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The world’s most popular mints: Key facts and comparisons

June 1st, 2016

Story by Jeff Desjardins, Visual Capitalist | Infographic by JM Bullion

In the precious metals industry, trust is paramount. That’s why if you own gold or silver bullion, there is a good chance it comes from one of the world’s few internationally recognized mints.

This infographic from JM Bullion highlights key facts and comparisons about some of the world’s most popular mints, including the United States Mint, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Perth Mint, PAMP Suisse and Sunshine Minting.

The world’s most popular mints: Key facts and comparisons


Some quick facts on each of the world’s most popular mints:

The United States Mint was founded in 1792 and now has minting operations in Philadelphia, Denver, West Point and San Francisco. The mint produced more than 17 billion coins for circulation in 2015, the fastest annual pace since 19.4 billion coins were struck in 2001. Legend holds that George Washington donated some of his personal silver to the mint for manufacturing early coinage.

The Royal Canadian Mint was founded in 1908 in Ottawa. It produces over one billion coins per year, with the Silver Maple Leaf as its signature bullion offering. In 2007, the Royal Canadian Mint created the largest coin in the world—a 100-kilogram, 99.999% pure, $1-million gold bullion coin.

The Perth Mint was founded in 1899. It was originally built to refine metal from the gold rushes occurring in Western Australia, while also distributing sovereigns and half-sovereigns for the British Empire. In 1970, the mint’s jurisdiction was moved to the state government of Western Australia. The Australian Kookaburra (1990-), Koala (2007-) and Kangaroo (1990-1993, 2016-) are some of the mint’s most popular products among bullion buyers.

PAMP Suisse, a private mint, was founded in Switzerland in 1977. The mint refines an impressive 450 tonnes of gold annually, and much of the gold used for worldwide jewelry production comes from PAMP. The mint also produces the popular Fortuna bar, which is available in gold, silver and platinum, with sizes ranging from one gram to 100 ounces.

Sunshine Minting is another private mint. Founded in Idaho in 1979, Sunshine mints 70 million ounces of bullion each year, including its version of the popular Silver Buffalo Round. Sunshine Minting is also the primary supplier of one-ounce silver planchets (round metal disks, ready to be struck as coins) to the United States Mint.

Story by Jeff Desjardins, Visual Capitalist | Infographic by JM Bullion

In the beginning

May 20th, 2016

Baffin Bay’s “birthmarks” date back to Earth’s infancy, geologists say

by Greg Klein

The Book of Genesis somehow overlooks this country but Canada—traces of it, anyway—turns out to be an awful lot older than previously thought. In fact some Baffin Bay rocks contain relics an awful lot older than most of the planet, according to a team of scientists. The wonder of it is that, despite 4.5 billion years of geological turbulence, the Earth still retains these remnants of its 50-million-year babyhood.

Baffin Bay’s “birthmarks” date back to Earth’s infancy, geologists say

These Baffin Bay rocks host 4.5-billion-year-old silicate material
formed when “baby Earth” was less than 50 million years of age.
(Photo: Don Francis)

But don’t expect to see them, handle them or trip over them next time you’re footloose in Nunavut. Their presence can be detected only with an extremely sensitive mass spectrometer.

The findings were reported last week in the academic journal Science under the intimidating title Preservation of Earth-forming events in the tungsten isotopic composition of modern flood basalts. Richard Walker, a co-author and University of Maryland geology professor, took time to explain that to in laypeople’s lingo.

He came to this study through his work with high-precision isotopic measurements. That makes tungsten especially interesting. “Its isotopic composition varies primarily as the result of the decay of another element, hafnium, at the other end of solar system history,” Walker explains. “The isotope of hafnium that decays to tungsten, hafnium-182, has a half-life of only about nine million years. So it was present for maybe the first 50 million years of solar system history. Any variations in tungsten isotopic composition that would follow had to have been created within the first 50 million years of solar system history.”

Walker and his colleagues didn’t expect to find such variations in Earth rocks when they began their study of core formation. The hot, metallic centre of the planet seems to have formed in the first 30 million years of the solar system. “By inference it has a very different tungsten isotopic composition from the rest of the planet. So one of the reasons we got into tungsten isotopes is we’re looking for some geochemical evidence for core-mantle interaction.

