Thursday 21st November 2019

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘Barrick Gold Corp (ABX)’

S&P Global Market Intelligence remarks on a disappointing year for exploration spending

November 12th, 2019

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Global decline affects exploration in Canada and abroad

October 18th, 2019

by Greg Klein | October 18, 2019

Some optimistic indications are already apparent but 2019 marked a generally disappointing year for exploration spending world-wide. The upturn that began in 2016 slumped in late 2018 and continued to languish through most of this year. That’s the verdict of S&P Global Market Intelligence, which announced the exploration world’s first cumulative budget decrease since 2016 and Canada’s first slip behind Australia since 2001. Commodity prices and U.S.-China trade tensions played a role, but so did corporate mergers, S&P found.

Canadian companies follow global decline in exploration

“Difficult market conditions and high-profile M&A activity have unsurprisingly impacted budgets the most, as the amount of money being raised by companies dropped sharply from November 2018 through February of this year,” said S&P’s Mark Ferguson, who co-wrote the study with Kevin Murphy. “We are encouraged, however, by some positive signs, such as the rising number of active companies, and copper recording a year-over-year increase.”

The data comes from a survey of 3,300 public and private companies to determine their spending on non-ferrous exploration within continents and regions or, in the case of top three countries Canada, Australia and the United States, within national borders.

Preliminary data shows an estimated $300-million drop in global nonferrous exploration spending this year, to $9.8 billion (all figures in U.S. dollars). But the decline was hardly uniform. Of those countries that bucked the trend, Australia attracted the highest spending increase within its borders, gaining $199 million while Canada dropped by $134 million.

Despite Latin America’s $117-million decline, the region retained global first place with $2.62 billion in spending. Australia’s $1.53 billion took second place, followed by the Rest of the World category’s $1.44 billion, Canada’s $1.31 billion, Africa’s $1.12 billion, the United States’ $944.8 million and Pacific/Southeast Asia’s $327 million.

Exploration at existing mine sites outpaced grassroots and advanced-stage projects, continuing a trend since the 1990s. This year’s mine site exploration grew by $225.6 million to reach $3.6 billion, compared with reductions of $529.4 million for advanced stage projects and $35.7 million for grassroots work. “This marks the first year that mine site allocations have accounted for the largest share of global exploration at 38.5%, with late stage dropping to 35% and grassroots almost flat at 27%,” S&P stated.

As is normally the case in high-level mergers, the exploration budgets of the combined entities are much lower than the totals budgeted by the individual pre-merger companies, with Newmont Goldcorp Corp [TSX:NGT] and Barrick Gold Corp [TSX:ABX] allocating about $48 million and $54 million less, respectively, than the two pairs of companies did in 2018.—S&P Global Market Intelligence

Among culprits for the overall decline was M&A, “most notably the Newmont-Goldcorp and Barrick Gold-Randgold tie-ups.”

Additional factors included market apprehension about China and the U.S. along with generally disappointing commodity performance. Exceptions were “mostly smaller players.” Despite rising prices in nickel and palladium, the two metals combined attracted less spending than zinc. But thanks largely to copper, base metals exploration overall rose by $191.1 million to $3.23 billion.

Diamonds increased for the second time since 2012, by $75.8 million to $304.6 million.

If gold offered encouragement, it came too late for 2019 budgets. The yellow stuff suffered the worst exploration decrease of any of the survey’s commodities, dropping by $559.4 million to $4.29 billion. Although still a contender for 2020 improvement, “any rise in gold budgets will likely be offset by lower allocations for other commodities.” As a result, S&P predicts next year’s exploration budgets “to remain fairly flat.”

Global spending by Canadian explorers will total about $2.16 billion this year, according to a forecast released by Natural Resources Canada in August (these figures in Canadian dollars). That number compares with $2.3 billion last year. Juniors are expected to pony up about $961 million and seniors another $1.2 billion, marking declines of 4% and 9% respectively from 2018.

Frank Holmes comments on how mining mergers can affect the Canadian industry

March 5th, 2019

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Getting Frank

January 23rd, 2019

Frank Holmes discusses tips, disruptors, M&A, what drives HIVE, and more

by Greg Klein

Frank Holmes discusses tips, cryptos, disruptors, peak gold, M&A and more

With over 7,000 attendees, VRIC 2019’s numbers and enthusiasm suggested a buoyant market mood.

