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Posts tagged ‘argentina’

Unapologetically unorthodox

April 30th, 2018

Jayant Bhandari rejects convention as he discusses economies, cultures and opportunities

by Greg Klein

There are contrarians and there are contrarians. But maybe Jayant Bhandari would be better called a controversian. As a prolific writer/commentator and an adviser to institutional investors, his comments reflect a mind unsatisfied with received wisdom. Now a resident of Singapore, his travels have taken him to 80 countries, seven of which he’s lived in. That background has influenced his perspective on a number of topics including the emerging markets—or emerging market singular. China’s the only one, he insists.

Jayant Bhandari rejects convention to discuss emerging markets, the West and China

Jayant Bhandari goes beyond the
mainstream to examine the West,
China, emerging markets and gold.

Speaking on the phone to ResourceClips.com while visiting central India, he used that country to illustrate what he considers to be the emerging market fallacy. With a per-capita GDP of about $1,800, the country enjoys 7.5% growth. Multiplying those numbers shows India’s economy increasing by $135 per capita.

“Now 7.5% looks very good, but look at America,” Bhandari points out. Although it’s growing at “only” 2.3%, its per-capita GDP reaches nearly $50,000. “That translates into $1,150 growth per capita, which means that America’s GDP, on a per-capita basis, is growing nine times faster than India’s.”

He argues that people and organizations—like the World Bank and IMF—are dead wrong in claiming the two countries shouldn’t be compared.

Taking a pessimistic view towards much of the globe, he emphasizes that “something like 75% of the world’s consumption of commodities happens in China. So it is China which is in the driver’s seat and in my view it will continue to do very well going forward.”

While Chile, Argentina and Peru hold out hope, the rest of South America shows little prospect, he believes. Central America faces serious crime and social unrest. “Just about everything in Africa is imploding. The international media are almost completely ignoring the problems of South Africa which is, in my view, rapidly moving in the direction of a civil war. And if South Africa implodes, it won’t take much for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa to implode.”

Bhandari adds that “Chinese money and Chinese businesses enforce some kind of stability in many of these countries.” Yet lingering problems bode poorly for the future “and it is a reason why Trump is asking for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The Third World is not in good shape at all.”

Consequently many of its people appreciate gold’s safe haven status. “They don’t trust their institutions and they don’t trust their social structures,” Bhandari maintains.

Jayant Bhandari disregards convention to discuss emerging markets, the West and China

“The biggest buyers of gold are in the Middle East and south Asia because institutions in these countries simply don’t work and people do not trust them. They do not even trust their families and friends, basically. Pakistan is imploding right now, India is rapidly moving in that direction and wealthy people of these countries will rapidly move their investment wealth into gold once they realize that economic growth isn’t happening anymore.”

Although he regards himself “ambivalent about buying gold in Western countries,” he says: “If enough gold-buying happens in these poor countries, the gold price will do quite well and that will benefit buyers of gold in Western countries.

“Of course you have to protect yourself from government interference and it’s wise to keep some of your wealth in a form that you can keep in your own pocket.”

Still, Bhandari sees too much emphasis on gold’s price in U.S. dollars. Non-American buyers “look at gold in the currencies that they use at home. When people focus too much on U.S. dollar pricing of gold they might not understand the technical future of gold.”

What could trigger a significant and sustained price increase? One possibility could be turmoil in South Africa “because those problems would very rapidly spread across sub-Saharan Africa. But I also see problems continuing to increase in India and if this country increases its consumption very slightly on a per-capita basis, it will start consuming a lot more gold. And social instability is increasing in this country.”

People should pay attention to what Western civilization stands for in hopes that they can preserve it.

Among Bhandari’s more optimistic endeavours is Capitalism and Morality, a philosophy seminar that he hosts in Vancouver each year. “My purpose is to bring people together to discuss Western civilization, what I consider to be the only civilization that has ever existed.”

Considering the West unique for its respect towards reason and individuality, Bhandari says, “People should pay attention to what Western civilization stands for in hopes that they can preserve it.”

What does Bhandari’s perspective mean to investors? He examines the mistakes people make in junior resource stocks at the International Mining Investment Conference, held in Vancouver on May 15 and 16. For a 25% admission discount click here and enter the code RESOURCECLIPS.

Read about conference speakers Simon Moores and Ed Steer.

