Tuesday 25th June 2019

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘russia’

U.S. critical minerals strategy includes Canada and other allies

June 5th, 2019

by Greg Klein | June 5, 2019

The country’s tariff tactics might present an image of Fortress America battling its adversaries, but a new critical minerals strategy advocates greater co-operation between the U.S. and its friends. The manifestation of Washington’s growing concern about securing resources and building supply chains, a federal report released June 4 announces six calls to action, 24 goals and 61 recommendations accompanied by timelines for accomplishment.

The U.S. includes Canada and other allies in its critical minerals strategy

Clearly, the Donald Trump administration recognizes the problem of relying on potentially unreliable sources, especially when they’re economic and geopolitical rivals: “If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period—similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010—an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains.”

Rare earths provide an especially stark example of the problem, the report emphasizes. “The REE industry has experienced downsizing, business failure, and relocation in all phases of the supply chain, including mining, separation, metal reduction, alloying and downstream manufacturing of advanced technology products such as high performance rare earth permanent magnets.”

The report, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, follows a number of American initiatives including the formal classification of 35 critical minerals and a Secretary of Defense study released last September.

For 31 of the 35 critical minerals, the U.S. imports over 50% of its supply. For 14 of them, imports account for 100% of supply, creating “a strategic vulnerability for both our economy and our military with respect to adverse foreign government actions, natural disasters, and other events that could disrupt supply.”

If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period—similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010—an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains.

Apart from finding new deposits, the report calls for specific measures to encourage R&D, new supply chains, additional and publicly available exploration data, land access and permitting, a workforce with appropriate skills and expertise, as well as international trade and co-operation.

On the latter topic, the report notes significant American reliance on Canada and Mexico for many essentials. “Working with them to develop their critical mineral deposits can help improve the security of U.S. supply.”

Washington’s agenda also calls for expanded collaboration with Canada, Australia, the EU, Japan and South Korea on a range of issues, from finding and developing resources to creating supply chains.

Although the U.S. began addressing the issue early in Trump’s administration, the report’s timing coincides with fears that another Chinese rare earths embargo could happen imminently. The U.S. relies on China directly for 80% of its imports, while much of the remainder comes from China indirectly. America’s sole REE mine, Mountain Pass in California, exports all its production to China.

That leaves Western Australian miner Lynas Corp as the only major producer outside China that is, as CEO/managing director Amanda Lacaze stated, “focused on rest-of-the-world markets, that is non-Chinese markets.” Although her company faces tremendous challenges meeting Malaysian government demands for its processing facility in that country, the government has made mildly conciliatory statements in advance of a June 28 meeting with Lynas.

Update: Following a June 20, 2019, meeting between Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the two leaders “instructed officials to develop a joint action plan on critical minerals collaboration,” according to Reuters.

A Capitol idea

May 7th, 2019

This U.S. bipartisan bill aims to reduce America’s critical minerals dependency

 

This won’t be the first time Washington has seen such a proposal. Announced last week, the American Mineral Security Act encourages the development of domestic resources and supply chains to produce minerals considered essential to the country’s well-being. But the chief backer, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, acknowledges having introduced similar standalone legislation previously, as well as addressing the topic in a previous energy bill.

A U.S. bipartisan bill would reduce America’s critical minerals dependency

This time, however, the proposal takes place amid growing concern. In late 2017, following a U.S. Geological Survey report that provided the first comprehensive review of the subject since 1973, President Donald Trump called for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” In early 2018 the U.S. Department of the Interior formally classified 35 minerals as critical. A September 2018 report responded to the presidential order, urging programs to address supply chain challenges that leave the U.S. relying heavily on countries like Russia and especially China.

Even so, Murkowski and the other three senators think Washington needs a little push.

“I greatly appreciate the administration’s actions to address this issue but congress needs to complement them with legislation,” she said. “Our bill takes steps that are long overdue to reverse our damaging foreign dependence and position ourselves to compete in growth industries like electric vehicles and energy storage.”

The senators referred to USGS data from 2018 showing 48 minerals for which their country imported at least 50% of supply. Foreign dependency accounted for 100% of 18 of them, including rare earths, graphite and indium.  

Focusing on energy minerals, Simon Moores of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence lauded the bipartisan group for addressing “a global battery arms race that is intensifying.

“Lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel are the key enablers of the lithium-ion battery and, in turn, the lithium-ion battery is the key enabler of the energy storage revolution. Globally they are facing a wall of demand, especially from electric vehicles. Yet the U.S. has been a bystander in building a domestic supply chain capacity.

“Right now, the U.S. produces 1% of global lithium supply and only 7% of refined lithium chemical supply, while China produces 51%. For cobalt, the U.S. has zero mining capacity and zero chemicals capacity whilst China controls 80% of this [at] second stage.

These supply chains are the oil pipelines of tomorrow. The lithium-ion battery is to the 21st century what the oil barrel was to the 20th century.—Simon Moores
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence

“Graphite is the most extreme example with no flake graphite mining and anode production compared to China’s 51% and 100% of the world’s total, respectively. And it’s a similar story with nickel—under 1% mined in the U.S. and zero capacity for nickel sulfate.

“These supply chains are the oil pipelines of tomorrow,” Moores emphasized. “The lithium-ion battery is to the 21st century what the oil barrel was to the 20th century.”

Looking at another critical mineral, the White House has until mid-July to respond to a U.S. Department of Commerce report on the effects of uranium imports to American national security. According to the USGS, the fuel provides 20% of the country’s electricity but the U.S. relies on imports for over 95% of supply.

A recent book by Ned Mamula and Ann Bridges points to rare earths as the “poster child for U.S. critical mineral vulnerability.” In Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence, the authors say 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.”

Among the proposed act’s provisions are:

  • an updated list of critical minerals every three years

  • nationwide resource assessments for every critical mineral

  • “practical, common-sense” reforms to reduce permitting delays

  • R&D into recycling, replacing and processing critical minerals

  • a study of the country’s minerals workforce by the U.S. Secretary of Labor, National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation

The senators made their announcement at Benchmark Minerals Summit 2019, a private event for industry and U.S. government representatives. In a February presentation to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources chaired by Murkowski, Moores issued a “red alert on the lithium-ion battery supply chain and the raw materials of lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite.”

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

Deep thoughts from B.C.’s energy and mines minister

April 12th, 2019

by Greg Klein | April 12, 2019

Proving they could sink lower than anyone else, Russians spent 24 years drilling their world-record 12,261-metre Kola Superdeep Bore Hole. But northeastern British Columbia’s oil patch seems to have reached something like 25 times as far. And in doing so, they must be employing super-durable materials impervious to intense heat and pressure but unknown to the outside world.

Deep thoughts from B.C.’s energy and mines minister

A reference work for B.C. cabinet ministers?

Or so you might think on reading a comment by B.C.’s minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources, Michelle Mungall.

Discussing the natural gas industry, she told Black Press legislative correspondent Tom Fletcher, “In B.C. we’re drilling about 300 kilometres below the surface.” That would mean reaching about 5% of the distance to the planet’s hot, liquid inner core and well within temperatures that would melt any metal known to mankind.

“Wildly inaccurate,” Fletcher responded. “In fact, the gas and petroleum liquids-rich Montney shale formation that runs under Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and into Alberta is from two to four kilometres deep, similar to the Marcellus shale in the U.S.”

But if Mungall knows something that isn’t common knowledge, numerous possibilities arise, and not just in mining and geothermal energy. If drilling’s possible at such fathomless depths, why not tunneling and why not continue right through the globe to the Southern Hemisphere? That might open up trade links to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Meanwhile borehole champion Russia, always vain about its accomplishments and now along with China officially considered a security threat to Canada, no doubt will be watching closely for any credible signs of one-upmanship in a downwards direction.

‘The Asian century’

April 4th, 2019

East has surpassed West, whether the West knows it or not, says Peter Frankopan

by Greg Klein

East has surpassed West, whether we know it or not, says Peter Frankopan

“Silk roads” can refer to the process of connecting people and cultures
through trade, according to Peter Frankopan’s recently published book.

 

Less than two years ago tensions along an especially sensitive border area sparked fighting between Chinese and Indian troops. Outside Asia, who knew? “As most of the world focused on the Twitter account of the US president and the circus surrounding Brexit, the threat of the two most populous countries on earth going to war was not just a possibility, it looked like becoming a fact,” writes Peter Frankopan. An uneasy truce eventually stalled hostilities but the West’s ignorance of the wider world remains. That’s both symptom and cause of the West’s decline, the author says.

