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Making Money on Miners, Part I

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At Bullion Bulls Canada, we have made it one of our “missions” to provide a complete learning resource for precious metals miners. Our goal is to offer investors a tool which will allow even complete novices to this sector to learn to invest on their own with these companies.

We consider our Mining Company database and “Education Vault” already superior to any other package of information available at other sites. The former provides extensive data on many of the most-promising miners, while the latter offers a complete teaching tool regarding all of the principle fundamentals for both precious metals miners, and precious metals themselves.

There is, however, still plenty of room to build upon this. In this piece I will seek to simplify and connect-the-dots on various concepts which we have introduced to readers in previous articles. It is imperative that readers (and especially novice investors) familiarize themselves with all of our previous material on this subject, rather than seeking to use this piece as some simplistic “formula” which they can blindly rely upon in order to (supposedly) reap huge gains.

With all mining companies, there is a specific evolution that takes place with any/every project which eventually becomes a mine (subject to only rare exceptions). This progression is as follows:

early exploration-> extensive drilling-> resource estimate-> economic assessment-> major financing-> construction of mine-> commercial production

There are two important observations which can made about this mining cycle. First, most but not all of these phases imply developments in a particular project which should increase the share price. This in turn implies that each phase of operations is executed competently by management, and (in the case of earlier phases) that the company experiences a certain degree of “luck” in that the mineral resource which they expect to find through their exploration and drilling is actually proven through subsequent drilling results and technical modeling.

The second (and perhaps more important) observation to be made is that within each phase, we can attempt to “time the market” to a certain extent. This can be either through looking to buy when certain clues present themselves, or conversely choosing to sell all or part of our positions when we see other pieces of data emerge.

Note that understanding and interpreting these clues properly requires not only having a thorough understanding of current market conditions, but also detailed knowledge on each phase of a miner’s operations. Those lacking this level of understanding need to refer to our earlier work in order to familiarize themselves with this information. The other important caveat here is that this analysis implies (at least) stable, if not favorable market conditions. As is true with any investment, sudden swings in sentiment (either to a positive or negative extreme) will overwhelm the individual fundamentals of these companies, and render this analysis invalid.

Assuming an adequate understanding of this sector and stable market conditions, astute investors should be able to utilize the following guidance in order to make more profitable “entrances” and “exits” in their investing.

Early exploration:

With this first phase of mining obviously representing the most-speculative period of the mining cycle, this makes the task of the investor in timing their investment decisions both easier and more difficult. It’s “easier” in the sense that there are less types of activity to monitor, and success or failure is relatively straightforward to assess (again, assuming a detailed understanding of mining fundamentals).

It is “more difficult” for investors precisely because of the absence of large quantities of data. There may be historical drilling results to look at, if a particular land-package has been previously explored. Note that most such “historic” work, is entirely unofficial in that it doesn’t meet more stringent modern standards for mining data, designed to reduce the possibility of some sort of data-fraud being perpetrated against investors.

The only other data which investors may have at their disposal is information from neighbouring mines, if this particular project is situated in an existing mining “camp” (i.e. district). All other data for investors to ponder is generated by the miner itself, (more or less) in “real time”.

Such data usually begins with some sort of aerial “imaging” work. With technology in this area having evolved considerably, areas which send especially “strong signals” in such scans can be considered to have a very high probability of mineralization. Thus, one possible entry-point for these early-stage miners is after scanning has been done, but before the first “trenching” or drilling takes place.

Trenching” refers to a form of near-surface mineral sampling which miners will often choose to engage in before bringing in a drill (and drilling crew). The decision as to whether to “trench” before drilling usually hinges upon one or two factors, although some geological formations are simply more amenable to this preliminary form of explanation.

If the “target” which the miner wishes to explore is very accessible (i.e. favorable geology and supporting infrastructure), or if management’s assessment is that there is a very high probability of success, then miners will often go directly from aerial scans to drilling. Conversely, where the terrain is less-accessible, or if there is less certainty about what will be found, then miners will often choose the less-expensive trenching, which is also faster/easier to conduct in locations without easy transportation access. Thus, if we see a company choosing to proceed with trenching-work after their aerial scanning (rather than moving straight to drilling), then this is a clue that perhaps we should hold onto our cash for the moment – and wait for further data to emerge.