“Surprisingly, things didn’t turn out at all like we expected. The isotopic composition of the core, by inference, is presumed to be considerably lower than you, me and light bulbs. Almost all the stuff we have measured in early Earth rocks is actually higher. So that requires some process other than extracting the tungsten from the core. That’s what this paper is all about.”

But the rocks that we’re reporting data for in this study are only a few tens of millions of years old. These are not old rocks, they’re what we consider practically modern rocks.—Richard Walker,
professor of geology at
the University of Maryland

His team and another group had previously found similar isotopic compositions in rocks ranging from 2.5 billion to four billion years of age. “But the rocks that we’re reporting data for in this study are only a few tens of millions of years old. These are not old rocks, they’re what we consider practically modern rocks. But they show the isotopic imprint of the process that happened within the Earth—wow!—really, really early in its history while it was still growing.”

Again, the finding isn’t the rocks themselves, as some media reported. It’s the isotopic measurement, imprint, signature or, to use a word concocted by the U of M press office, “birthmark.”

“I kinda like that term,” Walker says. It represents a portion of the Earth’s mantle that was somehow isolated from the rest of the planet’s middle part over 4.5 billion years ago.

Lead author Hanika Rizo of l’Université du Québec found the Canadian examples on Padloping Island off Baffin Island’s southeastern coast. Only a few rocks have been analyzed so far. “The general type of rock that’s being measured extends over thousands of square kilometres,” Walker points out. “We don’t know how much of this rock has that unusual isotopic signature. That’s something we’ll be working on for years to come.”

Similar findings came from the Ontong Java Plateau northeast of Papua New Guinea.

As for the world’s oldest actual rocks, Walker says that’s a matter of debate. “Everybody accepts that there are rocks that are more than 3.9 billion years old.”

He and some colleagues are among those who believe that rocks from the Nuvvuagittuq Belt of arctic Quebec’s Hudson Bay coast date back at least 4.3 billion years.

Zircons from Western Australia’s Jack Hills date back at least 4.4 billion years. “The rocks they’re found in are nowhere near that age but some of the minerals themselves can be dated to even older than 4.4 billion years.”

But as for the “birthmarks” of Nunavut and Micronesia, they convey a sense of drama to the cognoscenti. This planet, “despite having a very exciting and violent birth in the form of probably a sequence of giant impacts building a bigger and bigger Earth, never completely got itself chemically homogenized,” Walker says. “It’s surprising that we have somewhere down there remnants of the Earth that formed more than 4.5 billion years ago. That’s exciting, at least to a geologist—this goes back to the earliest stages of Earth history.”

Along with Walker and Rizo, report authors include Richard Carlson and Mary Horan of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Sujoy Mukhopadhyay, Vicky Manthos and Matthew Jackson of the University of California, and Don Francis of McGill University.

Christie’s flogs pink diamond for $28.5 million; Sotheby’s hopes Blue Moon will get $55 million

November 10th, 2015

by Greg Klein | November 10, 2015

Update: On November 11 the Blue Moon sold for $48.4 million.

A stinking rich buyer has christened this $28.55-million purchase the Sweet Josephine. And so sets a Christie’s record for pink diamonds, this one described as the “largest cushion-shaped fancy vivid pink diamond ever to be offered at auction.” The November 10 winning bid brought over half a million more than the highest anticipated price and nearly tripled the auctioneer’s past pink record of $10.77 million set in 2009.

In 2010 rival Sotheby’s sold a 24.78-carat pink for $46 million.

Christie’s auctions pink diamond for $28.5 million; Sotheby’s hopes Blue Moon will get $55 million

As investments, diamond jewelry “can appreciate considerably in
value over a relatively short period of time,” according to Christie’s.

The 16.08-carat stone comes set in a ring and “surrounded by a double row of pavé white diamonds, highlighting the main stone, with a third row of small pink diamonds underneath,” Christie’s stated. “The band is comprised of small circular-cut white diamonds set in platinum.”

Among coloured diamonds, pinks are the most coveted and regularly fetch record prices, the auctioneer explained. But with no trace of a secondary colour, this one’s exceptionally rare. “Only one in 100,000 diamonds possesses a colour deep enough to qualify as ‘fancy’.”

Size matters too. Less than 10% of pinks weigh more than one-fifth of a carat. “In almost 250 years of auction history, only three pure vivid pink diamonds of over 10 carats have appeared for sale,” Christie’s added.

