Saturday 25th May 2019

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘australia’

Turbulent times for Lynas

May 17th, 2019

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

by Greg Klein | Updated May 21, 2019

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

One of the world’s biggest supplies of magnet metals
undergoes separation at Lynas’ Malaysian facility. (Photo: Lynas Corp)

 

How often does an investor presentation draw such keen interest from non-investors?

No doubt representatives from a number of governments and industries watched intensely on May 21 as Lynas CEO/managing director Amanda Lacaze accentuated her company’s “will to win.” Lynas has plans in place and funding en route to overcome what previously appeared to be an unattainable ultimatum. Far from becoming a takeover target, let alone a jurisdictional fatality, the miner expects to continue building a rare earths supply chain “focused on rest-of-the-world markets, that is non-Chinese markets.”

That was her message, and if stirring delivery could convince listeners, Lacaze made her case. But insufficient details cast a pall of uncertainty. Clearly the company can’t meet a September 2 deadline to remove over 450,000 tonnes of radioactive waste from Malaysia and thereby avert a processing plant shutdown in that country which would render useless the company’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

One of the world’s richest rare earths deposits, Mount Weld boasts reserves expected to give over 25 additional years of production at 22,000 tonnes of rare earth oxides annually. Included is an especially bountiful distribution of the magnet metals neodymium and praseodymium. Lynas concentrates ore in WA before shipping material to Malaysia for refining and separation. But while rare earths metallurgy has stymied some other non-Chinese operations, this facility has operated successfully since 2012.

At least it did so under Malaysia’s previous government. Its first electoral defeat since the country’s 1957 independence brought to office a party long opposed to Lynas’ operation in Kuantan. Concerns about waste containing thorium and uranium brought to mind a Malaysian RE refinery operated by Mitsubishi up to 1992. The plant closed down after an increase in leukemia and birth defects that critics attributed to the operation’s waste.

Following an environmental review of Lynas’ facility late last year, the new government delivered two formidable demands: Ensure that all material brought into the country has been rendered non-radioactive. And remove seven years of accumulated radioactive tailings from the country by September 2. Failure to do so will shut down the plant, the government warned.

An enormous logistical problem notwithstanding, Lacaze and her “dream team” told investors they have solutions backed by a AU$500-million “capital envelope” from senior lender Japan Australia Rare Earths (JARE) and the Japanese trading company Sojitz Corp.

“Of course we cannot do this on the smell of an oily rag, much as we might like to,” Lacaze acknowledged.

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

Lynas managing director Dato’ Mashal Ahmad at the
podium, CEO Amanda Lacaze holding the microphone
at the company’s May 21 shareholder presentation.

A new cracking and leaching plant to be built in WA would “detox” Mount Weld material. Plans to pour money into Malaysia to upgrade the company’s Kuantan facility also sounded an optimistic note. But accumulated waste remains troublesome.

As managing director Dato’ Mashal Ahmad explained, the company will counter the ultimatum by asking the government to choose one of two options: Allow Lynas to treat the waste by producing a type of fertilizer, or allow Lynas to build another waste depository in Malaysia. The company already has four years of research backing Option 1. As for Option 2, “which Lynas is prepared to do anytime,” the company has already chosen three potential sites.

To those skeptical that Malaysia would accept the proposals, Ahmad said the environmental review, which hasn’t been officially translated, pronounced the Kuantan operation safe. Politicians, not the report’s authors, issued the ultimatum, he maintained. Discussions with the government continue and another decision will come from the entire government, not individual politicians, Lacaze added. Based on what she termed “relatively constructive” public comments from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, she expressed “confidence in the outcome.”

An entirely different possibility for Lynas arose last March when Wesfarmers launched a AU$1.5-billion bid for the miner. One of Australia’s largest listed companies and a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate with interests including chemicals, energy, fertilizers and industrial products, Wesfarmers imposed a daunting condition: Kuantan must retain a valid permit for a “satisfactory period following completion of the transaction.” 

Lynas spurned the offer, provoking talk from Wesfarmers of going hostile. Undeterred, and the day before proclaiming its “will to win,” Lynas joined one of its customers, downstream rare earths processor Blue Line Corp, to announce a memorandum of understanding to build an RE separation plant in Texas. The proposed joint venture “would be the only large-scale producer of separated medium and heavy rare earth products in the world outside of China,” the companies stated.