 

Definitely one of the busiest people at this year’s Vancouver Resource Investment Conference, Frank Holmes kicked off the event with a keynote speech to a capacity crowd, one of a number of times he took the stage during the two-day event. Even so, the CEO and chief investment officer of U.S. Global Investors found time to sit down with Resource Clips and discuss some wide-ranging issues.

A new feature at this year’s VRIC was the Top Picks Competition, which pitted three companies he chose against three selected by Marin Katusa. The fast pace had the rivals briefly introduce each of his three picks, followed by a company rep giving a concise six-minute presentation. The packed audience rated each company from one to 10. While waiting for results to appear on the big screen, Katusa said, “Man, I’ll be depressed if I lose to Frank.”

Frank Holmes discusses cryptos, disruptors, peak gold, M&A and more

The mainstay of this year’s VRIC, Holmes
tackled issues ranging from peak gold to data mining.

But the chart showed no definite winner, at least not to those who struggle with mental math. Katusa pronounced the results a tie but Holmes confidently told Resource Clips: “I won.”

As for the format, “that model of 20 seconds per slide, capped at 20 slides, 6.4 minutes, that model is working in 900 cities,” he explained, adding that it began in 2003 with the Tokyo-based Klein-Dytham architectural firm. “The PechaKucha model will drive more interest to a company’s booth than anything else.”

But isn’t there a danger that stock tips from influential people can affect share prices more than company performance does?

“I’ve invested in all six of those companies so I’m not getting up there with anyone I haven’t vetted.”

Are they long-term holds? “They have been.”

Katusa stuck with miners but Holmes’ list included two disruptors—a soon-to-be-listed company that creates gold and platinum jewelry as tradable investments, and another company that applies machine learning to mineral exploration as well as combining quantitative and fundamental analyses of mining investment.

Frank Holmes discusses cryptos, disruptors, peak gold, M&A and more

Investors heard first-hand pitches from company reps.

Disruption seems to increasingly command Holmes’ attention, but not at the expense of good old-fashioned gold. He sees peak gold as one application for AI and machine learning.

“There are fundamental supply-demand issues, there has to be a new way to replace it. The world’s GDP per capita for China, India and America is so strong and when you look at China and India, their GDP per capita is highly correlated to gold demand for love.

“When I first got in the business there was a four-year cycle from exploration to discovery to production. Now it’s a minimum eight to 12 years. We have declining reserves and each year the mines are getting deeper and deeper, the grades are getting lower and lower, and there’s also a falloff in exploration success. The timeline for getting projects on stream is getting longer and longer. We do have peak supply.”

With the Newmont-Goldcorp buyout following closely on the Barrick-Rangold merger, M&A has returned to prominence. When asked whether the activity could have a trickle-down effect on junior explorers, the Toronto native brought up a nationalist perspective.

A locally headquartered major means “a junior explorer or mid-cap developer can knock on their door, pitch them a story and maybe they’re your partner. But now you’d have to go to Denver, and the process of what they look at is very different from what Canadians look at. So I think there’s a vacuum being created and it’s not helping the Canadian mining industry.”

Additionally, “I think Canada will be hurt because the geological brain trust that was with Barrick in Toronto will go to Europe or South Africa. With Newmont, the brain trust will go to Denver.”

Frank Holmes discusses cryptos, disruptors, peak gold, M&A and more

Attendees gleaned intel from speakers, exhibitors and each other.

He suggested gold might attract more M&A than other metals because it’s “more bullish.” Elsewhere in metals, he expects to see further shareholder activism as seen by Waterton Global Resource Management with Hudbay Minerals and Paulson & Co with Detour Gold. “I’m surprised there isn’t more in the mid-cap space,” he noted.

He considers the activism constructive—“anything that keeps people accountable.” As chairperson of cryptocurrency miner HIVE Blockchain Technologies, however, he has to account for a share price that’s plunged about 78% over the last year.