The stone “comes to market at a time when great gems are mirroring prices achieved for masterpieces in the world of fine art,” said Christie’s spokesperson Rahul Kadakia prior to the auction. “Collectors are looking to jewels as savvy investments that are both beautiful and can appreciate considerably in value over a relatively short period of time.”

Christie’s auctions pink diamond for $28.5 million; Sotheby’s hopes Blue Moon will get $55 million

These five “heroes” of Rio’s most recent tender went to “notable investors,
collectors and retailers based in Europe, USA, China and the Middle East.”

Rio Tinto’s (NYE:RIO) Argyle mine in Western Australia claims credit for most of the world’s rare pinks and reds. The same day the Sweet Josephine changed hands, Rio’s 2015 Pink Diamonds Tender “delivered an exceptional result, reflecting global demand and sustained price growth,” the company stated. But prices were confidential. Rio plans to suspend Argyle’s operations sometime this quarter.

Sotheby’s hopes to soar past the record-selling pink the evening of November 12, when the final lot of its Geneva auction comes up for bids. The 12.03-carat, internally flawless Blue Moon has been described as one of the world’s rarest gems, with a fancy vivid hue that “might be so unique as to be indescribable.”

This billion-year-old chunk of carbon from Petra Diamonds’ Cullinan mine in South Africa could bag $35 million to $55 million.

See an infographic: Six of the world’s most famous diamonds.

AREVA urges Ottawa to reject Nunavut’s negative environmental recommendation

July 7th, 2015

by Greg Klein | July 7, 2015

Last May the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended a federal minister reject the proposed Kiggavik uranium mine. Now the project’s backers want the minister to reject the board’s recommendation, saying the NIRB overstepped its mandate.

AREVA urges Ottawa to reject Nunavut’s negative environmental recommendation

Proponents say the community will benefit from 750 jobs
during construction and 500 during operations.

Located near the territory’s southeastern hamlet of Baker Lake, Kiggavik is a joint venture of AREVA Resources Canada (64.8%), JCU (Canada) Exploration (33.5%) and DAEWOO Corp (1.7%). In their application for an environmental permit, the proponents declined to provide a definite start date, citing low uranium prices. That omission comprised the NIRB’s chief concern.

“We do not want this proposal approved but still hanging over our heads for decades to come, not knowing what the future of our community will be,” the report quoted the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization. The NIRB invited the proponents to resubmit an application once a date has been chosen.

While estimated start dates are helpful, they’re not necessary, argued Vincent Martin, president/CEO of the AREVA subsidiary. Moreover the NIRB’s rationale “expanded their oversight beyond the intent of EA [environmental assessment].”

Martin’s July 3 letter to Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt pointed out other mine proposals that were passed without start dates, Nunavut’s Hope Bay gold project and Western Australia’s Kintyre uranium project.

Despite uranium market uncertainty, Kiggavik’s backers “continued with the EA process as a prudent step to enable a positive development decision when favourable market conditions return,” Martin’s letter maintained.

He added that the application provided remedies to address the uncertain start date but it’s not clear whether the NIRB considered them.

Martin called on Valcourt to reject the NIRB’s report and refer it back to the board “to consider the inclusion of appropriate terms and conditions that should be attached to a project approval.”

Failing that, Valcourt should label the report deficient and have the board address a number of omissions and other faults, Martin contended.

A July 7 AREVA press release added, “If the minister rejects the recommendation and approval is received, the Kiggavik project will be more likely to receive approval from shareholders to proceed to development when market conditions are favourable.”

“Ultimately, we are not the decision-makers but we are asserting that the environmental assessment for the Kiggavik project is sound and the approval should therefore be provided.”

The July 7 Nunatsiaq News reported that “AREVA isn’t the only company appealing to Ottawa to reject a made-in-Nunavut decision. Baffinland Iron Mines has also approached Valcourt to overturn the Nunavut Planning Commission’s land use plan ruling, so it can send its expanding shipping project straight to the NIRB instead.”

Read more about the Kiggavik project.