Of course the Blue Line MOU lacks certainty, as does the strategy of presenting options in the face of a government ultimatum. $500 million isn’t all that much. To industry observers, the predicament once again emphasizes the need to create non-Chinese supply chains.

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

A founding principal of Technology Metals
Research LLC and a senior fellow at the
Institute for Analysis of Global Security,
Jack Lifton has over 55 years’ experience
with technology metals.

Speaking with ResourceClips.com the week before Lynas’ May 20-21 announcements, Jack Lifton discussed the urgency of addressing critical minerals challenges.

A chemist specializing in metallurgy, a consultant, author and lecturer focusing on rare earths, lithium and other essentials that he labels “technology metals,” Lifton was one of four scientists hired by the previous Malaysian government to evaluate the Kuantan facility prior to its initial permit.

Wesfarmers “would have the money and the time” to solve Lynas’ problems, he said. “A $38-billion company can spend a year fixing problems and stay in business. If Lynas were shut down for a year, I think that would be the end of it.”

Earlier this month Wesfarmers offered AU$776 million for ASX-listed Kidman Resources, which shares a 50/50 JV with Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile SA (SQM) on the advanced-stage Mount Holland lithium project in Western Australia.

“Wesfarmers clearly knows all the problems with Lynas but they’re still interested in buying it,” Lifton pointed out.

The possibility of a Chinese buy-out, on the other hand, could meet opposition from either of two governments. Malaysia’s previous administration feared Chinese influence, Lifton says.

As for Australia, “I do not think that the government, as it will be constituted after this election, will allow the Chinese to buy what is basically the largest high-grade deposit of magnet rare earths on the planet,” he says. Even so, Chinese control could eliminate the Malaysian problem. “China has immense facilities and excess capacity for treating ore like that. They wouldn’t need the Malaysian plant, not at all.”

Control need not mean total ownership. Following Molycorp’s bankruptcy, California’s Mountain Pass mine quietly resumed production last year under MP Materials. With China’s Shenghe Rare Earth Company a minority shareholder, North America’s sole rare earths producer exports all its output to China.

Shenghe Resources comprises the world’s second-largest RE company by output. It holds a majority stake in ASX-listed Greenland Minerals, which describes its Kvanefjeld polymetallic deposit as having “potential to become the most significant Western world producer of rare earths.” Last August the companies signed an offtake MOU for the proposed mine’s total RE production.

Huatai Mining, a subsidiary of Chinese coal trader Shandong Taizhong Energy, holds 15.9% of ASX-listed Northern Minerals, which plans to become the “first significant dysprosium producer outside China” at the Browns Range project in Western Australia.

“Everything from Browns Range is now going to China for refining and use,” Lifton notes. “My understanding is that’s what’s going to happen in Greenland.”

Neither Greenland nor Northern can handle separation, he explains. “They can concentrate the ore, but where are the facilities to separate individual rare earths from the mixed concentrate? They are, today, overwhelmingly in China. The Chinese have an advantage in excess refining capacity.”

While Lifton thinks Malaysia would welcome Japanese ownership of Lynas, the Japanese no longer have processing abilities. They’re also burdened by Mitsubishi’s legacy.

“China does not, to the best of my knowledge, have ore as rich as Mount Weld. I don’t know of any other deposit on earth that’s so high-grade and well-distributed with magnet materials. So anyone who has processing would love to have that.”

If we don’t reconstitute a total American supply chain, if the Europeans don’t do the same, for the critical materials like rare earths, cobalt, lithium, we’re going to be out of luck.—Jack Lifton

Such a fate is now pure speculation but should Lynas face a Sino-scenario, it would only intensify a trend well underway, he adds. “They already have the largest RE industry on the planet and they’re buying RE, cobalt and other critical assets in Greenland, Africa, Australia, South America.

“If we don’t reconstitute a total American supply chain, if the Europeans don’t do the same, for the critical materials like rare earths, cobalt, lithium, we’re going to be out of luck. The Chinese in my opinion are already self-sufficient in rare earths, lithium and cobalt. They have mines all over the world that they own and operate, they have the bulk of chemical processing. They’re going to take care of their domestic needs first, and then if they want to export, they’ll control the price, the supply, and they do control the demand because at this time about 60% of all world metals goes to China.