“All of us are down, but it’s only because of the Bitcoin and Ethereum prices,” he said. “With gold stocks, most of them rise or fall as gold rises or falls that day. They correlate. What HIVE has done is become a proxy [for buying cryptos]. So HIVE has become incredibly liquid and moves every day with the price action of Bitcoin and Ethereum. Bitcoin and Ethereum have a volatility such that if gold’s daily volatility is 1%, their daily volatility is 6% to 8%. So that’s what drives HIVE. If Bitcoin goes this quarter to $10,000, we’ll go to a dollar. And if Bitcoin falls, we’ll go down with it. We’re at the mercy of where the cryptocurrencies are going. But the positive part for an investor or trader is that you can call up during market hours and use that as a proxy.”

One indication of continuing crypto enthusiasm, he added, was a very strong turnout at the previous week’s North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, despite a hefty admission fee.

As for VRIC, he likes the event for “energy—it’s the vibe, what people are talking about. Are they skewing to optimism, or to doubt and fear and pessimism? I get the energy and vibrations here, and whether there’s an appetite for risk. This is all venture capital. Most of these companies are speculation. As I said at the opening, I’m so happy people came here and didn’t go to the casino or buy a lottery ticket to speculate.”

Watch for videos of VRIC presentations to be posted in the coming weeks by Cambridge House International.

Frank Holmes discusses cryptos, disruptors, peak gold, M&A and more

Moderated by Daniela Cambone, the Ultimate Gold Panel
included Holmes, Peter Hug, Roy Sebag and Peter Schiff.

 

Frank Holmes discusses tips, disruptors, M&A, what drives HIVE, and more

Although soliciting was strictly prohibited,
a hint of hustle might have been evident.

Visual Capitalist: Nine reasons mining investors are looking at Yukon companies

September 18th, 2018

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | September 18, 2018

In the mining industry, location is paramount.

Invest your capital in a jurisdiction that doesn’t respect that investment, or in a place with little geological potential, and it’s possible that it will end up going to waste.

That’s why, when there’s a place on the map that has world-class geology and also a plan for working with miners and new explorers, the money begins to flow to take advantage of that potential.

Why investors are looking at the Yukon

This infographic comes to us from the Yukon Mining Alliance and it shows nine reasons why people are investing in Yukon mining and exploration companies today.

 

Nine reasons mining investors are looking at Yukon companies

 

For resource investors, it is rare to see variables like government investment, jurisdiction, geological potential and investment from major mining companies all aligning.

However, in the Yukon, it seems this may be the case. Here are nine reasons the Yukon is starting to attract more investment capital:

1. Rich history
Mining was central to the Yukon even over a century ago, when over 100,000 fortune-seekers stampeded into the Yukon with the goal of striking it rich in the famous Klondike Gold Rush.

2. Geological profile
In the last decade, there have been major discoveries of gold, silver, copper, zinc and lead in the Yukon—but perhaps most interestingly, only 12% of the Yukon has been staked, making the region highly under-explored. Spending on exploration and development rose from $93 million to $158 million from 2015 to 2017.

3. Major investment
Major mining companies now have a stake in the polymetallic rush. Recent companies to foray into the Yukon include Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM, Barrick Gold TSX:ABX, Coeur Mining NYSE:CDE, Goldcorp TSX:G, Kinross Gold TSX:K and Newmont Mining NYSE:NEM.

4. Leaders in exploration and mining
Juniors in the region are working on new geological ideas as well as new technology to unlock the vast potential of the region.

5. Progressive partnerships
First Nations and the government of Yukon have recently championed a new government-to-government relationship that enables them to be on the exact same page when it comes to mineral projects.

6. Government investment
The Yukon government is investing in new infrastructure via the Resource Gateway project. It also offers the Yukon Mineral Exploration Program, which provides a portion of risk capital to explore and develop mineral projects to an advanced stage.

7. Made in Yukon process
The Yukon government also tries to foster regulatory certainty to create clarity for companies and investors through its customized tri-party process.

8. Infrastructure
The jurisdiction has 5,000 kilometres of government-maintained roads, receives 95% of power from clean hydro, has international and local airports, and has access to three deep-water, ice-free ports.