Benefits of foreign ownership

June 22nd, 2015

Cameco and Denison support Canada’s Paladin decision

by Greg Klein

At least some Canadian uranium companies welcome a decision that they say will encourage greater investment and reciprocal deals overseas. In what Paladin Energy PDN called an historic announcement on June 22, Canada’s federal government approved the Australian’s ownership of its proposed Michelin uranium mine in Labrador. The decision comes under a 1987 policy that requires at least 51% Canadian ownership of uranium mines (although it doesn’t apply to exploration or development projects). Exceptions, however, may take place when no Canadian partners can be found.

The feds’ decision “overcomes a huge hurdle,” said John Borshoff, managing director/CEO of the ASX- and TSX-listed company, which holds 100% of Michelin and currently produces uranium in Namibia.

But the announcement benefits others besides Paladin, indicating “positive news for the space for sure,” Denison Mines TSX:DML president/CEO David Cates tells “I think anything that’s opening up the country for business and investment from abroad is good for all uranium companies, whether it’s through partnership or an M&A deal.”

Cameco and Denison support Canada’s Paladin decision

The government decision also brings to mind an October 2013 agreement in principle between Canada and the EU to scrap the 49% limit on foreign ownership. Ratification of the accord, which reportedly followed intense lobbying from Rio Tinto NYE:RIO and French giant AREVA, could take two years following the initial agreement. AREVA, active in several Canadian joint ventures, holds a 64.8% stake in the advanced-stage Kiggavik project in Nunavut.

Cates doesn’t think the sector necessarily needs the restriction. “What would we be protecting against?” he asks, pointing out that Canada exports most of its uranium. “If we’re going to sell to the world anyway, why not let the world’s capital develop some of those resources and generate returns for Canadians through tax dollars and jobs?”

The feds’ announcement valued this country’s exports at more than $1 billion per year, making Canada the world’s second-largest supplier. Canada’s nuclear industry employs over 30,000 workers, including 5,000 in uranium mining, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources. Citing Paladin estimates, the announcement said Michelin could “create up to 750 jobs during the construction phase and up to 350 jobs during the operational phase,” should the project make it into production.

“To me, this is just opening up the capital market to other companies,” Cates adds. “It doesn’t have to start with a takeout. It could start with a strategic investment that turns into an acquisition of control down the road. Either way, Canadian companies and Canadian shareholders are going to benefit.”

Cameco Corp TSX:CCO actually backed Paladin’s application with a letter of support, senior communications specialist Carey Hyndman tells “We take no issue with the government liberalizing those restrictions, when it comes to countries that offer that reciprocal access. Australia of course has those policies that allow us to do the same.”

But might there be a downside for Cameco? By far Canada’s largest uranium company, it has long dominated Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin, home of the world’s highest grades. Even so, the company was accused of complacency in 2012, when Rio grabbed the Roughrider deposit from under Cameco’s nose, with the Anglo-Australian’s $654-million buyout of Hathor Exploration. Any relaxation of foreign ownership restrictions might bring more competition.

It doesn’t have to start with a takeout. It could start with a strategic investment that turns into an acquisition of control down the road. Either way, Canadian companies and Canadian shareholders are going to benefit.—David Cates,
president/CEO of Denison Mines

“As long as we’ve got that reciprocal possibility in the other country, then we think it’s fair to liberalize that restriction,” responds Hyndman.

The governments of Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Australia support the Michelin decision, according to Canada’s Natural Resources ministry.

Cameco owns 100% of Yeelirrie, which the company calls “one of Australia’s largest undeveloped uranium deposits.” Additionally Cameco holds 70% of the Kintyre project, also in Western Australia, which won conditional environmental approval last summer. A decision to begin mining would depend on an improvement in either production potential or uranium’s price, the company said at the time.

While Cameco has been ramping up Canadian production with Cigar Lake, low prices last year forced Paladin to suspend operations at its Kayelekera mine in Malawi and sell 25% of its Namibian Langer Heinrich operation to China National Nuclear Corp.

The Canadian government’s announcement comes as three directors of ASX-listed Energy Resources of Australia resigned, the latest fallout from another casualty of uranium prices. This month Rio abandoned plans to expand the two companies’ Ranger 3 mine in Northern Territory. Majority-owner Rio faces a possible US$300-million impairment.

But Paladin’s June 22 statement quotes the ever-positive Borshoff talking of “the inevitable market improvement ahead.” His company hopes to begin Michelin production “when the uranium price is at an appropriate level and after obtaining all necessary approvals and consents.” More immediate plans call for a summer exploration program beginning in July, followed by about 6,000 metres of winter drilling.