“In America there’s a lot of talk now about critical minerals and some people are saying we need ‘a conversation’ on the subject. So while we think about it and have conversations, the Chinese are setting themselves up for the rest of this century.”

Got the minerals?

March 4th, 2019

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

by Greg Klein

“The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths.”

Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 implied threat became all too real eight years later in the Senkaku aftermath, when RE dependency put Japan and the West at China’s mercy. But just as the United States overcame the 1973 OPEC embargo to become the world’s leading oil producer, that country can overcome its growing reliance on dodgy sources of mineral production and processing. So say authors Ned Mamula and Ann Bridges in Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.

Their country’s problem isn’t geology but policies, the book argues. Repeatedly pointing to Canada and Australia as role models, the authors say their own country’s mining potential can restore mining self-sufficiency, or at least minimize a crippling dependency.

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

Indeed, the mighty nation has a mighty problem with minerals: Imports supply many critical minerals and metals in their entirety, with heavy reliance on Russia and especially China, “countries we consider at best our competitors, and at worst our adversaries.”

Rare earths stand out as the “poster child for U.S. critical mineral vulnerability.” As the authors note, REs remain “essential for military and civilian use, for the production of high-performance permanent magnets, GPS guidance systems, satellite imaging and night vision equipment, cellphones, iPads, flat screens, MRIs and electric toothbrushes, sunglasses, and a myriad of other technology products. Since they offer that extra boost to so many new technologies, these rare earth metals rival energy in importance to our 21st century lifestyle.”

Industrial countries not only surrendered rare earths mining and processing to China, but gave up technological secrets too. That happened when China forced RE-dependent manufacturers to move their operations to China. After Apple transplanted some of its manufacturing to that country, China copied and reproduced the company’s products, at times outselling the iPhone with knock-offs.

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

Other intellectual property faces threats. “U.S. companies—Intematix, GE (Healthcare/MRI Division), Ford (Starter Motor Division), and Battery 1,2,3—have all added manufacturing capacity in China, and so has Japan’s Showa Denko, Santoku, and scores of other global electronics companies.”

RE dominance has also allowed China to lead the world in technology for electric vehicles, renewable energy and next-generation nuclear power. And America relies on its rival for defence: “Most of the U.S.’ advanced weapon systems procurement is 100% dependent on China for advanced metallurgical materials.”

Foreign dependency includes tantalum, “critical to the economy and national defense,” gallium, cobalt, uranium and the list goes on.

According to a just-published report from the U.S. Geological Survey, “in 2018, imports made up more than half of U.S apparent consumption for 48 non-fuel mineral commodities, and the U.S. was 100% net import-reliant for 18 of those.

“For 2018, critical minerals comprised 14 of the 18 mineral commodities with 100% net import reliance and 15 additional critical mineral commodities had a net import reliance greater than 50% of apparent consumption. The largest number of non-fuel mineral commodities were supplied to the U.S. from China, followed by Canada.”

The takeover of former TSX listing Uranium One by Russia’s state-owned Rosatom brings threats worse than most observers realized, the authors say. The acquisition granted the Russian government membership in trade organizations and therefore valuable intel formerly available only through espionage. Uranium One also gives Russia the ability to curtail future American uranium production and use its influence on Kazakhstan, the world’s top producer, to flood the U.S. with cheaper, subsidized supply. That could put both U.S. production and processing out of business in a tactic reminiscent of China’s RE machinations.

China’s communist government uses a ‘debt trap’ model of economic development and finance which proffers substantial financing to developing countries in exchange for an encumbrance on their minerals resources and access to markets. This predatory model has been particularly effective in countries characterized by weak rule of law and authoritarian regimes.—Ned Mamula
and Ann Bridges

The Chinese “are now masters at securing and controlling core natural resources globally, especially minerals.” The country uses long-term contracts, equity investments and joint ventures, as well as the “debt trap” that provides “substantial financing to developing countries in exchange for an encumbrance on their minerals resources and access to markets. This predatory model has been particularly effective in countries characterized by weak rule of law and authoritarian regimes.”

The U.S., meanwhile, suffers not only from naivete and short-term thinking, but from self-induced challenges. The authors devote an entire chapter to Alaska’s Pebble project, maybe the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold-molybdenum deposit. After more than two decades and over $150 million in spending, “Pebble is still more about politics than geology, much less mining the minerals known to exist there.”