The decisions being made in today’s world that really matter are not being made in Paris, London, Berlin or Rome—as they were a hundred years ago—but in Beijing and Moscow, in Tehran and Riyadh, in Delhi and Islamabad, in Kabul and in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, in Ankara, Damascus and Jerusalem. The world’s past has been shaped by what happens along the Silk Roads; so too will its future.—Peter Frankopan

Relatively few Westerners realize the extent of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Actually a complex suite of alliances concerning resources, infrastructure, trade, security and even culture, the BRI forms just part of an Asian awakening that’s shifting the planet’s centre of importance while strengthening Eastern influence beyond Asia and Africa to make inroads into Europe, the Americas, the Arctic, cyberspace and outer space.

That’s the message of historian Frankopan’s latest book, The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World. While present and future aren’t normally the precinct of historians, it was historical perspective that brought Frankopan to the topic. In context, Western global supremacy has been a recent, short-lived development.

Since announcing the BRI in 2013, China has promised nearly $1 trillion, mostly in loans, for about 1,000 projects, Frankopan reports. That money could “multiply several times over, to create an interlinked world of train lines, highways, deep-water ports and airports that will enable trade links to grow ever stronger and faster.”

That would enhance China’s access to, and control over, resources ranging from oil and gas to mines and farmland; provide markets for Chinese exports including surplus steel, cement and metals, as well as manufactured goods; create projects for Chinese contractors; secure foreign ports and other strategic commercial and military locations; and build closer foreign alliances for geopolitical as well as economic benefits.

Backed by Chinese money and local sovereign debt, Chinese companies have pushed roads, railways, power plants, grids and pipelines through Africa and Asia at a much faster rate than ever seen through Western aid. Of course that can put the supposed beneficiaries at the mercy of their Chinese creditors.

East has surpassed West, whether we know it or not, says Peter Frankopan

In 2011, for example, China forgave neighbouring Tajikistan’s infrastructure-related debt in exchange for several hundred square kilometres of territory. A $7-billion rail line in Laos represents over 60% of the country’s GDP. A rail-building boom in Angola left citizens with a per capita debt to China of $754 out of a per capita income of $6,200. In 2017 a Chinese company got a 99-year lease in lieu of debt on the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, a strategic site for both commercial and military reasons. Other ports in Maldives, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Djibouti could face a similar fate.

Even so, something like 85% of BRI projects “have proceeded without difficulty,” Frankopan states. China conducts many of its most opportunistic acquisitions openly, like buying a controlling interest in Piraeus, the Athenian port since antiquity. Other seaport purchases have taken place in Spain, Italy and Belgium.

Strategic ports and an alliance with Pakistan help position China in the Indian Ocean, while China continues to expand its South China Sea presence by building artificial islands for military bases. This isn’t just “the crossroads of the global economy” but a ploy to extend military power thousands of miles farther, according to a U.S. Navy admiral. China’s ambitions continue in the disputed East China Sea, location of the 2010 Senkaku conflict, in which China’s rare earths tactics demonstrated yet another weapon in the country’s arsenal.

As an economic powerhouse as well as a “geopolitical alternative to the US,” China can profit from American sanctions on countries like Iran. Russia too challenges U.S. policies towards countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, while the latter shows its willingness to trade with Iran and buy arms from Moscow.

Military co-operation can create unlikely allies. Last summer, in Russian’s largest war games since 1981, Beijing contributed 30 fighter jets and helicopters along with more than 3,000 troops. Included in the exercises were simulated nuclear attacks.

While futurologists and networking pioneers often talk about how the exciting world of artificial intelligence, Big Earth Data and machine learning promise to change the way we live, work and think, few ever ask where the materials on which the digital new world [depends] come from—or what happens if supply either dries up or is used as a commercial or a political weapon by those who have a near-monopoly on global supply.—Peter Frankopan

Even India, America’s strongest Asian ally and the Asian country most wary of Chinese expansion, stands to undermine U.S. influence with proposed transportation connections and free trade with Iran and Afghanistan.

Yet obvious perils weaken any notion of a united Asia working harmoniously towards a common goal. Russian-Chinese military co-operation doesn’t preclude Moscow stationing its 29th Army 3rd Missile Brigade, with nuclear missile capabilities, near the Chinese border.

Time will tell whether other countries can overcome the Eurasian chaos that inspired this maxim of Canadian miners: “Never invest in a country with a name ending in ‘stan’.”