How fares Canada in the Fraser Institute’s global mining survey?

February 25th, 2015

by Greg Klein | February 25, 2015

Saskatchewan’s number two worldwide, Quebec’s back in the top 10 and Manitoba climbed 17 notches. But Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia took a beating in the latest Fraser Institute survey of mining jurisdictions. Released February 24, the study rates 122 jurisdictions (including provinces and states in Canada, the United States, Australia and Argentina) based on 485 returned questionnaires. Drawing on their 2014 experience, mining and exploration companies provided numerical ratings for a number of factors, which the institute tracked on separate indexes.

Most important is the Investment Attractiveness Index, which combines two other indexes—Best Practices Mineral Potential (geology) and Policy Perception (government attitudes). The institute weighs the IAI 60% for geology and 40% for public policy, roughly the same consideration companies reported for their investment decisions.

Here’s the top 10 IAI globally, with 2013 rankings in brackets:

1 Finland (4)
2 Saskatchewan (7)
3 Nevada (2)
4 Manitoba (13)
5 Western Australia (1)
6 Quebec (18)
7 Wyoming (11)
8 Newfoundland and Labrador (3)
9 Yukon (8)
10 Alaska (5)

Here are the Canadian runner-ups:

15 Northwest Territories (25)
21 New Brunswick (23)
22 Alberta (10)
23 Ontario (14)
28 British Columbia (16)
29 Nunavut (27)
42 Nova Scotia (47)

Prince Edward Island wasn’t included.

As for the bottom 10:

113 Sudan
114 Nigeria
115 Bulgaria
116 Guatemala
117 Egypt
118 Solomon Islands
119 Honduras
120 Kenya
121 Hungary
122 Malaysia

The 122 jurisdictions totalled 10 more than in 2013. For inclusion, the institute requires a minimum of 10 responses per jurisdiction.

The anonymous replies also included comments which, for Canadian provinces and territories, note serious but unsurprising concerns.

But for some people, the rankings rankled. B.C.’s 10th-place finish out of 12 Canadian jurisdictions doesn’t jibe with the province’s second-place status for mining investment, according to the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia. Citing data from Natural Resources Canada, AME BC credited Ontario as Canada’s favourite for attracting investment. Fraser Institute respondents stuck that province with ninth place in Canada.

“Furthermore, one of the best indicators of success in exploration is seeing discoveries move through to mine development,” said AME BC president/CEO Gavin Dirom. “In recent years, we have seen a number of new major metal mines constructed in our province, including Copper Mountain in 2011, New Afton in 2012 and Mount Milligan in 2013. Also, Red Chris is being readied for commercial operations, and the KSM and Kitsault mine development projects have received environmental assessment certificates.”

The NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines noted the Northwest Territories’ considerable improvement and its breakaway territory’s slight slump. The organization vowed to continue working with federal and territorial governments “to improve the investment climate for exploration and mining in the two territories.”

Download the Fraser Institute Survey of Mining Companies 2014.

Strateco sues Quebec for $190 million over stalled uranium project

December 12th, 2014

by Greg Klein | December 12, 2014

Claiming damages for lost investment in its Matoush uranium project, Strateco Resources TSX:RSC launched a nearly $190-million lawsuit against the Quebec government on December 11. The suit alleges actions by the government and its environmental minister wiped out about $123 million spent on the project from 2006 to 2012.

Strateco sues Quebec for $190 million over stalled uranium project

Strateco spent $123 million developing a resource of 7.78 million pounds U3O8 indicated and 19.22 million pounds inferred.

Strateco claims the government strung the company along for years, issuing some 30 permits and praising Matoush’s benefits. In 2013, however, Quebec slapped a moratorium on uranium exploration following opposition from the James Bay Cree Nation. Later that year the province refused Strateco an exploration permit “alleging a lack of social acceptability of a certain group,” the company stated. The project was already permitted by the federal government and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

“Uranium exploration and mining are allowed in Quebec, both under the old Mining Act and under the new Mining Act that came into effect in December 2013,” the company states, adding that “the government never explained what it meant by ‘lack of social acceptability,’ a concept not defined in any Quebec law or regulation.”