The story stands out as “the classic cautionary tale in U.S. history of how a powerful federal regulatory agency can go rogue and impose its will on an unsuspecting permit applicant.”

Suggestions to alleviate these ills include streamlining the permitting process, among other recommendations to open up domestic production and re-build supply chains. One of the authors’ more interesting ideas concerns teaming up with environmental activists to promote ethical green supply chains that would shut out conflict minerals.

The book’s marred by repetition, sloppy English and some bold-faced typographical shouting. It’s also cluttered with a few questionable information sources and excerpts from a novel that would have been better left unwritten. The portrayal of Canada as a role model, moreover, might induce bitter laughter from this side of the border. But Groundbreaking offers a vital message to general readers. In doing so, it could reinforce a growing awareness in the U.S. about the need to minimize foreign dependency.

Read more about U.S. efforts to secure critical minerals here and here.

Mixed messages

December 14th, 2018

Perspectives differ on 2018 small cap performance

by Greg Klein

Perspectives differ on 2018 small cap performance

Not everyone agrees, but some sources represent 2018 as a comeback year for mining and exploration.
(Photo: PwC Junior Mine 2018)

 

It was the best of times, the worst of times or some middling but still promising times—you’d have the dickens of a time trying to reconcile these conflicting viewpoints. Such was the state of junior miners this past year, when varying fortunes eluded generalization. Just how the sector performed depended on who did the talking.

Outright despair came from Peter Clausi last October, as the CEO of GTA Resources and Mining TSXV:GTA discussed the company’s proposal to sell its assets amid a change of business:

A look at some different perspectives on 2018 small cap performance

In this difficult Canadian mining environment, it was almost impossible for the board not to come to this decision. The lackluster commodity markets, the depressed public market for junior explorers and the severe challenge of raising further capital all contributed to this decision. We believe GTA’s shareholders will be better served in a growth industry other than junior exploration.

Not every CEO would turn a press release into such a cri de coeur, but stats show GTA’s hardly alone. Evaluating 378 mining and other companies with market caps ranging from $4 million to $588 million, the S&P/TSX Venture Composite Index shows a nearly 35% drop in valuations since the relatively heady days of last January.

Yet an entirely different perspective came from PricewaterhouseCoopers in December, with the 2018 edition of its annual Junior Mine report. Unlike the S&P/TSXV Composite, this data focuses only on miners and comes from 12 months ending June 30. Furthermore it examines the Venture’s top 100 miners by market cap, a selection that could tilt results in favour of success.

And a degree of success PwC found, with the aggregate valuation growing to $12.9 billion, a 6% increase over the previous year, the third consecutive annual increase and the best performance “since the heydays of 2011.”

Not just the top 100, but Venture miners and explorers overall increased their total market caps by 5% to $21.1 billion, PwC reported.

Even so they were outperformed by cannabis, fintech and cryptocurrencies. “As a result, mining companies’ share of the TSXV’s total value declined to 43.8%, down from 47.4% a year earlier. Nevertheless, mining remains by far the dominant sector on the exchange, with life sciences (13%), finance (11%) and technology (9%) representing the next-largest industries by valuation.”

Investors favoured top 100 companies moving from development into production, while royalty streaming and the energy metals lithium, cobalt and nickel took on greater prominence at gold’s expense.

Financing for Venture miners overall rose 6.5% to $2.7 billion, almost $2.2 billion of that from equities that mostly went to explorers and development-stage companies, PwC stated. Companies in the production stage increasingly turned to debt financing, which rose 65.9% over the previous 12-month period.

Fifty-one of the top 100 raised more than $10 million apiece, while 10 companies each raked in over $50 million.

Apart from market caps and financings, spending provides another guide to the sector’s health. Some upbeat numbers came in October from Natural Resources Canada, following a survey of companies’ 2018 commitments for Canadian projects. If all went to plan, exploration expenditures for the year came to $2.36 billion, an 8% increase over 2017 and the highest amount since 2012. Juniors, struggling or not, accounted for over 45% of the total commitments.

With coffers at their fullest in seven years, equity and debt financings on the rise and commodity prices relatively stable, the industry has entered a long-awaited period of opportunity.—The PwC Junior Mine 2018 report

The exploration category included engineering, economic, feasibility and environmental studies, as well as general expenses. All that’s part of the much larger category of total Canadian mineral resource development investments, which totalled $11.86 billion this year, compared with $10.61 billion in 2017, NRCan found.