9. Geopolitical stability
Canada offers geopolitical stability to start with—but with unprecedented cooperation between the territorial government and First Nations, the Yukon is arguably a step above the rest of the country.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Canada’s six biggest miners boost exploration spending by 31%: PwC

July 5th, 2018

by Greg Klein | July 5, 2018

Canada’s six biggest miners boost exploration spending by 31%: PwC

(Photos: PricewaterhouseCoopers)

 

The half-dozen Canadian companies among the world’s top 40 miners increased exploration expenditures last year at twice the rate of the others. That info comes from the upbeat results found in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Mine 2018, a study of the planet’s 40 biggest companies by market cap. The six Canadians spent C$620 million looking for new resources last year, compared with C$473 million in 2016. The report forecasts continued improvement throughout the current year.

Globally, exploration rose 15% in 2017 to US$8.4 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence figures cited by PwC.

Not so impressive, though, was the equity raised on three key mining markets, which fell $1.7 billion last year for the industry as a whole. Especially hard-hit was Toronto, which plunged 36%. Australia slipped 9%, while London actually jumped 47%. However this year’s Q1 investing “reveals that activity in Toronto and Australia is starting to pick up and signals a renewed interest in exploration and early development projects.”

Overall, higher commodity prices propelled the top 40 companies’ revenues 23% to about US$600 billion, with cost-saving efficiencies contributing to a “sharp increase in profits.” The report sees several years of continued growth as global annual GDP increases about 4% for the next five years.

Meanwhile market caps for the top 40 soared 30% last year to US$926 billion.

The top 40 companies’ capex outlay, however, floundered at its lowest level in 10 years. But the authors “expect next year’s level to increase as companies press ahead with long-term strategies, be it growth through greenfield or brownfield investments, or new acquisitions.”

Should that investment fail to materialize, the report asks, “will there be a temptation to spend without sufficient capital discipline when demand outstrips supply?”

At a number of points PwC admonishes miners not to “give in to the impulses” engendered by the previous boom: “Perhaps the most significant risk currently facing the world’s top miners is the temptation to acquire mineral-producing assets in order to meet rising demand. In the previous cycle, many miners eschewed capital discipline in the pursuit of higher production levels, which set them up to suffer when the downturn came.”

Canadians among the 2017 top 40 consisted of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (since merged with Agrium to create Nutrien TSX:NTR) in 13th place, Barrick Gold TSX:ABX (14th), Teck Resources TSX:TECK.A and TSX:TECK.B (16th), Goldcorp TSX:G (25th), Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM (26th) and First Quantum Minerals TSX:FM (30th).

The top five companies, holding a top-heavy 47% of the top-40 combined market cap, were BHP Billiton NYSE:BHP, Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO, Glencore, China Shenhua Energy and Vale NYSE:VALE.

In addition to exploration spending, the half-dozen Canadian companies also got special mention for workplace safety, as “world leaders in digital transformation” and for boardroom diversity in which “women make up 25% of directors among Canadian miners, compared to 19% among their global peers.”

Download PwC’s Mine 2018 report.

“Gold, sir—gold!”: Peter Munk 1927-2018

March 28th, 2018

by Greg Klein | March 28, 2018

“He was the greatest gold miner of the modern age, a silvery, immaculate, dashing, and indefatigable tycoon with the menacing aplomb of a Florentine prince.” Matthew Hart’s 2013 description presaged the tributes that poured in after Peter Munk died in Toronto on March 28 at the age of 90.

Gold, sir-gold Peter Munk 1927-2018

Peter Munk 1927-2018

Saying “much nonsense has been written about Munk,” Hart profiled the celebrated miner in Gold: The Race for the World’s Most Seductive Metal. It was a bribe of cash and gold that bought 16-year-old Munk and his family out of wartime Hungary, but he didn’t return to the yellow metal until much later, and that followed a few spectacular business failures.

“We needed to find a business before it became popular, a business that was so unfashionable no one wanted to get into it,” said Munk. Such was the state of gold in 1983. Such was Munk’s eureka moment, which came not through a mineral discovery but a realization:

“Gold, sir,” Munk declared. “Gold! It carried the highest multiples. Gold shares sell at a very high value in relation to their earnings because a gold share is perceived to be not just a share but an option or a call on gold as well. If you buy Swatch watches, if you buy Nestlé, you buy the earnings. If you buy gold shares you buy it because, hey!— this company has 2 million ounces of gold and I think that gold will go up in five years!”