Quebec’s BAPE inquiry is currently examining the environmental effects of uranium exploration and mining. Strateco has since moved into Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin. Last month the company announced a deal in which ASX-listed Toro Energy would acquire a stake in Strateco. Toro “has shown clear interest” in Matoush, Strateco indicated at the time. Toro’s experience in permitting an advanced Western Australian uranium project, “in an area formerly under moratorium, will certainly be an asset for Strateco,” the company added.

British Columbia’s 2008 ban on uranium exploration led to a $30.35-million out-of-court settlement. But payment has been held up by disputes among the beneficiaries.

Athabasca Basin and beyond

November 15th, 2014

Uranium news from Saskatchewan and elsewhere to November 14, 2014

by Greg Klein

Next Page 1 | 2

Kivalliq’s Nunavut property reveals new drill priority

Heralding its “most advanced, drill-ready target outside of the Lac 50 trend,” Kivalliq Energy TSXV:KIV announced the Angilak project’s Dipole target on November 12. The new area came to light after a 1,335-line-kilometre VTEM survey and 1,514 soil samples south of the 111,476-hectare property’s Lac 50 deposit in Nunavut.

Preliminary analysis confirms geophysical targets at Dipole and the RIB area, Kivalliq stated. The company expects final VTEM data shortly to further define targets south of Lac 50.

Uranium news from Saskatchewan and elsewhere to November 14, 2014

Located 225 kilometres south of the hamlet of Baker Lake,
Angilak has an exploration season lasting from April to September.

Enzyme leach soil samples showed 379 anomalous uranium results, about a quarter of the total, ranging from 6 ppb up to 285 ppb uranium, placing the results in the 75th percentile. Out of that group, 77 samples made the 95th percentile. The sampling has “significantly upgraded” drill targets in the Hot and KU areas, as well as Dipole.

Kivalliq describes the latter area, 27 kilometres southwest of Lac 50, as “a distinct, two-kilometre-long geophysical anomaly having a coincident boulder assay of 2.24% U3O8, now confirmed by an anomalous uranium-in-soil trend over 3.4 kilometres of strike length” with anomalous copper, molybdenum and silver.

This year’s work also confirmed a conductor in the RIB area, which has “geological similarities with both Dipole and Lac 50,” the company added. Soil samples showed a 3.6-kilometre-long geochemical trend with uranium values ranging from 6 ppb to 61.9 ppb.

Historic 1970s drilling at RIB found shallow mineralization up to 0.19% U3O8 over 9.3 metres (including 0.52% over 2.6 metres) and 1.61% over 0.7 metres.

Lac 50’s January 2013 inferred resource used a 0.2% cutoff to show 2.83 million tonnes averaging 0.69% for 43.3 million pounds U3O8. The inferred category also shows 1.88 million ounces silver, 10.4 million pounds molybdenum and 15.6 million pounds copper.

In late October Kivalliq announced a 1,914-hectare addition to its Genesis project in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where Roughrider Exploration TSXV:REL funds exploration through an 85% earn-in.

A big piece of Strateco brings Toro Energy to Canada

An ASX-listed uranium company would gain a substantial portion of Strateco Resources TSX:RSC under an agreement announced November 3. Toro Energy would issue shares to obtain a chunk of the Sentient Group’s holdings in Strateco and SeqUr Exploration, a Strateco subsidiary. As a result, Toro would hold 19.8% of Strateco shares, $14.1 million of secured convertible notes receivable in Strateco, a $3-million senior secured first ranking loan receivable in Strateco and five million SeqUr shares, representing 25% of the subsidiary.

Sentient’s interest in Strateco would drop from 27.13% to about 8%. Sentient would also hold 800 convertible notes representing $800,000 secured by Strateco assets.

Toro’s Wiluna project is “set to become Western Australia’s first-ever uranium mine,” according to Strateco. “Toro has shown clear interest in the Matoush project, as well as in SeqUr’s uranium projects in Saskatchewan. Toro’s experience … permitting the Wiluna project, in an area formerly under moratorium, will certainly be an asset for Strateco.” The latter company’s Matoush project in Quebec has been stalled by a moratorium while a provincial inquiry into uranium takes place.

The transaction is part of a wider deal that includes Sentient’s AU$10-million placement into Toro, with another AU$10 million to fund the Wiluna flagship. Sentient now holds 18.9% of Toro, in which Oz Minerals holds 21.9% and Mega Uranium TSX:MGA 21.5%.