In fact Canada leads an encouraging global trend among juniors, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Using different methodology, the group found budgets for nonferrous exploration leaping by 19% worldwide this year to hit $10.1 billion. Juniors showed the highest budget jump at 35%, their first increase since 2012.

Canadian companies lead the world in nonferrous exploration, boasting a 31% budget increase this year, leaving Australia and the U.S. in second and third place, S&P added.

Of course all that can sound like smiley-faced consolation to companies struggling with jurisdictional difficulties, commodity performance, investor negativity or other challenges. But in an industry not always shy about basking in reflected glory, the continuing success of some companies must offer reassurance to the sector as a whole.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports incidents of Chinese arrogance towards Australian politicians

November 23rd, 2018

…Read more

Drill-ready money

November 19th, 2018

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

by Greg Klein

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Osisko Mining’s (TSX:OSK) Windfall project offers one reason why
Quebec leads Canada and gold leads metals for exploration spending.
(Photo: Osisko Mining)

 

Blockchain might offer intrigue and cannabis promises a buzz, but mineral exploration still attracts growing interest. A healthy upswing this year will bring Canadian projects a nearly 8% spending increase to $2.36 billion, the industry’s highest amount since 2012. According to recently released data, that’s part of an international trend that puts Canada at the top of a worldwide resurgence.

The $2.36 billion allotted for Canadian exploration and deposit appraisal forms just a small part of the year’s total mineral resource development investments, which see $11.86 billion committed to this country, up from $10.61 billion in 2017.

Those numbers come from Natural Resources Canada, which surveyed companies between April and September on their spending intentions within the country for 2018. The $2.36-billion figure includes engineering, economic and feasibility studies, along with environmental work and general expenses.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Trial extraction for Pure Gold Mining’s (TSXV:PGM)
Madsen feasibility studies encourages interest in
Ontario’s Red Lake region. (Photo: Pure Gold Mining)

Of that number, Quebec edges out Ontario for first place with $623.1 million in spending this year, 26.4% of Canada’s total. Ontario’s share comes to $567.5 million or 24%. Last year’s totals came to $573.9 million for Quebec and $539.7 million for its western neighbour. Prior to that, however, Ontario held a comfortable lead year after year.

Third-place British Columbia gets $335.5 million or 14.2% of Canada’s total this year, an increase from $302.6 million in 2017.

On a per-capita basis, Yukon’s enjoying an exceptional year with an expected $249.4 million or 10.6% of Canada’s total. That’s the territory’s second substantial increase in a row, following $168.7 million the previous year.

Saskatchewan dips this year to $187.2 million (7.9%) from $191.2 million in 2017. But the Fraser Institute’s last survey of mining jurisdictions placed the province first in Canada and second worldwide.

Nunavut drops too, for the third consecutive time, to $143.9 million (6.1%), compared with $177 million in 2017. The Northwest Territories’ forecast declines to $86.2 million (3.7%) this year after $91.2 million last year.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Among companies leading Yukon’s exceptional performance
is White Gold TSXV:WGO, with substantial backing from
Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM and Kinross Gold TSX:K.
(Photo: White Gold)

Especially troubling when contrasted with Yukon’s performance, data for the other territories prompted NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines president Gary Vivian to call on federal, territorial and native governments and boards to help the industry “by creating certainty around land access, by reducing unnecessary complexity and by addressing the higher costs they face working in the North. Sustaining and growing future mining benefits depend on it.”

The pursuit of precious metals accounts for $1.5 billion in spending, nearly 64% of Canadian exploration. Ontario gets almost 31% of the precious metals attention, with 27% going to Quebec.

Base metals, mostly in Quebec, B.C. and Ontario, get 15.5% of the year’s total. Uranium gets 5%, almost entirely in Saskatchewan. Diamonds get nearly 4%, most of it going to the NWT and Saskatchewan. But nearly 11% of this year’s total goes to a category vaguely attributed to other metals, along with coal and additional non-metals.

Getting back to this year’s exploration total ($2.36 billion, remember?), senior companies commit themselves to nearly 55%, compared with nearly 51% last year. But the juniors’ share remains proportionately much larger than the pre-2017 years.