Then there’s extremist Islam. Uighurs from western China have fought in Syria for the Islamic State in numbers estimated “from several thousand to many times that number.” China risks wider Muslim anger by running a gulag archipelago for Muslims. The country’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region hosts “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”

Oddly enough for someone who knocks Western insularity, Frankopan seems to share the current preoccupation with the U.S. president. Among Frankopan’s criticisms of the West is its supposed opposition to immigration, even though that’s a marginal position within liberal countries but official policy in most of the East.

Nor does Frankopan mention the weird ideological zealotry that threatens to destabilize if not destroy the West from within.

Still, history’s greatest value might be perspective on the present. This historian’s view of the present and future can help Westerners understand their not-so-esteemed status in the Asian 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.

How to flog glitter to the young and affluent: A De Beers special report

September 14th, 2018

by Greg Klein | September 14, 2018

Last year’s global market for diamond-encrusted jewelry rose 2.2% to a new high of $82 billion, largely due to the planet’s most populous age groups, says the world’s largest purveyor of the bling. But as “consumer power” shifts from elderly Boomers and middle-aged Generation X to Millennials and Gen Z, manufacturers and retailers must meet a new set of consumer expectations, De Beers’ Diamond Insight Report warns.

Americans again demonstrated the largest demand for diamond jewelry, splurging $43 billion, up 4.2% from the previous year’s $41 billion extravagance in a market that’s expected to show steady growth.

How to flog glitter to the young and affluent: A De Beers special report

(Photo: Matt Crabb/Anglo American)

Looking at diamonds’ pre-jewelry market, rough sales to cutting and polishing facilities rose 2% to $16.6 billion. De Beers claimed 34% of the total, down from its 2016 portion of 37%. Alrosa’s share came to 25%, compared with 27% the previous year. This year’s H1 sales to cutting centres, however, have surpassed the same period in 2017.

Last year’s global production climbed 15% in value to $17.5 billion and 14% in volume to 164 million carats. De Beers took credit for the largest increase of 6.1 million carats, followed by Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO with 3.7 million and Alrosa with 2.3 million carats. The top three diamond mining countries remained Russia, Botswana and Canada.

Forecasts see this year’s global production slipping “due largely to Alrosa’s suspension of operations at the Mir mine and Rio Tinto’s guided fall in production at its operations. Looking further ahead, production is expected to continue falling as new projects and expansions fail to replace lost output from closing mines. By 2025, several large mines will reach the end of their life, while only a few new projects are in the pipeline.”

With the younger consumers’ desire for qualities that diamonds can perfectly embody—including love, connections, authenticity, uniqueness and positive social impact—the most exciting times for the diamond industry are still ahead of us if we can seize the opportunities.—Bruce Cleaver,
De Beers Group CEO

Much of the report focuses on Millennials and Gen Zedders, and why they matter more than those doddering old Boomers and clapped out Gen Exers. Not only are the newcomers more numerous than their predecessors (64% of the planet’s 7.39 billion potential customers) but they’ll soon have more money to splash around. Additionally “they represent more than two-thirds of total diamond jewellery demand value in the four largest diamond-consuming countries,” the U.S., China, India and Japan.

But don’t mistake these affluent upstarts for status-conscious materialists with more money than values, the report emphasizes. Those who would sell to them must recognize four key traits: “Love is meaningful to them in many ways; they are digital natives; they value authenticity, individuality and self-expression; they are engaged with society and social issues.” Indeed, crass marketing’s passé as enlightened purveyors appeal to young adults’ desire for “love, connections, authenticity, uniqueness and positive social impact.”

Still, differences persist between the two groups. Millennials multi-task across two screens and think in 3D. Gen Zedders do that stuff across five screens and in 4D. Now-focused, idealistic and expectant Millennials contrast with future-focused, pragmatic and persistent Gen Z. The divide continues, pitting Millennials’ Harry Potter/armchair activist lifestyle and their team orientation versus Gen Z’s Hunger Games/active volunteer approach credited with collective consciousness.

De Beers doesn’t divulge the methodology for its detailed but seemingly subjective analysis. Buried in the report, however, might be one of the most important traits for a marketing pitch to consider.

Millennials boast an attention span reaching all of 12 seconds, 50% higher than Gen Z’s eight-second feat of endurance.

Related: Could synthetics bring death to diamond mining? Or a kind of reincarnation?