Lithium in abundance, but…

April 25th, 2018

Bolivia’s huge resources face huge challenges, Simon Moores points out

by Greg Klein

Bolivia’s huge resources face huge challenges, Simon Moores points out

Estimates vary widely but attribute enormous lithium potential to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni.

 

It’s a testament to lithium market expectations that companies will compete with each other to do business in Bolivia. When news broke that the country wanted help to develop its fabled Salar de Uyuni, several firms showed willingness to overlook a history of investment confiscation. So has one of the world’s worst mining jurisdictions become serious about opening what just might be the world’s largest lithium resources?

Yes, an April 21 government announcement would seem to indicate. Media reports say the German firm ACI Systems GmbH had been selected out of five applicants from China and one each from Canada and Russia to team up with the state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos, which would hold the lion’s share of a 51%/49% joint venture. The actual agreement has yet to be signed.

Bolivia’s huge resources face huge challenges, Simon Moores points out

After winning power in 2006, Bolivian President Evo Morales gained a reputation for nationalizing resource and infrastructure assets, sometimes without compensation. State-run and co-operative mining operations, meanwhile, have suffered problems ranging from inefficiency to
exploitive and even deadly working conditions.

Clearly there’s an incentive for Bolivia to change its approach to mining. According to la Razón, the deal calls for $900 million from YLB (all figures in U.S. dollars) and $1.3 billion plus expertise from ACI to develop facilities that would process lithium and manufacture batteries and cathodes, primarily for the European electric vehicle market.

Expected to come online within 18 months, the industry might eventually provide Bolivia with a forecasted $1.2 billion in annual revenues, 1,200 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs.

It takes enormous mineral potential to rationalize such optimism. While estimates can vary wildly, they all rate Bolivia highly. Uyuni has “likely the largest accumulation of lithium in the world,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey, citing a 2013 estimate of nine million tonnes at an average concentration of about 320 ppm. Another USGS report estimates a 2017 global total of 53 million tonnes, with 9.8 million tonnes in Argentina, nine million in Bolivia, 8.4 million in Chile, seven million in China, five million in Australia and 1.9 million in Canada. Comparing Bolivia with its Lithium Triangle neighbours, Industrial Minerals credits Uyuni with three times the resources of Chile’s Salar de Atacama and nearly 20 times that of Argentina’s Salar del Hombre Muerto. Some media reports say Bolivia holds as much as a quarter of global supply.

Resources mean little and economic reserves mean everything.

“There is no doubt that Bolivia has a huge lithium resource with Uyuni, most probably the biggest in the world,” notes Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. “But resources mean little and economic reserves mean everything.

“In these economic terms—extracting the lithium in a usable form for the battery industry at a reasonable cost—Chile and Argentina are light years ahead of Bolivia,” he tells ResourceClips.com.

The country has been conducting pilot scale work, but nothing comparable to its neighbours. In contrast to Chile’s Atacama, Moores says, Uyuni’s high magnesium content and lower evaporation rate present processing challenges. “Most likely new or adapted processing methods will have to be employed, which adds a further layer of complexity.”

As for political risk, “the jury is out on any partnership in Bolivia,” he stresses. “In 2009, when this story first broke, there were a number of high-profile partners involved. Every partnership to date has failed. This is not to say any present or future partnership will share the same fate, but you are not only dealing with a challenging resource—despite its size—you are dealing with Bolivia and all the political problems that come with that. The risk is huge.

“Then when you are in production, the risk is even bigger. You just have to see the problems SQM has had with the Chilean government at a time of high prices and high demand. And they have been operating since the mid-90s.”

If Albemarle, SQM, Ganfeng, Tianqi, FMC get involved then you will have to stand up and take notice. Until that point, Bolivia will always be a lithium outside shot.

As for other companies entering Bolivia, Moores sees the possibility of “a handful of explorers becoming active and maybe one or two ‘industrial’ partners. But the key thing we always look for at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence is partners with lithium processing experience. If Albemarle, SQM, Ganfeng, Tianqi, FMC get involved then you will have to stand up and take notice. Until that point, Bolivia will always be a lithium outside shot.”

He regards Bolivia’s infrastructure as another significant challenge, but not the country’s worst. “If big mining groups can make this happen in Africa, they can make it happen in Bolivia. The biggest focus should be economic extraction and the long-term viability of Uyuni. This is the biggest hurdle.”