Additional encouragement—and on an international level—comes from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Using different methodology to produce different results, the Metals and Mining Research team found worldwide budgets for nonferrous exploration jumping 19% this year to $10.1 billion.

Juniors have been reaping the biggest budget gains at 35%. Over 1,651 functional exploration companies represent an 8% improvement over last year and the first such increase since 2012. But that’s “still about 900 companies less than in 2012, representing a one-third culling of active explorers over the past five years.”

The most dramatic spending increase hit cobalt and lithium, this year undergoing an 82% leap in exploration spending. That’s part of a 500% climb since 2015, SPGMI says.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Nemaska Lithium’s Whabouchi project in Quebec
contributes to the enthusiasm for energy metals.
(Photo: Nemaska Lithium)

Even so, precious and base metals retained their prominence as gold continues “to benefit the most from the industry recovery.” The global strive for yellow metal will claim $4.86 billion this year, up from $4.05 billion in 2017. Base metals spending will grow by $600 million to $3.04 billion. “Copper remained by far the most attractive of the base metals, although zinc allocations have increased the most, rising 37% in 2018, the report states. “Budgets are up for all targets except uranium.”

SPGMI finds Canada keeping its global top spot for nonferrous exploration with a 31% year-on-year budget increase. Second-place Australia achieved a 23% rise. The U.S. total places third, although with a 34% increase over the country’s 2017 performance.

In each of the top three countries, over 55% of the budgets focused on gold.

“Improved metals prices and margins since 2016 have encouraged producers to expand their organic efforts the past two years,” commented SPGMI’s Mark Ferguson. “Over the same period, equity market support for the junior explorers has improved, leading to an uptick in the number and size of completed financings. This allowed the group to increase exploration budgets by 35% in 2018.”

The new colonialists

October 19th, 2018

China’s overseas expansion raises concerns of influence and arrogance

by Greg Klein

The country boosts its domestic industries through state-sanctioned dumping along with lax environmental, health and safety standards. Aggressive overseas expansion provides money and infrastructure to struggling nations in return for resources and acquiescence. Espionage, counterfeit exports, currency manipulation, economic warfare, intellectual theft—“particularly the systematic theft of U.S. weapons systems”—that’s all part of China’s goal to gain “veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions,” according to a recent U.S. study ordered by President Donald Trump.

So it seems a bit anti-climactic to accuse the Red Dragon of arrogance.

But could that become China’s undoing, especially when the arrogance reflects racism? Examples from Kenya reveal a steady stream of racially charged incidents. Among the most recent was ongoing racist abuse from the manager of a Chinese-owned assembly plant. A Chinese company running a much bigger Kenyan operation, the Standard Gauge Railway, faces accusations of practising racial preferences and segregation. Further accounts relay instances of demeaning treatment, even assaults, on African workers in their own countries by Chinese bosses.

China’s overseas expansion brings allegations of influence and arrogance

That might be more a side effect than part of the official agenda, which is alarming in itself. According to Globe and Mail Africa correspondent Geoffrey York, Chinese influence “is sharply increasing in African media, academia, politics and diplomacy.” Earlier this month he reported that a South African newspaper chain backed by Chinese investors fired a columnist who denounced their country’s treatment of Muslims.

“In Zambia, heavily dependent on Chinese loans, a prominent Kenyan scholar was prevented from entering the country to deliver a speech critical of China. In Namibia, a Chinese diplomat publicly advised the country’s president to use pro-China wording in a coming speech. And a scholar at a South African university was told that he would not receive a visa to enter China until his classroom lectures contain more praise for Beijing.”

York pointed to “the huge number of African leaders who flock to the summit of China’s main African organization, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC),” an annual conference featuring announcements of Chinese financial aid. At last month’s event, President Xi Jinping promised grants, loans and investments totalling $60 billion, equaling an amount pledged three years earlier.

China’s massive African infrastructure projects, built by Chinese companies that often enjoy Chinese government financial support, include railways and hydro-electric power. But Chinese interests also get their hands on Africa’s mineral resources as well as oil and gas reserves, not to mention new markets for Chinese exports. Chinese loans have been criticized for overwhelming African countries with debt.

In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.—South African
President Cyril Ramaphosa

Then there’s the political influence. The spectacle of African leaders singing China’s praises has provoked cynicism that South African President and FOCAC co-chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa tried to dispel: “In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.”

