An excruciatingly precise series of geologic events must coincide to allow the creation of an ore deposit. Then it must be preserved from erosion. Then it must be discovered. Then the mineral rights need to be acquired. Then it must be mapped and sampled. Then it must undergo geophysical studies. Then it must be drilled to determine an average metal content and volume. Only then can a production decision be made.
The mineral exploration business is perhaps best characterized as a risky business. Many opportunities present themselves to these types of small companies, but only a few of those opportunities evolve into economic successes. An investment in these companies is a high-risk proposition, but the risk is commensurate with the reward. Should a junior company make a significant discovery, the rewards for shareholders who invested in the company early are often remarkable. Perhaps the most difficult task for the investor is to separate the winners from the losers, especially since new opportunities for these companies are often unforeseen. A quick summary of some of these recent successes is warranted.
Aurelian Resources (Fruta Del Norte Deposit)
In 2001, the price of gold was near a twenty year low of about $250 per ounce. This created opportunities for those who realized that this was a ridiculous price anomaly. Few gold mines can produce at these prices, which virtually guaranteed a higher price in the not-so-distant future. The low gold price created an opportunity to acquire gold projects at fire-sale prices with little competition. The founders of Aurelian shrewdly capitalized upon this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by acquiring several vast mining concessions in Ecuador. Tedious compilation work finally led to the discovery that much gold mineralization in the region was found along a large fault system. Eventually, this led to the acquisition of almost 100,000 hectares of mining concessions along a recognized mineral belt that included both promising gold and copper porphyry prospects.
Aurelian then identified over 60 gold and copper targets in their mining concessions. As with many projects, drill targets were tested by drilling as the program moved forward, concurrent with the gold price appreciation predicted by the founders of the company. On April 4th, 2006, the common stock of Aurelian closed at $0.89/share. The next day, after the company announced a fabulous drill hole that contained an average of 0.13 ounces per ton of gold over a length of 237 meters, the stock closed at over $3.00/share. More successful holes followed, and in early November 2006, the stock price peaked at nearly $43.00/share. Only time will reveal the size of this monster gold deposit, but some analysts have predicted it will eventually be found to contain over ten million ounces of gold. As can be imagined, there are a lot of happy shareholders.
Virginia Gold Mines (Eleonore Deposit)
Virginia Gold Mines (VIA) was a company that traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange for many years. They were a junior mineral exploration outfit that focused their attention upon the vast, unexplored regions of northern Quebec. Their projects were of sufficient quality to attract a number of major mining companies as joint-venture partners. During the middle 1990’s and the last gold boom, shares of VIA were worth $2-$3 each. When the gold price collapsed at the beginning of the 21st century, a share of VIA common stock could be bought for about fifty cents. The president of VIA, Andre Gaumond, skillfully kept the company alive and thriftily retained a great number of quality projects over the next few years until the gold price began to appreciate and exploration money flowed freely once again. For what seemed forever to loyal stockholders, VIA was underappreciated by the market because its projects were confined to Quebec. There were no splashy globetrotters in this outfit, just toiling geologists with vision, purpose, determination, persistence, and capable leadership.
Concurrent with the gold price appreciation after the 2001 low, VIA began evaluation of a gold property called Eleonore. Just one of several promising gold projects that VIA holds in the James Bay region, Eleonore has now turned into what may eventually become a world-class gold district where before there was little more than moose pasture. Eleonore has been called one of Canada’s biggest gold discoveries in recent years. In March, 2006, the Eleonore Project was bought by Goldcorp. Goldcorp, a rapidly expanding gold-producer, extracts gold ore from it’s Red Lake Mine in Ontario that averages nearly 2.0 ounces of gold per ton of rock. This is one of the highest grade gold mines in the world. Goldcorp often displays a dazzling ore sample at the mining conventions. This single rock, weighing nearly 80 pounds, is rumored to contain roughly 25% gold. It is truly a spectacular specimen.
For each 100 shares of VIA owned by a shareholder, that shareholder received 40 shares of Goldcorp and 50 shares of New Virginia Gold Mines. New Virginia Gold Mines holds all the remaining assets of VIA, including the promising gold properties in the James Bay region, and has retained a 2% royalty on any production from the Eleonore Property. Those who retained their shares bought for 50 cents near the turn of the 21st century have made a profit of approximately 3000% in five years. The size of the Eleonore Deposit is still being determined, but some analysts estimate that it may eventually be found to contain as much as twenty million ounces of gold. Only time will tell. Mr. Gaumond, a dapper and jovial, but business-like chap with an air of confidence, can often be spotted at numerous mining conventions. Thanks to his leadership capabilities and persistence, thousands of shareholders have been well-rewarded by their timely investment in Virginia Gold Mines.
