Signs of a Well-Paved Highway:
- Existing laws encourage mining investment
- Relatively low bureaucracy
- Well-established permitting process
- Legacy of mining contributing to economy
#3: Politics: Professional Politics or Banana Republics?
A good legal framework is often the outcome of politics and stable governance—however so is a difficult legal framework.
The political stability of a nation can turn on one election and so can the prospects for developing a mine. An anti-mining leader can halt a mining project, or a pro-mining leader can usher forward one.
A positive national viewpoint on mining may be enough to lure investment dollars, but local politics may determine the success of a mining company.
Signs of Professional Politics:
- Positive history with mining companies
- Politically stable jurisdiction
- Rule of law respected
- Changes in government have little effect on the mining industry
#4: Infrastructure & Labor: Modern or Medieval
Sometimes it is the discovery of valuable minerals that spurs national development, but this can also happen the other way around, in which development can encourage mineral discovery.
A mining company looking to build a new mine in a country with a tradition of mining will have an easier time. Access or lack thereof to modern machinery and trained employees will determine how much money will be needed.
That said, if a company is looking to develop a mining project in a new mining region, they must be ready to help create the skills and infrastructure it needs to mine.
Signs of a Modern Jurisdiction:
- Developed roads to access and support operations
- Trained labor for staffing and development
- Well-established grid lines and back-up power systems
#5: Community: Fostering Friendship or Sowing Enemies
Mining operations have a significant impact on the local community. Good companies look to make mutually beneficial partnerships of equals with local communities.
Ignoring or failing to respect the local community will jeopardize a mining project at every stage of its mine life. A local community that does not want mining to occur will oppose even the best laid plans.
Signs of a Friendly Relations:
- Operations bring community together
- Local history shows support for mining
- Understanding of local concerns and regional variety
- Company contributes to economic growth and health of the community
#6: Environment: Clean Campsite or One Night Party
There is no way around it: mining impacts the environment and local ecosystems. But, mining operations are a blip on the radar when it comes to Earth’s timeline.
Mine sites can again become productive ecosystems, if a company has the capacity and plan to mitigate mining’s impacts at every stage of the life of a mine—even beyond the life of a mine.
Signs of a Clean Campsite:
- Development plan mitigates environmental damage
- Well-planned closure and remediation
- Understand how communities use their environment
Bringing it together: ESG Investing
These six points outlined above point towards a more complete picture of the impacts of a mining project. Currently, this falls under what is labeled as Environmental, Social and Governance “ESG” standards.
Mining companies are the forefront of a big push to adopt these types of considerations into their business, because they directly affect natural and human environments.
ESG is no longer green wash, especially for the mining industry. Companies that understand and apply these concepts in their business will have better outcomes in the jurisdictions they operate within, hopefully offering investors a more successful venture.
Geology does not change on the human time scale, but bad management can quickly lose a good project and investor’s money if they do not pay attention to the other attributes of a jurisdiction.
Silver Bulls: Visualizing the Price of Silver
Silver has always proved its value throughout history. From ancient coins to jewelry, silver retains its value and goes through tough times.
Silver Bulls: Visualizing the Price of Silver
Silver has always shown its value throughout history. From ancient coins to its use as a global currency during the Age of Discovery, silver has circulated the world to become an important financial asset. Its value continues to shine in the era of the modern finance industry.
Today’s infographic comes to us from New Pacific Metals and it takes a look at the bull markets in silver prices and the future of silver.
Silver Bulls: 1967 to Today
The late 1960s marked the beginning of the end for silver as currency, but also the start of its use in protecting and securing wealth.
In the United States, silver certificates were issued by the Treasury until late 1963, when the $1 Federal Reserve Note was released into circulation. After this, the remaining silver certificates were still redeemable for silver, but this practice ended in 1968.
Since then, silver has had several bull markets in which prices have increased—or as some silver aficionados may argue, the relative value of fiat currency has decreased.
|Percentage Gain||Price Range (USD)*||Duration|
|Silver Bull #1 (1967-68)||49%||$12.50 - $18.58||13 months|
|Silver Bull #2 (1971-74)||274%||$8.45 - $31.59||27 months|
|Silver Bull #3 (1976-80)||544%||$18.40 - $118.50||48 months|
|Silver Bull #4 (1986-87)||40%||$12.47 - $17.48||12 months|
|Silver Bull #5 (1993-95)||39%||$6.47 - $9.00||27 months|
|Silver Bull #6 (2001-11)||827%||$6.01 - $55.69||113 months|
|Silver Bull #7 (2015-Present?)||90%||$15.04 - $28.53||56 months|
*Inflation-adjusted data using CPI from BLS, LBMA Monthly prices
That said, not all silver bull markets are the same, nor do they necessarily coincide with bull markets in the price of gold.
Performance: Gold vs. Silver
Despite being often referred to as “poor man’s gold”, silver has actually outperformed gold in five of the six previous bull markets for gold and silver.
There are two ways to look at how silver prices performed during these timeframes:
- We can compare silver price performance to corresponding peaks and troughs of the gold price
- We can also look at silver prices based on its own peaks and troughs, irrespective of gold
Often, gold prices move first with silver prices quickly following—but then, silver can outperform gold on its own timeline.
|Gold Performance||Silver Performance||Silver Performance|
|Based on gold's peaks and troughs||Based on silver's peaks and troughs|
|Silver Bull #1||40%||-17%||100%|
|Silver Bull #2||455%||144%||432%|
|Silver Bull #3||715%||912%||977%|
|Silver Bull #4||78%||27%||94%|
|Silver Bull #5||28%||63%||75%|
|Silver Bull #6:||636%||904%||45%|
Source: CPM Group (Nominal data)
More recently, prices of silver have been on an upward trend since 2015 and some would say we are in a new bull market for the precious metal. For however longer, it is anyone’s guess.
The Future of Silver?
While the future price direction of silver is difficult to predict, this doesn’t diminish the increasing importance of silver’s role as a metal in an electrified future.
As you can see in the demand breakdown below, silver is not only precious—it is useful:
|Silver Demand (2019)||Millions of Ounces|
|...of which Photovoltaics||98.7|
|Net Physical Investment||186.1|
Source: Silver Institute
While silver’s uses and applications continue to grow, silver remains a safe haven investment from political uncertainty and economic distress—all while being a cheaper and better alternative to gold.
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