Those remarks might alternately challenge or support allegations of sycophancy. But York notes China’s success in convincing African countries to drop their support for Taiwan, promoting Chinese language and culture, increasing media ownership with attendant interference, and—laughably, considering the communist state’s journalistic standards—providing “‘training’ for 1,000 African media professionals annually.”

Such are the challenges faced by the developing world. And others too.

From Australia come additional examples. “The hubris of the Chinese Communist Party has reached a great and giddy high,” the Sidney Morning Herald declared last month. International editor Peter Hartcher recounted a meeting between Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei and Australian treasurer Joe Hockey in which Lou lit a cigarette without asking permission, then badgered the Aussie with big talk that included offers to take over Rio Tinto, buy 15% of the top 200 ASX-listed companies or grab multi-billion-dollar positions in Australian banks.

Hartcher mentioned another incident a few years ago, when “a Chinese minister walked into the Parliament House office of an Australian Liberal Party minister in the course of a negotiation.

“The visitor sat on the sofa, reclined with his hands locked behind his head, and put his feet up on the coffee table. He crossed his ankles casually, the soles of his shoes pointed towards his Australian host. A mere detail, yes, but a telling one. It infuriated the Australian, who was still steaming as he recounted the story years later.”

Then there’s the threats. In a Sydney meeting last year, Hartcher writes, Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten and two of his key people heard Chinese Communist Party official Meng Jianzhu demand their party support an extradition treaty. They objected, largely due to China’s death penalty.

“To get his way, Meng threatened to mobilize the Chinese diaspora living in Australia to vote against the Labor party. The Labor leaders were unbowed and unimpressed. ‘We cannot let these bastards push us around,’ one later remarked to a colleague. Labor continued to oppose the extradition treaty.”

Score one for Down Under determination. Hartcher warns that China could meet its comeuppance once the country’s economic growth stops, possibly in a decade or so. Still, that gives the Middle Kingdom considerable time to expand its influence in acquiescent countries, which need not be limited to the developing world.

Like Canada, for example. Do our politicians match Australian Labor’s resolve? Do our media match the Sidney Morning Herald’s candour? Or would the example of HD Mining International, which planned to staff underground operations at a British Columbia mine exclusively with Chinese workers, typify Canada’s response?

More than just money

June 27th, 2018

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

by Greg Klein

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

Although often extending the bounds of traditional coinage, the Mint acknowledged its heritage
with a Colonial Currency of the Atlantic Provinces set that mimics the condition of used currency.
(All photos: Royal Canadian Mint)

 

Money’s appeal couldn’t be more obvious, yet coins specifically bring to mind values intrinsic, speculative or esthetic. By no means neglecting the first two, the Royal Canadian Mint has been emphasizing the third, and in ways increasingly innovative. Issuing over 200 such products each year, its “coins” have become more and more exotic. That shows in two recent releases, which can be said to source their materials from the end of the Earth and beyond.

“As a commercial Crown corporation, we don’t rely on any taxpayer funding to finance our operations,” explains communications officer Alex Reeves. “So we need to finance ourselves and that has led us to a number of competitive fields, collector coins being one, bullion being a big part of it as well, and foreign circulating coins also.”

Although this year’s Q1 results suggest more modest gains, the Mint reported a 2017 consolidated profit of $36.1 million, up from $24.5 million the previous year and buoyed partly by Canada 150 collectibles. Ottawa raked in $93.2 million in dividends last year.

While the Bank of Canada prints paper money, the Mint strikes currency coins for Canada as well as countries on every continent. Its bullion, especially the one-ounce Maple Leaf gold coin, is sought after by the world’s speculators and hoarders, as well as collectors.

But can the Mint’s increasingly creative collectibles still be considered coinage? Yes, according to Reeves. “They are coins by definition as legal tender, having a denomination and identifying country of origin,” he points out. That doesn’t mean they can’t be innovative.

“Collectors come to us from all over the world so innovation helps us stand out in a crowded marketplace. We use it to get people’s attention and increase the appeal of our products.”

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

That’s illustrated in the two newest releases. Each commemorating a special date, one coin contains purely Nunavut-mined gold, the other a little chunk of meteorite.