But the newly minted miner “had no patience for rummaging in the bush,” Hart continues. “Barrick’s strategy would be to buy reserves, not find them. Growth would mean rapid growth. Munk built his company like Lego, snapping gold mines into place after deciding what would fit. He bought some mines for their gold and others for their people.”

He did rather well, allowing him to donate nearly $300 million to good causes. He’s survived by his wife of 45 years, five children and 14 grandchildren.

Read some of the tributes to Peter Munk here and here.

Caution steadies the hand for Canada’s top miners: PwC

March 1st, 2018

by Greg Klein | March 1, 2018

Last year saw “few eye-popping deals and only limited financing activity” as TSX-listed mining companies responded cautiously to improved markets, according to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report. Like many of their peers internationally, the big board’s top 25 miners focused on “paying down debt, improving balance sheets and judiciously investing in capital projects as commodity prices largely stabilized.”

The findings come from Preparing for Growth: Capitalizing on a Period of Progress and Stability, released March 1.

Gold, the raison d’être for most of the miners, fell 3% during the year ending September 30. During that period the 225 TSX-listed miners (down from 230 the previous year) lost 4% of their aggregate value, compared with a 10% combined improvement for other sectors. Miners slipped to a 9% share of the entire TSX market, compared with 11% the previous year, holding ninth place among industries on the exchange. (Financial services came in first.)

Barrick Gold TSX:ABX, still the world’s top gold producer despite Newmont Mining’s (NYSE:NEM) challenge, held top place among TSX mining market caps as of September 30. The top stock was Kirkland Lake Gold TSX:KL, with a 175% price increase over the full year, following its billion-dollar takeout of Newmarket Gold. The acquisition represented part of a trend of “mid-market, intermediate gold companies looking to build scale and gain efficiencies through consolidation,” said John Matheson of PwC Canada.

Two since-merged companies, Potash Corp of Saskatchewan and Agrium, followed Barrick with second and third place among TSX mining valuations. Currently at about $41 billion, the potash combination Nutrien Ltd TSX:NTR has far surpassed Barrick’s $16.8-billion market cap.

Nearly half of the 225 companies had valuations of $150 million or less. But the category between $150 million and $1 billion boasted 74 companies, compared with 59 the previous year.

Nineteen of the top 25 had exposure to gold, 10 to copper, seven to zinc, six to silver and four to nickel, PwC stated. The report noted increasingly bullish sentiment for copper, zinc, cobalt and lithium. The latter mineral did especially well for five companies, with an approximately 39% total increase in valuations over nine months to September 30 for Orocobre TSX:ORL, Lithium Americas TSX:LAC, Nemaska Lithium TSX:NMX, Avalon Advanced Materials TSX:AVL and Globex Mining Enterprises TSX:GMX.

But overall, TSX miners “raised only half the equity capital in 2017 that they did the previous year. And for the second consecutive year, there were no mining initial public offerings on the TSX.”

That contrasts with a more buoyant, although still cautious mood among Venture-listed junior miners reported in November by PwC, which found a substantial increase in market caps, financings, M&A and IPOs for TSXV explorers.

Download Preparing for Growth: Capitalizing on a Period of Progress and Stability.

There’s skiing in them thar hills

October 23rd, 2017

by Greg Klein | October 23, 2017

Some appearances to the contrary, sliding downhill might not be the ambition of every mining company. But Barrick Gold TSX:ABX has a new ski resort under consideration around the site of a southern British Columbia past-producer. Although a local enthusiast says significant progress is imminent, PostMedia reports, a company spokesperson pegs the possible project “at a very, very early stage.”

There’s skiing in them thar hills

Recreational potential around a former underground
mine might offer Barrick an opportunity to diversify its assets.

That’s been the case since at least 2012. According to a Hope Standard account from that year, the miner had a feasibility study underway for an all-season resort around the former Giant Mascot underground mine about 10 kilometres from the town of Hope.

A 1974 B.C. Geological Survey report said Giant Mascot was mined briefly in the 1930s and 1958, then from 1959 to 1973. Production estimates vary, but a 1987 study commissioned for Mascot Gold Mines Ltd said Giant gave up 4.6 million tons containing 71 million pounds of nickel and 31.4 million pounds of copper, “with significant quantities of cobalt,” from 1959 to 1974.