Simon Moores speaks at the International Mining Investment Conference in Vancouver on May 15, the first day of the two-day event. For a 25% admission discount click here and enter the code RESOURCECLIPS.

On May 16 Moores presents the Vancouver stop of the Benchmark World Tour 2018. Click here for the complete tour schedule and free registration.

Silver supply deficit fails to boost price, Silver Institute study finds

April 16th, 2018

by Greg Klein | April 16, 2018

Notwithstanding a decline in production, silver fell slightly in price and lost further ground to gold last year, according to the World Silver Survey 2018. Prepared by Thomson Reuters for the Silver Institute, the 28th annual study reported total supply of 991.6 million ounces in 2017, compared with physical demand of 1,017.6 million ounces. The 26-million-ounce deficit grew to 35.2 million ounces when ETP and exchange inventory increases were factored in.

Silver supply deficit fails to boost price, Silver Institute study finds

But at $17.05, the average price represented a 0.5% year-on-year drop. The metal ended the year at $16.87, having traded between $15.22 and $18.56 during 2017.

While recycling provided most of the remaining supply, the year’s global mine production came to 852.1 million ounces. That represented a 4.1% decline attributed largely to “supply disruptions in the Americas,” most notably Guatemala, where Tahoe Resources TSX:THO had its Escobal mining licence suspended, and the U.S., where a strike beginning in March 2017 forced Hecla Mining NYSE:HL to slash production at its Lucky Friday mine. Australia and Argentina also showed considerable declines.

Canada, ranking 14th for silver production, extracted 12.7 million ounces last year, compared with 13 million in 2016.

Meanwhile, gold has been leaving silver behind. Year-end prices for 2016 showed the yellow stuff selling for 71.4 times the price of its poorer cousin. The 2017 gold:silver ratio averaged 73.9:1, hitting 77:1 by year-end, “a high level that perhaps suggests that the market is trying to tell us something,” Thomson Reuters stated. “We suspect the high gold:silver ratio indicated that the market had been expecting another major crisis could be looming, or at the least that it was about time for equities correction, and therefore investors had been accumulating physical gold in the market.”

Another precious metal also paled in comparison with gold, which ended 2017 at an historical high of 1.4 times the price of platinum.

But investors looking at silver and platinum’s catch-up potential should consider “gold’s role as a safe haven and that some smart money has been hedging against geopolitical risks and potential correction in equities,” the study added.

NRG Metals readies geophysics, drilling, 43-101 for new Argentina lithium project

July 13th, 2017

by Greg Klein | July 13, 2017

A property optioned in June has a busy agenda scheduled as NRG Metals TSXV:NGZ prepares to explore its Hombre Muerto North project on an Argentinian salar that also hosts an FMC Corp NYSE:FMC lithium mine and Galaxy Resources’ advanced-stage Sal de Vida lithium-potash project. With drill permitting underway, NRG intends to begin with geophysics, followed by up to eight holes ranging from 150 to 200 metres in depth. Results might encourage the company to extend some holes down to 400 metres, with some larger-diameter holes for pumping tests.

NRG Metals readies geophysics, drilling, 43-101 for new Argentina lithium project

A newly commissioned 43-101 technical report
will assess previous surface sample results.

NRG also plans to build a pilot test pond to assess the brine’s evaporative conditions and chemical features.

A 43-101 technical report will be compiled by a Chilean company to verify previous samples and provide details of the upcoming drill program. Twenty surface samples taken in 2016 and 2017 brought non-43-101 results ranging from 48 milligrams lithium per litre to 1,064 mg/L, averaging 587 mg/L. Ratios of magnesium to lithium remained low by industry standards, averaging 4.6 to 1, the company added.

In addition to this 3,287-hectare project, NRG has drill permitting underway for its optioned 29,182-hectare Carachi Pampa property, also on the prolific Salar del Hombre Muerto.

Now leading exploration is NRG’s new director/COO, José de Castro. A chemical engineer with extensive lithium project experience, he headed Orocobre’s (TSX:ORL) Olaroz Salar lithium project from exploration to commercial production. He also supervised exploration of Argentina’s Salinas Grandes salar and developed a patent to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate.

One week before de Castro’s June appointment, Gordon Neal joined NRG’s board. Having served with several explorers, Neal has raised over $500 million for resource companies since 2004.