Diamet Minerals (Ekati Deposit)
For over a century, it has been known that diamonds existed in North America. In fact, diamonds had been mined occasionally from a mine in Arkansas. Some gem-quality diamonds were also found in glacial deposits near the Great Lakes in the late 19th century. The diamonds in the glacial deposits could have traveled hundreds of miles from their source. But, a profitable diamond mine was elusive, even though many geoscientists studied these diamond occurrences. Even Colorado, Wyoming, California, Michigan, and Montana are known to have the type of rock, primarily kimberlite, that may contain gem-quality diamonds.
In 1981, Dr. Charles Fipke began a search for diamonds in northern Canada. He initially found not diamonds, but diamond-indicator minerals. These are the nearly worthless accessory minerals that often occur with diamonds. In 1983, Dr. Fipke formed Diamet Minerals to provide funding for continuing diamond exploration. In 1984, Diamet Minerals became a publicly traded company, and this ability to raise money accelerated the diamond search. Dr. Fipke followed the trail of indicator minerals left by glacial deposits across the vast tundra to the Lac de Gras area of the Northwest Territories. This took many years and a great deal of persistence. The difficulties involved with this type of drudgery often seem overwhelming. Bugs, bears, and skeptics are just a few of the hardships that must be endured.
By 1991, Dr. Charles Fipke and fellow geologist Dr. Stewart Blussom had identified some highly prospective areas and had acquired nearly half a million acres of mineral rights. Despite their impressive educations, these were real field men, not just erudite, office-bound academics. Much of their work consisted of grueling glacial till sampling in adverse weather conditions and clouds of bugs. They finally signed an exploration agreement with BHP Billiton, one of the world’s largest mining companies. This agreement funded a much larger diamond exploration program. In 1991, a core drill was used to test the first potentially diamond-bearing kimberlite pipe that lay beneath a lake near the present-day mine site. Diamonds were eventually extracted from the core samples, and the news spread rapidly.
Their unyielding persistence had finally paid off big-time. After an amazing decade of painstaking work, they made the initial diamond discovery. This initiated one of the largest claim staking rushes in Canadian history. Presently, the Ekati Diamond Mine that Fipke found produces almost two million dollars per day worth of gem-quality diamonds. Diamet Minerals shareholders were rewarded when their stock became worth over $60 per share. Even a small position of 10,000 shares in what once was basically a penny-stock became incredibly valuable for those loyal shareholders who had the patience to hold out for victory.
Aber Resources (Diavik Deposit)
The second outfit to come up with a diamond mine in northern Canada is called Aber Resources. After the initial announcement by Diamet Minerals regarding its diamond discovery, Aber Resources quickly acquired some property adjacent to the Diamet holdings. Grenville Thomas, the founder and president of Aber Resources, realized that you had to be close to the discovery for optimum chances of success. Even then, the diamonds were dreadfully hard to find. Much of the work required to locate a diamond deposit of several acres size within several hundred thousand acres of land consists of airborne geophysical surveys and thousands of soil samples.
Drilling ultimately proved that diamonds occurred on the Aber property. In fact, through a fantastic stroke of luck, one large and beautiful diamond was preserved in a core sample. This beauty, called the “Aber Diamond,” is a flashy museum piece,, The diamond is set in a dark-colored piece of kimberlite core that makes an incredible display.
An option agreement was finally consummated with Kennecott Canada, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Zinc, one of the world’s largest mining companies. The Diavik Diamond Mine now produces over a million dollars a day worth of gem-quality diamonds. The shareholders of Aber Resources were amply rewarded. From a penny stock in the 1980’s, the price of an Aber Resources share rose to over forty dollars.
Canada is now a major diamond producer. Additional diamond mines are now in production and many diamond exploration projects are looking for new mines. Canada may one day rival South Africa as a diamond producer.
Consolidated Stikine Silver (Eskay Creek Deposit)
In 1988, Calpine Resources and Consolidated Stikine Silver discovered a very high-grade gold/silver deposit near Eskay Creek in northern British Columbia. Several companies had drilled on the property in the past but failed to drill where the ore deposit lay. This deposit was a volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposit that formed on the sea floor. Unlike most VMS deposits, this one was rich in both gold and silver. The average grade of ore was about 1.5 ounces per ton gold and 68 ounces per ton silver. Within the total two million or so tons eventually mined there were roughly 3 million ounces of gold and 150 million ounces of silver.