“The mine closed in August of 1974 because of the loss of sales contracts for copper-nickel concentrate in Japan and because of the stringent policies towards the mining industry of the provincial NDP government,” the report stated. The study quoted a 1973 historic, non-43-101 estimate of 951,471 tons averaging 0.75% nickel and 0.3% copper. Operators had given only minimal attention to the mine’s gold, chrome, cobalt and PGM potential, the report added.

Barrick got the property through its 2001 merger with Homestake Mining, according to the Standard. By 2012 Barrick was considering a resort offering fishing, hiking and boating, along with possible ski facilities nearby, the paper noted. Consultations were underway with First Nations and other local communities.

Now PostMedia reports Dennis Adamson, an elected official of the Fraser Valley Regional District “and the project’s No. 1 booster,” says Barrick will soon file a notice of intent.

“I’ve been pushing this for years. It’s the No. 1 question I get,” he said of his 721 constituents. “Not a day goes by when I don’t get someone asking me when the ski hill will be open.”

But Andy Lloyd, spokesperson for the world’s top gold miner, cautioned that any such plan “is at a kind of conceptual stage … a very, very early stage … we wouldn’t want to create a false impression that Barrick is building a resort.”

Something of a higher priority might be Barrick’s relations with Tanzania, where the company holds a 63.9% stake in LSE-listed Acacia Mining, operator of three mines in the country. Barrick has proposed that the government get half the mines’ economic benefits, a 16% interest in the assets and US$300 million from Acacia towards unresolved tax claims.

Acacia says it doesn’t have the dough.

Meanwhile the Canada West Ski Areas Association, PostMedia reported, believes the province already has too many resorts chasing too few skiers.

Crucial commodities

September 8th, 2017

Price/supply concerns draw end-users to Commerce Resources’ rare earths-tantalum-niobium projects

by Greg Klein

“One of the things that really galls me is that the F-35 is flying around with over 900 pounds of Chinese REEs in it.”

That typifies some of the remarks Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE president Chris Grove hears from end-users of rare earths and rare metals. Steeply rising prices for magnet feed REEs and critical minerals like tantalum—not to mention concern about stable, geopolitically friendly sources—have brought even greater interest in the company’s two advanced projects, the Ashram rare earths deposit in northern Quebec and the Blue River tantalum-niobium deposit in southeastern British Columbia. Now Commerce has a list of potential customers and processors waiting for samples from both properties.

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F-35 fighter jets alongside the USS America:
Chinese rare earths in action.
(Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Of course with China supplying over 90% of the world’s REEs, governments and industries in many countries have cause for concern. Tantalum moves to market through sometimes disturbingly vague supply lines, with about 37% of last year’s production coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo and 32% from Rwanda, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. One company in Brazil, Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração (CBMM), produces about 85% of the world’s niobium, another critical mineral.

As Ashram moves towards pre-feasibility, Commerce has a team busy getting a backlog of core to the assay lab. But tantalum and niobium, the original metals of interest for Commerce, have returned to the fore as well, with early-stage exploration on the Quebec property and metallurgical studies on the B.C. deposit.

The upcoming assays will come from 14 holes totalling 2,014 metres sunk last year, mostly definition drilling. Initial geological review and XRF data suggest significant intervals in several holes, including a large stepout to the southeast, Grove’s team reports.

“We’re always excited to see this project’s drilling results,” he says. “We know we’re in carbonatite basically all of the time and over the last five years, in all the 9,200 metres we’ve done since the last resource calculation, we’ve basically always hit more material than was modelled in the original resource—i.e. we’ve always found less waste rock at surface, we’ve always hit material in the condemnation holes and we’ve always had intersections of higher-grade material. So all those things look exciting for this program.”

Carbonatite comprises a key Ashram distinction. The deposit sits within carbonatite host rock and the minerals monazite, bastnasite and xenotime, which are well understood in commercial REE processing. That advantage distinguishes Ashram from REE hopefuls that foundered over mineralogical challenges. Along with resource size, mineralogy has Grove confident of Ashram’s potential as a low-cost producer competing with China.

As for size, a 2012 resource used a 1.25% cutoff to show:

  • measured: 1.59 million tonnes averaging 1.77% total rare earth oxides

  • indicated: 27.67 million tonnes averaging 1.9% TREO

  • inferred: 219.8 million tonnes averaging 1.88% TREO

A near-surface—sometimes at-surface—deposit, Ashram also features strong distribution of neodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium and yttrium, all critical elements and some especially costly. Neodymium and dysprosium prices have shot up 80% this year.

