A mining and exploration retrospect for January 26 to February 1, 2013
by Greg Klein
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Search for quarry workers postponed, victims believed dead
Efforts to find two workers missing in a gravel quarry accident at L’Epiphanie, Quebec were postponed on Thursday. The truck drivers, employed by Maskimo Construction, were buried by a landslide two days earlier. High winds and unstable ground made it unsafe to operate the helicopter and heavy equipment involved in the mission. Searchers hope to resume their efforts on Saturday but “police have acknowledged they don’t expect to find survivors,” the CBC reported.
One co-worker described the landslide in a Canadian Press story reprinted in Wednesday’s Montreal Gazette.
Colombia exploration workers remain in captivity
Five people kidnapped from Braeval Mining’s TSX:BVL Snow Mine project in Colombia remain missing. The Monday edition of Colombia Reports stated the military, which arrested four more suspects on Sunday, claimed it was making progress. But, the journal added, the National Liberation Army (ELN) kidnappers warned that any rescue attempt would endanger the hostages.
Among the ELN’s demands are stricter regulation and heavier taxation of the mining industry, legalization of small-scale mining and a national debate on mining policy, Colombia Reports stated.
The victims—a Canadian, two Peruvians and two Colombians—were abducted on January 18 in northern Colombia’s Bolivar department.
On Thursday the country’s biggest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), released three Gran Tierra Energy TSX:GTE contractors after one day in captivity. But, Reuters stated, the guerrillas killed four soldiers in southwestern Colombia’s Narino department on Wednesday.
More mid- and large-cap companies selling royalties
The streaming business has grown tremendously, both from the amount of money available and the size of companies seeking it. As Bloomberg reported on Thursday, “the biggest miners have joined the queue of capital-hungry companies requesting funding.”
Silver Wheaton TSX:SLW CEO Randy Smallwood told the news agency that his company has seen increased interest from miners with market caps “up into the tens and hundreds of billions.… Doors that we’ve been knocking on for a long time, they are all of a sudden knocking on our door.”
If an operator goes down from say a one-gram cutoff to a 0.5-gram cutoff, the operator may not make any money but the royalty-holder makes money…. It’s one of the best business models that I have ever seen.—Franco-Nevada chairman Pierre Lassonde in an interview with BNN
Although Silver Wheaton completed only one transaction last year, it was a $750-million deal with HudBay Minerals TSX:HBM, which has a press-time market cap of $2 billion. Such deals obviously benefit Silver Wheaton, which has been outperforming both silver prices and metal producers, Bloomberg stated.
Not surprisingly, success brings competition. But the founder of the first royalty company, Franco-Nevada TSX:FNV chairman Pierre Lassonde, considers most of the newcomers to be small fish. In an BNN interview posted Thursday, he said, “Every week we must have two, three, four, five companies coming and approaching us, but they’re of a size that there’s only two or three royalty companies that look at them.” Over the last six months his company has been working on three “really large deals” of half a million to a billion-plus, he said.
With each transaction Franco-Nevada gets a free perpetual option on any further discoveries on the same property. “It is this optionality that has given us the kind of rate of return that we give the shareholders,” he explained.
Lassonde attributed “de-ratings in the gold stocks” to smaller, lower-grade deposits than those found in the 1980s and ’90s. “At Franco, as far as we’re concerned, if an operator goes down from say a one-gram cutoff to a 0.5-gram cutoff, the operator may not make any money but the royalty-holder makes money…. It’s one of the best business models that I have ever seen.”
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