The gold coin gets its yellow metal from TMAC Resources’ (TSX:TMR) Hope Bay and Agnico Eagle Mines’ (TSX:AEM) Meadowbank to present Andrew Qappik’s images of a walrus, ptarmigan, polar bear, bowhead whale and narwhal. In another innovation, the one-tenth-ounce piece has the same diameter as a quarter-ounce coin, providing a larger canvas for the Inuk artist’s work. Part of the Symbols of the North series, the coin anticipates Nunavut’s 20th anniversary next April.

“Our Inuit employees, suppliers and partners can all take great pride in knowing that they have participated in making this unique coin that celebrates their heritage and culture,” commented Agnico Eagle CEO Sean Boyd. With a face value of $20, the coin sells for $359 in a limited mintage of 1,500.

At a ceremony attended by former Canadian astronaut Dave Williams, the Mint used the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s 150th anniversary to unveil “a truly out-of-this-world collectible.” As if to make the one-ounce silver coin impractical for vending machines, a bit of rock from Campo del Cielo sticks out of the surface. The fragment fell to earth about 4,500 years ago when the Argentinian field underwent a meteorite bombardment.

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

Using designs from Canadian artist Alexandra Lefort, the coin depicts the Eagle Nebula and its pillars of interstellar gas and dust along with the Moon, the Andromeda Galaxy and a blazing meteorite in addition to the genuine iron-enriched supplement.

Also with a $20 face value, 5,500 versions—each unique for the shape of its other-worldly content—went on the market for $149.95 each.

In April the Mint marked another extra-terrestrial event with an elliptical black-light-glowing piece portraying Manitoba’s 1967 Falcon Lake UFO sighting.

Last year’s glow-in-the-dark toonie was named Most Innovative Circulating Coin by the International Mint Directors Conference.

The Mint’s collectibles date back to a 1935 silver dollar commemorating King George V’s Silver Jubilee and portraying a voyageur paddling his canoe against a faint Northern Lights backdrop. “It gradually evolved to commemorative circulation coins, coin sets and then, with the advent of the Montreal Olympics, we started producing a higher volume of annual collector coins in silver and some in gold as well,” Reeves says. “We’ve continued to grow that part of our business.”

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

Some other unusual creations this month included a six-ounce silver coin with a gold-plated miniature carousel that rotates with the help of a magnet. “Even the horses move up and down on this dazzling creation which is limited to a worldwide mintage of only 1,000,” states a promo.

But musical accompaniment, apparently, has thus far escaped the Mint’s R&D ingeniousness.

Still, last May Mint boffins announced one of their most complicated technical projects ever with a “coin” that’s half of a miniature Stanley Cup. “If you put two of them together, you would have an entire Stanley Cup replica, albeit a fraction of the size of the actual trophy,” the Mint quoted techie Michael Groves. He compared the project’s complexity to that of the Mint’s 100-kilo, million-dollar gold coin and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics medals.

To keep the ideas flowing, the Mint maintains two R&D departments, one at the Winnipeg home of circulating coin production, the other in Ottawa, location of the head office, as well as bullion and collectible production.

“We do have a broad range of expertise in our staff and it’s something we take seriously and keep investing in,” Reeves says. “We see ourselves as industry leaders for innovation” with some examples including colouring processes and security features. “We’ve made security features on our bullion coins that can’t be found elsewhere, and we have a broad range of innovation on our collector products as well. It benefits the industry if you’re able to raise the bar, create something new and inspire others to look at their own ways of improving coin-making or coming up with something brand new.”

Whether others have been inspired to imitate the Mint’s ideas or steal them is a question currently before Australian courts. The Mint has demanded its Down Under counterpart turn over or destroy some $2 million worth of collectibles that allegedly appropriated a patented method of applying colour to metal. Australia responded with a counter-claim asking that Canada’s patent be declared invalid.

But high-tech expertise notwithstanding, Canada’s coin creator won’t be venturing into the world of cryptocurrencies, Reeves insists. “The Mint is a manufacturer of physical coins, of cash in other words, and for the foreseeable future we see cash continuing to play an important role in Canadian daily commerce. We’re going to continue innovating in that area in ways that increase the security and durability of our products.”

Update: The Canadian and Australian mints end their legal battle with a “collaborative cross-licensing agreement,” the National Post reports.

Learn more about the Royal Canadian Mint.

Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

June 26th, 2018

This story has been expanded and moved here.

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.