NRG Metals options second Lithium Triangle property

June 5th, 2017

by Greg Klein | June 5, 2017

Another acquisition in a lithium-producing region of Argentina has NRG Metals TSXV:NGZ hoping the Hombre Muerto North project will tell tales of further deposits to be found. The company has optioned six concessions totalling 3,287 hectares on the same salar as an FMC lithium mine and Galaxy Resources’ Sal de Vida lithium-potash project, which reached feasibility in 2013.

NRG Metals options second Lithium Triangle property

Twenty samples from Hombre Muerto North averaged
587 milligrams lithium per litre, with seven surpassing 800 mg/L.

Surface samples taken at Hombre Muerto North in 2016 and 2017 ranged from 48 milligrams lithium per litre to 1,064 mg/L, with an average of 587 mg/L. Seven of the 20 samples exceeded 800 mg/L. High lithium and potassium values coincided with relatively low magnesium, NRG stated.

A geophysical survey conducted in January revealed areas of low resistivity, “interpreted to be potential lithium-bearing zones that are open at depth,” the company added.

Regional infrastructure includes a provincial road and a natural gas pipeline within 10 kilometres’ distance, a transmission line and, about 100 kilometres north, a rail line that’s being reactivated to the Chilean port of Antofagasta.

“NRG has a highly qualified, Argentina-based team of professionals experienced with lithium exploration, development, through to lithium production,” said CEO Adrian Hobkirk.

Hombre Muerto North would cost NRG US$5.65 million and 10 million shares over 54 months. A 3% net production royalty applies, half of which NRG may buy for US$3 million within three years of TSXV acceptance of a 43-101 technical report that the company would produce during due diligence.

NRG additionally holds the Carachi Pampa option, also on the Salar del Hombre Muerto, where permitting for an initial drill program is in the final stages. In February the company increased the property size from 6,387 hectares to 29,182 hectares.

More critical than ever

April 13th, 2017

The USGS promotes awareness about essential resources and their supply chains

by Greg Klein

Let’s call it Critical Minerals Awareness Month. The U.S. Geological Survey hasn’t actually labelled April that way, but the agency does have a “big push” underway to inform American decision-makers and the general public about the country’s often tenuous hold on commodities vital to the economy and security of that country. Of course those concerns apply to its allies as well.

The USGS promotes public awareness about essential resources and their supply chains

“We decided to do a big push on critical minerals in April largely because we’ve got several big publications coming out on the subject,” USGS public affairs specialist Alex Demas tells ResourceClips.com.

“One of the things we’ve been focusing on is supply chain security, so with the sheer number of mineral commodities that are used in the United States, and the number of them deemed critical, we felt it was important to emphasize where a lot of those mineral resources are coming from and if there are any potential issues in the supply chain, getting them from the source to the United States.”

Computers provide an obvious example, increasing their use from “just 12 elements in the 1980s to as many as 60 by 2006,” points out one recent USGS news release. Smartphones offer another example. Looking back 30 years ago, “‘portable’ phones were the size of a shoebox and consisted of 25 to 30 elements,” states another USGS release. “Today they fit in your pocket or on your wrist and are made from about 75 different elements, almost three-quarters of the periodic table.”

Larry Meinert, USGS deputy associate director for energy and minerals, pointed out some of the sources. “For instance, the industrial sand used to make the quartz in smartphone screens may come from the United States or China, but the potassium added to enhance screen strength could come from Canada, Russia or Belarus. Australia, Chile and Argentina often produce the lithium used in battery cathodes, while the hard-to-come-by tantalum—used in smartphone circuitry—mostly comes from Congo, Rwanda and Brazil.”

That brings an ominous warning. “With minerals being sourced from all over the world, the possibility of supply disruption is more critical than ever.”

The campaign also reveals the agency’s methods for tracking this essential stuff. A USGS-designed early warning system described as “mathematically rigorous and elegant” helps the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency monitor a watch list of about 160 minerals. Not all have been labelled critical, but those so defined can change due to technological development and geopolitical conflict.

The USGS itself tracks something like 90 minerals important to the American economy or security but sourced from about 180 countries. For last year the agency identified 20 minerals on which the U.S. relied entirely on imports and 47 on which the country imported more than half its supply.

Not all the source countries are always best buddies with the West. China supplies most of America’s mined commodities, including 24 of the 47 minerals supplied 51% or more by imports. Among the critical items are rare earth elements, 100% imported, over 90% directly from China and much of the rest through supply chains originating there.