WGC says gold poised to bounce back; GATA asks what’s going on

August 23rd, 2018

by Greg Klein | August 23, 2018

Even with prices floundering around 20-month lows, the World Gold Council sees technical and fundamental reasons for optimism. But a sustained recovery would depend on consumers and long-term investors, the industry organization stressed.

WGC says gold poised to bounce back; GATA asks what’s going on

A strong U.S. dollar helped push gold below $1,200 this month for the first time since early 2017. Yet given past performance, the “increasingly short” futures positions bode well for a sharp rally, the WGC stated. Other positive factors include larger consumer and investor gold markets in emerging countries, where demand in those two areas has doubled over the last 20 years. Central banks in emerging markets have also been expanding their holdings, now accounting for about 500 tonnes of annual demand.

Russia bought more gold in July than any other month since November, Bloomberg reported. Citing IMF data, the news agency said the country bolstered its reserves by 26.1 tonnes in July, for a total of 2,170 tonnes that the central bank values at $77.4 billion. Last spring Russian First Deputy Governor Dmitry Tulin called gold “a 100% guarantee from legal and political risks,” Bloomberg added.

Discussing possible catalysts for a gold rally, the WGC included expansion or long-term application of trade sanctions, higher inflation resulting from nationalist economic policies, and European risks ranging from Brexit to the continent’s exposure to emerging market debt. Although growing strength in the U.S. dollar might continue to keep gold down, the organization said geopolitical risks to the global economy might overcome the dollar’s effects.

As usual, a different perspective came from the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee. Earlier this month GATA’s Robert Lambourne questioned recent activities by the Bank for International Settlements. The gold broker for most central banks increased its use of gold swaps and gold derivatives by about 17% in July. “The bank’s total estimated exposure as of July 31 was about 485 tonnes of gold versus about 413 tonnes as of June 30,” he stated.

The increase came as there increasingly appeared to be a correlation between the gold price and the valuation of the Chinese yuan, both of which fell substantially during the month. The BIS refuses to explain what it is doing in the gold market and for whom, engendering suspicion that it is helping one or more of its members to manipulate the currency markets through deception.

To place the bank’s use of gold swaps in context, its current exposure of 485 tonnes is higher than the gold reserves of all but 10 countries.

Speaking with Kitco News, Avi Gilburt of ElliottWaveTrader.net expressed caution about a possible rally. “Until there is clear bullish direction in the market, investors who want to trade gold should stick with GLD,” he emphasized.

Gold fell from this year’s high of $1,357.70 in January to $1,173.78 last week, before moving up to a press time price of $1,185.03.

Some Sprott takeaways

July 20th, 2018

Among them, Rick Rule foresees “the absolute heyday of prospect generators”

by Greg Klein

Miners have suddenly become “lean and mean” but not in a good way, according to Rick Rule. Twenty years of under-investment, an over-correction to a previous binge of M&A “insanity,” have left companies with declining resources. “This can’t continue,” the career contrarian contended. “Every day you mine, you shrink.” But the people who build and run mines prefer to outsource exploration. As a result, he says, “we are coming into the absolute heyday of prospect generators.”

Rick Rule foresees “the absolute heyday of prospect generators”

Rule presented his remarks at the Sprott Natural Resource Symposium, held in Vancouver this year from July 17 to 20 for an audience of gold bugs and resource investors. The two strategies can often be employed by the same individuals, showing a stark contrast between hedging against uncertainty and searching for opportunity. And opportunities are there to be had, Rule maintained. While a number of key commodities have gained in price, equities remain low, creating a more attractive ratio of price to value.

Looking at gold discoveries, Brent Cook sees a decline since 1980, with yearly mine production now about three times the annual ounces found in the ground. The pipeline of up-and-coming copper mines currently has the fewest projects of this century. Zinc discoveries peaked in 2016, then fell steeply. With majors showing heightened interest in explorers, he said, “this is a fantastic time to invest in juniors—but be careful.”

It’s very hard to know where the bottom of the market is until you come out of it.—Sean Roosen

Also emphasizing the declining success rate of exploration, Osisko Gold Royalties CEO Sean Roosen agreed that peak gold has arrived. That’s manifested not only in the relative lack of discoveries but the shortened average mine life of current operations. As for the state of equities, “it’s very hard to know where the bottom of the market is until you come out of it.”