Toro anticipates closing the deals by mid-December.

Hook Lake JV proposes $2.9-million 2015 budget, Purepoint announces

Hook Lake partners will be on the hook for $2.9 million worth of exploration next year, if the joint venture committee’s proposals go through. Purepoint Uranium TSXV:PTU announced November 11 that a final decision on the budget, which would cover 4,200 metres of drilling, would follow geophysical results and a detailed drill plan. An airborne magnetic and VTEM-plus survey finished last month north of the project’s Spitfire zone. Beginning soon will be a ground EM survey to pinpoint drill targets on the 28,683-hectare property five kilometres northeast of Fission Uranium’s (TSX:FCU) Patterson Lake South discovery.

Purepoint announced the Spitfire zone last March and released additional drill results in May.

The Hook Lake JV consists of Cameco Corp TSX:CCO (39.5%), AREVA Resources Canada (39.5%) and Purepoint (21%). The latter company’s share of the budget would come to about $310,000.

Western Athabasca Syndicate, Aben, Alpha update Preston, Mann Lake and Carpenter Lake

A recent analysis of airborne geophysics confirms existing drill targets at the 246,643-hectare Preston property, the Western Athabasca Syndicate reported November 13. The four-company group has further geophysical and geochemical work planned for early 2015, along with land- and lake-based drilling.

Some $3.75 million worth of expenditures so far have identified 15 target areas on the southwestern Athabasca Basin PLS-proximal property. In July the companies released results from Preston’s initial drill campaign of nine holes totalling 1,902 metres.

Skyharbour Resources TSXV:SYH currently acts as project operator for partners Athabasca Nuclear TSXV:ASC, Noka Resources TSXV:NX and Lucky Strike Resources TSXV:LKY.

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Rio Tinto’s diamond-loving boss talks of further development at Diavik

November 12th, 2014

by Greg Klein | November 12, 2014

Speaking to Bloomberg at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Beijing on November 10, Rio Tinto NYE:RIO chief executive Sam Walsh took questions on topics ranging from Turquoise Hill in Mongolia to potential asset sales and diamonds.

Rio Tinto’s diamond-loving boss talks of further development at Diavik

Rio’s Walsh: “Diamonds?
I love diamonds.”

Referring to delays with the Mongolian copper-gold deposit, he said, “It’s a big project and it’ll have a 50-year life and it’s important for everybody to get it right. So I’m willing to be patiently impatient as we wait for the approval.” His company hasn’t set any deadlines, he added. “Deadlines don’t work anyway, as a matter of fact.”

Asked about shedding assets like Rio’s diamond unit or its interest in the Iron Ore Company of Canada, Walsh pointed out that his company has already divested assets worth $17.6 billion over the last seven years. “There’s a little bit of further clean-up to do but nothing major. Diamonds? I love diamonds. I think it’s a seriously good business and as you go forward the opportunities really are seriously good.”

“It’s not an asset I would like to divest of, no. It’s an asset I would like to nurture and we’ve got an opportunity in Diavik north of Yellowknife for a further development that you may hear about next year.”

Rio has a 60% interest in the Northwest Territories diamond mine, with Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC holding the rest.

While his remarks seem encouraging for Diavik, Rio dumped 30 to 40 employees from its Argyle diamond mine, the West Australian reported November 12. The operation’s maintenance shutdown will reduce the company’s overall 2014 guidance to 15 million carats from an originally planned 16 million, the paper stated.

Watch the Bloomberg interview.

Dumping iron

October 17th, 2014

How long can Rio, BHP and Vale continue their quest for world domination?

by Greg Klein

He must have had trouble blinking back the crocodile tears. There was president Jimmy Wilson of BHP Billiton’s (NYE:BHP) iron ore division earlier this month talking about how his company, like others in that commodity’s Big Three, continues to increase output dramatically, even as prices remain near five-year lows and higher-cost competitors struggle. “We take no joy from that,” he claimed.

Must be rough. But rationalization came from Big Three brother Rio Tinto NYE:RIO. “If it is not us putting in the highest-margin [lowest-cost] iron ore on the planet’s surface, then it is available to others,” the Sidney Morning Herald quoted Andrew Harding, chief executive of Rio’s iron ore unit.

Can Rio, BHP and Vale continue their quest for world domination?

As the world’s top steelmaker, China benefits from low iron ore prices
even though they threaten its domestic and overseas mining.