As a supplier, Canada came a distant second, the chief provider of 16 minerals, not all of them critical. Runners-up Mexico, Russia and South Africa were each chief suppliers for eight American mineral imports.

Among the research reports coming soon will be “a compendium of everything the USGS knows about 23 minerals critical to the United States,” Demas says. “It’s going to cover the industry side of things, the reserves, production, shipment, etc. It’s going to cover geology and sustainability. Each chapter on each mineral will have a section on how this can be mined sustainably so we can meet our needs not only today, but also in the future.”

In part the publications target “decision-makers in Congress, as well as the Defense Department and others who use mineral resources,” Demas adds. But he emphasizes the campaign wasn’t motivated by the proposed METALS Act (Materials Essential to American Leadership and Security). Currently before U.S. Congress, the bill calls on government to support domestic resources and supply chains of critical and strategic minerals. On introducing the bill, Rep. Duncan Hunter argued the risk of foreign dependence to national security “is too great and it urgently demands that we re-establish our depleted domestic industrial base.”

As Demas notes, “Since we are a non-regulatory, non-policy agency, we don’t directly influence policy. But we do want policy-makers to have our tools available so they can make the best science-informed decisions.”

And while this month will see special attention to critical minerals, Demas says the subject’s an ongoing concern for the USGS. Some of the reports coming out now will be updates of annual publications.

“We’re really trying to promote the idea that USGS has a lot of really useful information that we put out all the time,” he adds. “This information will hopefully be useful to people when they’re considering where their resources are coming from.”

Follow USGS news here.

Read about the West’s dependence on non-allied countries for critical minerals here and here.

USGS: Possibility of supply disruption more critical than ever

April 5th, 2017

by Greg Klein | April 5, 2017

USGS: Possibility of supply disruption more critical than ever

Many and various are the sources of smartphone minerals.
(Map: U.S. Geological Survey)

 

In another article warning of foreign dependency, the U.S. Geological Survey uses smartphones as a cautionary example. Looking back 30 years ago, “‘portable’ phones were the size of a shoebox and consisted of 25 to 30 elements,” pointed out Larry Meinert of the USGS. “Today they fit in your pocket or on your wrist and are made from about 75 different elements, almost three-quarters of the periodic table.”

USGS: Possibility of supply disruption more critical than ever

Smartphones now require nearly 75% of the periodic
table of the elements. (Graphic: Jason Burton, USGS)

The increasing sophistication of portable communications results from a “symphony of electronics and chemistry” that includes, for example, “household names like silicon, which is used for circuit boards, or graphite used in batteries. Then there are lesser known substances like bastnasite, monazite and xenotime. These brownish minerals contain neodymium, one of the rare earth elements used in the magnets that allow smartphone speakers to play music and the vibration motor that notifies you of new, funny cat videos on social media,” the USGS stated.

Almost as varied are the sources. “For instance, the industrial sand used to make the quartz in smartphone screens may come from the United States or China, but the potassium added to enhance screen strength could come from Canada, Russia or Belarus. Australia, Chile and Argentina often produce the lithium used in battery cathodes, while the hard-to-come-by tantalum—used in smartphone circuitry—mostly comes from Congo, Rwanda and Brazil.”

Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also sources of conflict minerals.

“With minerals being sourced from all over the world, the possibility of supply disruption is more critical than ever,” Meinert emphasized.

The April 4 article follows a previous USGS report on an early warning system used by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency to monitor supply threats. In January the USGS released a list of 20 minerals for which the country relies entirely on imports. Whether or not by design, the recent awareness campaign coincides with a bill before U.S. Congress calling on government to support the development of domestic deposits and supply chains for critical minerals.

See an illustrated USGS report: A World of Minerals in Your Mobile Device.

Read about the West’s dependence on non-allied countries for critical minerals here and here.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba first and second globally as mining jurisdictions

March 1st, 2017

by Greg Klein | March 1, 2017

Saskatchewan edged one notch upwards to take first place worldwide while Manitoba soared from 19th to second in this year’s Fraser Institute survey of mining and exploration jurisdictions. Those two provinces pushed last year’s top performer, Western Australia, down to third place. Canada’s other top 10 spot went to Quebec, rising to sixth from eighth the year before. All continents but Antarctica came under scrutiny but Canadian, American, Australian and European locales monopolized the top 10.