The other key variable to assess in timing our entry into not only early-stage explorers but all miners which have not commenced commercial production is financing. The importance of these events in the life of a junior miner cannot be over-emphasized to investors. Obviously, any company which is not yet producing revenues must have cash on hand to do anything.

No matter how promising a particular property may be, without the necessary capital to fuel the exploration of the project, the miner (and its share price) will stagnate, and eventually sag. This means determining a company’s current cash on hand is always one of our top priorities when we first “screen” and then “select” these companies.

It also provides one of the Golden Rules in mining investing: investing right after a financing takes place maximizes the probability of a near-term rise in the share price, versus nearly any other event in the life of a miner which we can analyze in hindsight. Obviously, spectacular drilling results, strong commercial production, or even an acquisition can cause a near-term spike in the share price of any miner.

The problem with those events is that most of the rise in the share price takes place instantly when the news is announced. Thus those investors who rush into a miner after some “good news” has just been announced are often choosing one of the worst times to enter these companies as investments – immediately after a large surge in the share price.

Where a financing differs from these other scenarios is that the financing itself is generally not “good news” (unless the ability of a miner to raise more capital is in doubt). What this means is that a financing is one of the few “positive” events in the life of a miner which usually causes a short-term drop in the share price. Thus the dynamics are often totally reversed.

Instead of buying-in to one of these miners right after a jump in the share price, we can often purchase a miner right after a financing at a discount to its price prior to this news. There are two qualifications here. First, the drop in share price after a financing can often be a delayed reaction (for myriad reasons), thus waiting to purchase one’s shares even a week after a financing was announced does not guarantee we won’t see further near-term weakness in the share price.

Secondly, sometimes a financing is unambiguously good news for a miner. This can be (as previously stated) because it’s ability to raise capital was in doubt, or simply because of the terms or details of the financing. If a company is trading at $1/share and it’s able to complete a financing at $1.50/share (most of the financing for these companies is equity-based), then that is a pretty strong signal to investors that the company is undervalued at the current price – and news of the financing would/could cause an immediate jump higher.

Alternately, the financing could be “over-subscribed” or some sugar-daddy with “deep pockets” could emerge as a source of financing (often a larger mining company). Obviously both of these expressions of interest in the operations of a particular miner have bullish overtones, and thus could cause the miner’s share price to rise rather than fall after a financing takes place.

Once a financing takes place, the miner is prepared to either complete earlier operational work which had already been announced (i.e. drilling) and/or it can announce additional programs. Both of these scenarios are mildly bullish, and begin to put upward pressure on the share price, with that pressure increasing as investors learn/deduce that the company is about to announce some results of its exploration.

There are various ways in which investors can learn if a mining company is close to announcing results. One way is to contact the investor relations department of these miners and ask them yourself. Ordinary investors with the time/inclination to learn more about these companies should not feel intimidated when it comes to asking for information.

While these companies are generally more favorably disposed to answer questions from “existing shareholders” rather than “potential buyers” of shares, part of the reason why these investor relations departments exist within these companies is specifically to supply investors with information. Fully-armed with information, we can now evaluate the most favorable scenario for entering one of these early-stage explorers: after they have been financed and before operational results are about to be announced.

Extensive drilling:

The single most-important aspect of technical understanding which investors need to acquire in order to competently evaluate any miner not yet in commercial production is to understand “drilling intercepts” – i.e. the intervals of mineralization which are revealed in the “core samples” produced by such drilling. You will not learn that here.

We have already discussed some aspects of drilling in our previous commentaries, and plan to put out more detailed material on this subject in the not-too-distant future. What I will do here is to simply treat these topics in purely summary form, which presumes an understanding of this technical subject.