By 2020 Australia and Brazil are projected to supply about 90% of global supply, according to Macquarie Group figures quoted by Bloomberg. Most of it will come from the BHP, Rio and Vale NYE:VALE Axis of Iron. Whether those companies can—or are allowed to—come so close to world domination remains to be seen. But today’s situation is a far cry from 2011, when China wanted to break the Big Three’s grip on supply to bring down the much higher prices then prevailing.

That was when iron ore was going for about $170 a tonne. The Big Three supplied about 62% of Chinese imports. Now the price lies closer to $80 a tonne, a 41% drop this year alone according to Bloomberg and the lowest since 2009. Standard & Poor’s foresee an $85 benchmark to 2016, stated another Bloomberg dispatch. Although China relies on the terrible trio more than ever, the country must be happy about the prices. But among the supposed targets of the giants’ expansion are higher-cost Chinese producers as well as overseas projects with heavy Chinese investment.

The three seem relentless. The Wall Street Journal reports BHP’s goal to hit 290 million tons in 2017, more than 22% above the company’s last fiscal year. As for Brazilian Vale, “the world’s largest iron-ore mining company plans to boost output to 450 million tons by 2018 from 306 million last year,” added the WSJ. “Rio Tinto, meanwhile, produced 266 million tons last year and is targeting 360 million tons in the next few years.”

Macquarie predicts Australia and Brazil will produce 79% of global supply next year, up from 73% last year. By 2020 the amount could reach 90%.

Bloomberg also reported, “The global surplus will more than triple to 163 million tons next year from 52 million this year, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. It projects an expansion to 245 million tons in 2016, 295 million tons in 2017 and 334 million tons in 2018.”

Not all of it will come from the Big Three, however. Among other significant suppliers are Anglo American and Fortescue Metals Group. In an October 17 Mining Weekly story, the latter’s CEO Nev Power lashed out at his Australian rivals, accusing them of a “foolish strategy” and “one that will inevitably lead to self-inflicted wounds, minimal returns to shareholders and probably replacement of the management teams, like we’ve seen from some of those companies in the past.”

Later that day Rio’s Harding hit back. “I don’t feel at all worried about my job but it is clearly on the top of the mind for him,” the Sidney Morning Herald quoted him. Claiming to produce higher-quality ore at much lower cost, he added, “I can understand why Nev is actually a little distressed and possibly even panicking.”

Other companies are worried too, from majors to juniors. While Power and Harding were exchanging shots, Cliffs Natural Resources NYE:CLF announced low prices will bring an expected $6-billion Q3 write-down on some of its coal and iron ore assets. ASX-listed Atlas Iron, a miner in the same Western Australia Pilbara region worked by Rio and BHP, last month joined Fortescue as one of Australia’s worst victims of short-selling, once again according to Bloomberg. Around the same time Australian Mining reported hundreds of layoffs from Atlas.

Earlier this month Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro suspended work on its $300-million transmission line to Alderon Iron Ore’s (TSX:ADV) Kami project in the Labrador Trough. The St. John’s Telegram attributed the decision to “fallout from the current state of iron ore prices.” The announcement came just days after Cliffs shut down the region’s Wabush mine, throwing about 500 people out of work. Yet Alderon’s executive chairperson Mark Morabito remains resolute about Kami, which has a feasibility study projecting a 30-year mine life. “It’s just a pause and this is the mining business,” he told the paper.

“The bottom line for Alderon is this is a campaign, leveraging the Chinese slowdown, by the Big Three, to drive Chinese domestic supply out of the market. It is a campaign. It will end at some point,” the Telegram quoted him. He expects the effort to last “another year or so.”

Are the Big Three taking any risks themselves? One person who thinks so is Colin Barnett, premier of Western Australia, where BHP and Rio get most of their iron ore.

As the Financial Times pointed out last week, “Western Australia is heavily reliant on royalty and tax revenues from iron ore and is implementing tough budget cuts in the wake of a dip in commodity prices.”

The FT added Barnett would “hate” to raise royalties. But the premier suggested that’s a possibility the cost-conscious companies can’t ignore.

According to Forbes, Barnett also suggested the miners might provoke strong repercussions. “If I was sitting around a board table in one of those big companies I’d be pretty nervous about what the WTO and European regulators would think about this.”