Farther down the list, the strongest Canadian improvements were Newfoundland and Labrador, climbing to 16th from 25th, and the Northwest Territories, now 21st, previously 35th. Most disappointing were British Columbia (falling to 27th from 18th), Nunavut (31st from 23rd) and Alberta (47th from 34th).

Those findings come from the survey’s Investment Attractiveness Index, which combines two other indices—Policy Perception, a “report card” on government attitudes, and Best Practices Mineral Potential, concerning geological appeal. Representatives of 104 companies responded with their 2016 experiences in mind, giving a numerical rating to questions in several categories regarding their likelihood of investing in a particular jurisdiction. The previous year 109 companies responded.

Here’s the top 10 globally for overall investment attractiveness, with last year’s standings in parentheses:

1 Saskatchewan (2)

2 Manitoba (19)

3 Western Australia (1)

4 Nevada (3)

5 Finland (5)

6 Quebec (8)

7 Arizona (17)

8 Sweden (13)

9 Ireland (4)

10 Queensland (16)

Here are the Canadian runners-up:

15 Yukon (12)

16 Newfoundland and Labrador (25)

18 Ontario (15)

21 Northwest Territories (35)

27 British Columbia (18)

31 Nunavut (23)

40 New Brunswick (45)

47 Alberta (34)

52 Nova Scotia (59)

At least those provinces and territories steered far clear of the bottom 10, where Argentina figures prominently:

95 Mozambique (84)

96 Zimbabwe (98)

97 India (73)

98 Mendoza province, Argentina (101)

99 La Rioja province, Argentina (109)

100 Afghanistan (not available)

101 Chubut province, Argentina (104)

102 Venezuela (108)

103 Neuquen province, Argentina (93)

104 Jujuy province, Argentina (86)

“We believe that the survey captures, at least in broad strokes, the perceptions of those involved in both mining and the regulation of mining in the jurisdictions included in the survey,” stated authors Taylor Jackson and Kenneth P. Green.

Download the Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies 2016.

NRG Metals expands size of potential lithium option in Argentina, resumes trading

February 21st, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 21, 2017

NRG Metals TSXV:NGZ resumed TSXV activity February 21, following the expansion of its Carachi Pampa option and completion of a 43-101 technical report. The company has also applied for a drill permit for the Argentinian lithium prospect, now increased from 6,387 hectares to 29,182 hectares.

NRG Metals expands size of potential lithium option in Argentina, resumes trading

Now 29,182 hectares in size, Carachi Pampa hosts
a low-resistivity zone that’s open in all directions.

Located about 3,000 metres’ elevation in the Andes, the property sits in the same region as FMC’s Salar del Hombre Muerto lithium mine and Galaxy Resources’ Sal de Vida lithium-potash project, which reached feasibility in 2013. Carachi Pampa has road access within 10 kilometres.

Using a common geophysical approach to finding potential brine zones in Argentina, NRG conducted a vertical electrical survey on the property. Of four zones tested, one showed extremely low resistivity, a characteristic of brine zones. The zone begins at 70 metres in depth and dips to 300 metres, the company stated. At least 150 metres thick, it’s open at depth and in all directions laterally. Awaiting a permit, the company anticipates exploration drilling.

With all figures in American currency, the acquisition comes with an initial price of $172,911 and 100,000 shares. Pending satisfactory exploration results, NRG would pay another $535,000 and 100,000 shares to sign a definitive agreement. Additional payments would bring the total to $6.72 million over 54 months.

Earlier this month NRG completed the spinout of its non-core assets, the Groete gold-copper project in Guyana and the LAB graphite project in Quebec, to Gold Port Resources. The new company will focus on Groete, which has a 2013 inferred resource that used a 0.22 g/t gold-equivalent cutoff:

  • 74.8 million tonnes averaging 0.49 g/t gold and 0.12% copper, or 0.66 g/t gold-equivalent, for 1.59 million gold-equivalent ounces

LAB sits adjacent and contiguous to Lac des Iles, the largest of North America’s two flake graphite mines.

NRG closed an oversubscribed private placement of C$1.51 million in December.

A 2016 retrospect

December 20th, 2016

Was it the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

by Greg Klein

Some say optimism was evident early in the year, as the trade shows and investor conferences began. Certainly as 2016 progressed, so did much of the market. Commodities, some of them anyway, picked up. In a lot of cases, so did valuations. The crystal ball of the industry’s predictionariat often seemed to shine a rosier tint. It must have been the first time in years that people actually stopped saying, “I think we’ve hit bottom.”