This is also an area where the old, market adage of “buy on rumor, sell on news” is especially appropriate guidance. There will be infrequent occasions where we seek to “buy on news”. If we are especially enthused by particular results, or we were waiting for some confirmation of some aspect of mineralization, or we simply think the market is undervaluing the results then we might decide to buy some shares after a news release on drilling.

More typically, however, we will be more likely to “sell on news” here. Indeed, if we were good enough/lucky enough to buy-in right after a financing, and right before such news is released, we are very often presented with the opportunity to make an outstanding trade – and take profits on either all or part of our position.

For all  “investors” (as opposed to traders), I recommend always placing long-term “sell” orders with all of their positions (i.e. “good until canceled” orders). These orders can be split into as many (practical) increments as is desired. This gives us the opportunity to plan our strategy in advance, rather than seeking to make (emotional) decisions in “the heat of the moment”.

Decide what sort of profit-margin you (realistically) would accept to sell your shares. Keep in mind that even a 25% profit which is made in a few days (or weeks) projects out to a phenomenal rate of return as an annual rate. Thus my own strategy is to formulate a short-term price at which I would sell – and then steadily raise those sell-targets as I hold my stocks for longer period. In other words, I would be seeking a much higher selling price for a stock I had held for three months versus one which I had only held for three weeks.

Conversely, such “news” on drilling can often serve as an opportune time to exit a company in which we have lost faith/interest. We can wait for the short-term “pop” we would expect on any decent news, and already have our sell orders placed in anticipation of such news.

In general terms, all early-stage drilling conducted by miners seeks to provide information (and hopefully favorable information) on two aspects of a mineral deposit: the quantity of mineralization (i.e. tonnages) and the quality of mineralization (the “grades” of the ore). Naturally this presumes that some degree of mineralization has already been proven.

If drilling is being conducted in “virgin” territory, then merely demonstrating any significant mineralization at all can provide an enormous boost to a miner. The level of mineralization which needs to be demonstrated in order to “excite” the market depends on many factors. Thus two early-stage explorers could (theoretically) produce identical drilling numbers from their separate core sample, and one of the miners could rise 20% on the news, while the other could fall 20%.

Certainly investor expectations figure strongly into this equation. This is one of the reasons why many/most mining investors like to “surf” stock bulletin-boards, and preferably a site with a large population of mining investors, such as Stockhouse.com. While the posting on these bulletin boards must always be taken with the proverbial “grain of salt” regarding the reliability of information, they can often provide good barometers of investor “sentiment”.

Once past the stage of merely finding mineralization, we move into the more detailed drilling work to which I alluded at the beginning of this section. I will complete my analysis of miners in the “drilling” stage, and move on to the later stages of a mining company’s evolution in the next installment of this series.

 

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Comments (5)Add Comment
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, March 24, 2011
Merci beaucoup, Clint009!

However as a veteran investor in these companies, I don't think I have presented anything here (yet) which you do not already know yourself. Hopefully between Brian and myself we might yet SURPRISE you with one or two details with which you are not yet familiar... smilies/cheesy.gif
Clint009
...
written by Clint009, March 24, 2011
Jeff, I appreciate your Money Making Part #1 & 2 ... and I put-it on PDF to read-it on appropriate time.

Thanks many time Jeff... smilies/wink.gif
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, March 22, 2011
Thanks for the support! While pieces at this level are primarily designed to benefit novice investors, often even experienced investors can be helped (a little) by reminding them of the "ABC's" with these companies.
Dubbelito
...
written by Dubbelito, March 22, 2011
Hi Jeff,
again an excellent piece of work. I really enjoy reading these commentaries; very helpful in keeping ones compass pointing north. I have one company onboard now which unfortunately fits the bill with financing stagnation, and I will need some patience to see it (hopefully) recover and then introspection to decide what I will do with it.

Looking forward to part II!
/D
Earl
...
written by Earl, March 19, 2011
Thanks Jeff,
Nice introduction and a piece of info I'm going to print for reference in my "Miners Stock" file (I'm currently putting together).

Earl

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