Prior to the discovery, both Calpine and Stikine were basically penny-stocks. Once word got out, share prices rose precipitously. Calpine sold their interest to Prime Resources for about $8/share, but Stikine waited for a better offer. Stikine was eventually bought out by Corona Gold for about $68/share.
International Corona Resources (Hemlo Deposit)
Murray Pezim was another Canadian promoter who was famous in mining circles. He was not only involved with the Hemlo discovery, but was also associated with Prime and Calpine Resources on the Eskay Creek discovery. Despite occasional problems with securities regulators, Murray made millionaires out of many ordinary investors through his many successes. Before Murray Pezim and International Corona Resources (ICR) happened by, Hemlo was just another obscure geologic structure that lay adjacent to the Trans-Canadian Highway in Ontario. Perhaps thousands of geologists drove by the area on the way to what seemed were bigger adventures.
A geologist named David Bell thought the area had some significant gold potential and presented his ideas to ICR. They started drilling in 1980 to test some of the theories that Bell had come up with. After scores of dud holes were completed, significant mineralization was finally intercepted. Hemlo became one of the biggest gold discoveries ever in Canada. Today, the mines in the Hemlo District account for about 1/4 of Canadian gold production. Shareholders were happy.
Stock that previously traded for less than a dollar per share became worth over $20 per share in a few years. When all was said and done, it was discovered that Hemlo contained 22 million ounces of gold. The vision and foresight that David Bell possessed created hundreds of high-paying jobs and also made some millionaires out of ordinary investors. One of the mines at Hemlo has been named the David Bell Mine.
Diamondfields (Voisey Bay Deposit)
In Canadian mining circles, Robert Friedland is a well-known promoter who has been instrumental in several very important mineral resource discoveries. Diamondfields Resources was one of his companies that recently benefited from a major discovery. Their exploration plan was to look for diamonds in northern Canada, but unforeseen occurrences forced a change in those plans.
In 1993, Albert Chislett and Chris Verbiski, explorationists under contract to Diamondfields Resources, discovered a spectacular nickel/copper/cobalt orebody in Eastern Labrador. The prospect had been examined and sampled by government geologists in 1985, but the samples had an overall low metal content. Of course, some of this was due to surface weathering, so the samples were not truly representative of the metal content of un-weathered rock that lay several meters below the surface. By November of 1994, Diamondfields announced the discovery of what could be a significant nickel/copper/cobalt orebody. This was a layered, magmatic ore body.
Drilling was undertaken shortly after the announcement, and continued at a frenzied pace. I can still recall sitting in a stock broker’s office when some of the first drill results came in. The broker asked me what it was worth. I quickly averaged the ore grades and thicknesses, then calculated a rough tonnage. Four drill holes formed a rectangular outline whose contained metal value, defined by this initial drilling, was about $600 million. The broker and a handful of his associates then bought shares of Diamondfields stock for $4.50 per share, and unfortunately, sold them a day or two later for $7.00 per share. They missed the big one, but made a quick profit.
Of course, Diamondfields was off to the races By July of 1995, drilling had defined 31.7 million tons of ore averaging roughly 2.8% nickel, 1.7% copper, and 0.12% cobalt. At March 2006 metal prices, the metals in this deposit are worth about $15 billion. Diamondfields shareholders were well rewarded. Stock that was trading for a buck or two prior to the discovery went to over $170/share. This was a gain of about 5000 to 10000%.
Arequipa Resources (Piernia Deposit)
David Lowell had been a porphyry copper guru for decades with some impressive discoveries under his belt. In the early1990’s, he was the mastermind who established a company called Arequipa Resources. It would be used to fund his exploration in South America. Despite the problems of working in a chaotic country with terrorists and a crumbling infrastructure, he decided to venture into Peru. Through the careful study of a huge area which contained highly altered volcanic rocks, he defined a smaller area that he thought might have significant gold potential. Working with primitive equipment, he and his compadres hand-excavated several pits in a promising area, yielding some impressive gold values. The widely disseminated gold mineralization was held within altered volcanic rocks.
In 1995, the first drill hole encountered a long intercept of high-grade gold. Drilling continued, until finally, after nearly fifty holes, they had managed to define a resource of roughly 7 million ounces of gold. Barrick Gold then bought out the company for $765 million. In less than two years, shareholders realized as much as a 3000% gain in their investment.