But it would have been a full-out bull market if every commodity emulated lithium.

By February Benchmark Mineral Intelligence reported the chemical’s greatest-ever price jump as both hydroxide and carbonate surpassed $10,000 a tonne, a 47% increase for the latter’s 2015 average. The Macquarie Group later cautioned that the Big Four of Albermarle NYSE:ALB, FMC Corp NYSE:FMC, SQM NYSE:SQM and Talison Lithium had been mining significantly below capacity and would ramp up production to protect market share.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

That they did, as new supply was about to come online from sources like Galaxy Resources’ Mount Cattlin mine in Western Australia, which began commissioning in November. The following month Orocobre TSX:ORL announced plans to double output from its Salar de Olaroz project in Argentina. Even Bolivia sent a token 9.3 tonnes to China, suggesting the mining world’s outlaw finally intends to develop its lithium deposits, estimated to be the world’s largest at 22% of global potential.

Disagreeing with naysayers like Macquarie and tracking at least 12 Li-ion megafactories being planned, built or expanded to gigawatt-hour capacity by 2020, Benchmark in December predicted further price increases for 2017.

Obviously there was no keeping the juniors out of this. Whether or not it’s a bubble destined to burst, explorers snapped up prospects, issuing news releases at an almost frantic flow that peaked in mid-summer. Acquisitions and early-stage activity often focused on the western U.S., South America’s Lithium Triangle and several Canadian locations too.

In Quebec’s James Bay region, Whabouchi was subject of a feasibility update released in April. Calling the development project “one of the richest spodumene hard rock lithium deposits in the world, both in volume and grade,” Nemaska Lithium TSX:NMX plans to ship samples from its mine and plant in Q2 2017.

A much more despairing topic was cobalt, considered by some observers to be the energy metal to watch. At press time instability menaced the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces an estimated 60% of global output. Far overshadowing supply-side concerns, however, was the threat of a humanitarian crisis triggered by president Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate on December 20.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

But the overall buoyant market mood had a practical basis in base metals, led by zinc. In June prices bounced back from the six-year lows of late last year to become “by far the best-performing LME metal,” according to Reuters. Two months later a UBS spokesperson told the news agency refiners were becoming “panicky.”

Mine closures in the face of increasing demand for galvanized steel and, later in the year, post-U.S. election expectations of massive infrastructure programs, pushed prices 80% above the previous year. They then fell closer to 70%, but remained well within levels unprecedented over the last five years. By mid-December one steelmaker told the Wall Street Journal to expect “a demand explosion.”

Lead lagged, but just for the first half of 2016. Spot prices had sunk to about 74 cents a pound in early June, when the H2 ascension began. Reaching an early December peak of about $1.08, the highest since 2013, the metal then slipped beneath the dollar mark.

Copper lay at or near five-year lows until November, when a Trump-credited surge sent the red metal over 60% higher, to about $2.54 a pound. Some industry observers doubted it would last. But columnist Andy Home dated the rally to October, when the Donald was expected to lose. Home attributed copper’s rise to automated trading: “Think the copper market equivalent of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network that takes over the world in the Terminator films.” While other markets have experienced the same phenomenon, he maintained, it’s probably the first, but not the last time for a base metal.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

Nickel’s spot price started the year around a piddling $3.70 a pound. But by early December it rose to nearly $5.25. That still compared poorly with 2014 levels well above $9 and almost $10 in 2011. Nickel’s year was characterized by Indonesia’s ban on exports of unprocessed metals and widespread mine suspensions in the Philippines, up to then the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore.

More controversial for other reasons, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte began ordering suspensions shortly after his June election. His environmental secretary Regina Lopez then exhorted miners to surpass the world’s highest environmental standards, “better than Canada, better than Australia. We must be better and I know it can be done.”

Uranium continued to present humanity with a dual benefit—a carbon-free fuel for emerging middle classes and a cautionary example for those who would predict the future. Still oblivious to optimistic forecasts, the recalcitrant metal scraped a post-Fukushima low of $18 in December before creeping to $20.25 on the 19th. The stuff fetched around $72 a pound just before the 2011 tsunami and hit $136 in 2007.