Both sides of the gold bug/resource investor dichotomy found support in a slogan displayed by Byron King: “If you can’t save the world, go find some gold.” And from his perspective saving the world, the Western parts anyway, seems beyond hope. An editor with Agora Financial and Jim Rickards’ Gold Speculator, he focused largely on the U.S., which he said faces domestic conditions and foreign rivalry that put all aspects of American power at risk. The country barely resembles its post-WWII self when “we had the money, we had the gold and we had the friggin’ bomb.”

The U.S. and its allies have since squandered their prominence in banking, currencies, capital markets, manufacturing, technology, military prowess and space travel.

We have lost academia to a different form of thought.—Byron King

Where the West outperforms others, maybe, is in the flakiness of its institutions. Canadian and American universities lead the way: “We have lost academia to a different form of thought.”

In a momentous development that policymakers deny, he said, Russia has surpassed the U.S. in the aerospace and high-tech weapons industries. “Incredibly stupid people in Washington D.C.” believe against all evidence “that we can win a war with Russia.”

Mercifully, that kind of war might not happen. But another kind would show no mercy. Relaying Rickards’ ideas, King said real wars have become too expensive and dangerous to fight. So major powers instead sabotage their enemies’ currencies. As China and Russia continue to accumulate gold, the two could team up to defeat the West.

References to stupidity in high office recurred during the conference. Rule reminded the audience of Justin Trudeau’s statement that “the budget will balance itself” and Barack Obama’s notion that U.S. debt doesn’t matter because Americans owe the money to themselves.

Trey Reik of Sprott USA pegged that country’s federal debt at $20 trillion and U.S. total debt at $68 trillion. The country needs another $2.8 trillion in debt just to service the current amount, he added. With such unsustainable levels, he sees a tsunami of defaults coming.

One of the reasons I own gold is the future is much too interesting to be predictable.—James Grant

When the consequences of debt and the state of the economy become known, a gold bull market will return, argued James Grant. The editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer and Ron Paul’s choice to chair the Fed called interest rates “the most important aspect of capitalism…. Try to imagine a world without them. We do live in this world.” Today’s negative sovereign debt yields are unprecedented in history, he stated.

In a twist on the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times,” Grant said: “One of the reasons I own gold is the future is much too interesting to be predictable.”

Throughout the conference speakers agreed, disagreed and overlapped in their perspectives. But no doubt everyone concurred with an insight elegantly expressed by Eric Fry of the Oxford Club: “It’s better to have more money than less money.”

The Sprott Natural Resource Symposium returns to Vancouver in July 2019.

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.

Flanders to Holland and back

March 13th, 2018

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

by Greg Klein

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

A stately building belies elaborate security guarding this Antwerp diamond bourse.

 

As if providing an outer defence, a solid line of retail jewellers blocks two broad avenues from Antwerp’s famed diamond district. Access comes mainly through a side street with a police-controlled traffic barrier. More cops and soldiers (the latter attesting to Belgium’s ongoing terror alert) patrol the narrow streets inside. The only vehicles seem to be armoured vans customized for the diamond trade or the occasional bicycle carrying an Orthodox Jew with long coat and side curls flowing in the wind but magnificent hat solidly perched.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Practitioners in Belgium and the Netherlands
perfected the art of transforming rough stones into jewelry.

Except for the Portuguese synagogue, the buildings look un-Antwerpishly drab, catering to four bourses, several major companies and many more smaller operations that buy and sell stones and/or cut and polish them, as well as businesses selling tools of the trade or offering services like laser inscription removal.

Travel agents advertise flights to Mumbai and the Emirates, the Union Bank of India maintains a local branch and the neighbourhood postal outlet flogs a “one-of-a-kind diamond postage stamp.”

And there are no photos allowed, a courteous but firm police officer insists.

“But I’m a journalist from Canada.”

“I realize that, but it’s not allowed.”

“Being a journalist from Canada?”

“They don’t like it.”

“They” apparently represent the world’s diamond capital, a status Antwerp still holds for grading rough, although no longer for the art of transforming those stones into jewelry. One polishing factory, however, is DiamondLand, which welcomes visitors to its workshop before ushering them into the sales department. A guide explains that Antwerp’s seemingly ubiquitous diamond retailers cater to an international clientele attracted by prices that justify travel expenses.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Traders in 15th-century Bruges met outside
the home of Jacob van der Beurze, from
whom the word “bourse” was derived.