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Commerce Resources’ field crew poses at the Eldor property,
home to the Ashram deposit and Miranna prospect.

Comparing Ashram’s inferred gross tonnage of nearly 220 million tonnes with the measured and indicated total of less than 30 million tonnes, Grove sees considerable potential to bolster the M&I as well as increase the resource’s overall size and average grade.

This season’s field program includes prospecting in the Miranna area about a kilometre from the deposit. Miranna was the site of 2015 boulder sampling that brought “spectacular” niobium grades up to 5.9% Nb2O5, nearly twice the average grade of the world’s largest producer, CBMM’s Araxá mine, Grove says. Some tantalum standouts showed 1,220 ppm and 1,040 ppm Ta2O5. Significant results for phosphate and rare earth oxides were also apparent.

Should Miranna prove drill-worthy, the synergies with Ashram would be obvious.

That’s the early-stage aspect of Commerce’s tantalum-niobium work. In B.C. the company’s Blue River deposit reached PEA in 2011, with a resource update in 2013. Based on a tantalum price of $381 per kilo, the estimate showed:

  • indicated: 48.41 million tonnes averaging 197 ppm Ta2O5 and 1,610 ppm Nb2O5 for 9.56 million kilograms Ta2O5 and 77.81 kilograms Nb2O5

  • inferred: 5.4 million tonnes averaging 191 ppm Ta2O5 and 1,760 ppm Nb2O5 for 1 million kilograms Ta2O5 and 9.6 million kilograms Nb2O5

Actually that should be 1,300 kilograms less. That’s the size of a sample on its way to Estonia for evaluation by Alexander Krupin, an expert in processing high-grade tantalum and niobium concentrates. “As with Ashram, we’ve already found that standard processing works well for Blue River,” Grove points out. “However, if Krupin’s proprietary method proves even more efficient, why wouldn’t we look at it?”

We’re always excited to see this project’s drilling results. We know we’re in carbonatite basically all of the time and over the last five years, in all the 9,200 metres we’ve done since the last resource calculation, we’ve basically always hit more material than was modelled in the original resource.—Chris Grove,
president of Commerce Resources

Back to rare earths, Commerce signed an MOU with Ucore Rare Metals TSXV:UCU to assess Ashram material for a proprietary method of selective processing. Others planning to test proprietary techniques on Ashram include Texas Mineral Resources and K-Technologies, Rare Earth Salts, Innovation Metals Corp, the University of Tennessee and NanoScience Solutions at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Should proprietary methods work, all the better, Grove states. But he emphasizes that standard metallurgical tests have already succeeded, making a cheaper process unnecessary for both Blue River and Ashram.

Potential customers show interest too. Concentrate sample requests have come from Solvay, Mitsubishi, Treibacher, BASF, DKK, Albemarle, Blue Line and others covered by non-disclosure agreements. Requests have also come for samples of fluorspar, a potential Ashram byproduct and another mineral subject to rising prices and Chinese supply dominance.

A solid expression of interest came from the province too, as Ressources Québec invested $1 million in a February private placement. The provincial government corporation describes itself as focusing “on projects that have good return prospects and foster Quebec’s economic development.”

Also fostering the mining-friendly jurisdiction’s economic development is Plan Nord, which has pledged $1.3 billion to infrastructure over five years. The provincial road to Renard helped make Stornoway Diamond’s (TSX:SWY) mine a reality. Other projects that would benefit from a road extension towards Ashram would be Lac Otelnuk, located 80 kilometres south. The Sprott Resource Holdings TSX:SRHI/WISCO JV holds Canada’s largest iron ore deposit. Some projects north of Ashram include the Kan gold-base metals project of Barrick Gold TSX:ABX and Osisko Mining TSX:OSK, as well as properties held by Midland Exploration TSXV:MD.

But, Grove says, it’s rising prices and security of supply that have processors and end-users metaphorically beating a path to his company’s door. And maybe nothing demonstrates the criticality of critical minerals better than a nearby superpower that relies on a geopolitical rival for commodities essential to national defence.