Yet this global diamond centre’s far from any mine. Antwerp and other cities of the Low Countries gained that peculiar stature pretty much by inventing the modern diamond industry. Just how they did that can be explained by a visit to Bruges, aka Brugge.

Those able to tear themselves away from the insufferably pretty canal-side buildings of possibly Europe’s most beautiful fairy tale surroundings could spend a few interesting hours in the city’s Diamond Museum. There, visitors learn of Venetian traders who brought diamonds to Europe from India, once the world’s only known source, eventually establishing a permanent presence in this once-important trade centre by the 15th century. That was before 16th century Portuguese and 17th century Dutch took over the Asian trade routes.

Other European cities had diamond cutters too, but it was in Bruges in 1476 that Lodewijk van Bercken is said to have invented the technique of polishing stones using a wheel, diamond dust and olive oil. His existence might owe more to legend than fact, but the technique continued, enhanced by later refinements and more recent technology.

As local waterways silted up, Bruges lost its overseas trade and the diamond industry shifted to Antwerp, which in the late 15th century became the world’s greatest trade centre overall. The industry gained new blood with migrations of Jews fleeing the Spanish in Spain, the Spanish in Portugal and, later, the Spanish in Flanders as the industry moved once again, this time to Amsterdam. Diamonds played a part in the city’s Golden Age, which flourished especially well after Amsterdammers forced the closure of Antwerp’s port. Protestants from France and Flanders joined the religious diasporas that bolstered Europe’s diamond industry.

During all that time new diamond sources were found in Borneo, Brazil, Russia and Australia, with the greatest discoveries of all in late 19th-century South Africa. That country’s first consignment of stones sparked a boom in Amsterdam, bringing unprecedented demand for cutters and polishers.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

This exacting profession continues
to draw new adherents.

Amsterdam’s decline began in the 1920s, to the advantage of Antwerp. Bruges also regained some stature as early 20th-century strikes encouraged some Antwerp companies to move their operations to job-starved West Flanders. Bruges’ on-and-off revival lasted about 61 years, Amsterdam held out with a few prominent companies but Antwerp prevailed. More recently, however, polishing has been moving to places like Tel Aviv, New York, Moscow and especially Surat, where the sector could be joined by the world’s largest diamond bourse, reportedly now under construction.

But Amsterdam, second only to Bruges for canal-side prettiness, to Vancouver for drugs and hookers, and to nowhere for massive mobs of selfie-snapping sightseers, still hosts companies offering workshop tours. Among them is Gassan Diamonds, now ensconced in a building that originally housed Boas Bros, once Europe’s largest company. Among the newer company’s achievements is the patented Gassan Cut with 121 facets.

Further factory visits make facet envy evident. One such operation is Coster Diamonds, founded in 1840 and the world’s oldest remaining diamond company. It was Coster that cut history’s most fabled stone, the Koh-i-Noor, now part of Britain’s Crown Jewels.

Crediting lengthy experience and new technology, Coster created the Royal 201 eight years ago by adding 144 facets to the more traditional brilliant cut, aka the Amsterdam cut. Coster also claims a Guinness record for the smallest polished stone ever—a tiny, tiny brilliant cut of 0.0000743 carats.

But with its 257-facet Star of Amsterdam created two years ago, Amsterdam’s Zazare Diamonds surpasses Gassan and Coster in the many-sided contest. This isn’t just a numbers game, a Zazare rep insists. “More facets mean more sparkle, more life,” she says.

But much of the industry’s sparkle and life have moved elsewhere, especially India. Numbers provided by Rapaport News show the country’s net polished exports, representing exports minus imports, climbed 3.8% to $20.71 billion last year. Belgium’s share fell 34% to $269.2 million.

Although India already hosts the world’s largest gem exchange in Mumbai’s Bharat Diamond Bourse, the Surat Diamond Bourse would far overshadow its neighbour. Construction has begun on a nine-tower complex that could accommodate more than 4,400 merchants, sources told Rapaport. Expected to be fully operational by 2021, the long-delayed proposal would be located within the government-planned Diamond Research and Mercantile (DREAM) City, confirming much of the world’s trade in the country that first found and coveted the gems.

 

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Dozens of diamond shops form a solid wall curving
along two streets outside Antwerp’s diamond district.

 

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

But not all of them thrive.