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Screening Precious Metal Mining Companies

The Education Vault - Mining Investment Information

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When looking for miners to post on our database, or just selecting a company to consider investing in, I go through a two-stage process.  First there are screening criteria (should I look at this company further?), and then I use selection criteria (do they warrant a write up or investment?). In this article, I will start by introducing you to my screening criteria.

My first step is the company’s “abstract” on its home page.  Most companies give you a somewhat hyped-up sense of who they are (to no great surprise).  While this is not the whole picture, I do expect to gain a little insight on the company.

I usually can find out what they do (producer, “advancer”, explorer), what they are exploring or mining (Gold, Silver, multi-mineral), and what the stock-ticker is for one or more exchanges. Sometime this abstract will let you know if they are expecting changes (“NI-43-101” reports, assays, drilling, increased reserves, increased production-rate etc).  Finally, I would expect to find where they are located, (properties/projects) and why these projects have potential.  Again, at this stage I want a snapshot of the company, to decide whether or not to consider them further.  If my interest is still piqued, then I will delve into the company in greater detail.

Let me back up a bit, for people new to these companies, the NI 43-101 was created by the CIM Standing Committee on Reserve Definitions, and adopted by CIM Council (“Canadian Institute of Mining”) on December 11, 2005.  These stringent standards with respect to reporting data were developed as a defense against a repeat of the “Bre-X” debacle. Given that most “junior” miners are at least Canadian-listed (if not Canadian-owned), it is this industry standard, which you will encounter most often in your research.

For those who didn’t suffer through this period, Bre-X was a group of companies in Canada, and one of its major subsidiaries was Bre-X's Minerals LTD.  To make a bad story short, the  “resource” reported at Busang Property was a massive fraud. Crushed core samples had been falsified by salting with gold. The salting of crushed core samples with placer or supergene gold constituted the most elaborate fraud in the history of mining. In 1997, Bre-X collapsed and its shares (at peak worth over 280$/share) became worthless in one of the biggest stock scandals in Canadian history.

My next step after the company home page, is the stock price, and share structure.  I want to gain a sense of how large is the company (i.e. market-cap) and how diluted is the company’s share structure.   It’s certainly a strong argument to look further at a company, when their fully-diluted share structure is minimal (under 100 million shares), since it shows management has been careful to limit dilution.

A couple of examples of companies with minimal dilution and the resultant strong stock price are Seabridge Gold (TSX: SEA), and Detour Gold (TSX: DGC). They both have minimal shares issued, relative to the amount of reserves they are sitting on.  It won’t stop me from looking further into the company in spite of having moderate (100M-200M) or fairly diluted (200M+) share structures, but such companies obviously need greater growth-potential, to compensate for the larger share-count.

So once I have a sense of the company’s share structure, I will take a cursory look at their projects.  Do they have the rock, or the potential to find it?  Are there reported mineral reserves, “43-101’s” or feasibility studies?    Are they growing, changing, or expanding?  If they have no reserves, then where are they located? For the exploration company without reserves, are they near other “majors”, in good mining districts or mining “camps”?  What is the likelihood they will improve the outlook of the project?  I’m not looking for the “Nth detail” here, just trying to gain a sense of potential.

Getting back to my “screening”, I’m still deciding whether or not to look further into a write up, or to buy into this company.  I will look at the last year-end financial release.  I want to see how much cash they have, what the cash burn-rate is, and what liabilities they are looking at.  If they are cash-light, then this is a good indicator that another round of financing will have to take place, to fund activities in the coming year.  While that’s not “the end of the world”, it quite possibly will dilute the share structure further.  Finally, what was the year-end (diluted) gain or loss on the bottom line?  Are they closing in on profitability, or just drowning in debt, and not bailing fast enough?

At this point I feel I have enough information to decide whether or not I am going to pursue this company further.  That puts me in the position of using my selection criteria.  Alas, a more stringent set of guidelines!  But I will do this before “getting off my back pocket”, and taking a position.

To simplify this first-stage still further for investors new to this sector, I’ve summarized my screening-process in the table below. I’m going to follow this up with a run-through of my selection criteria, by applying these criteria to a specific company.

 

Screening Mining Stocks

 

I.               Abstract

a.     I will look for a snapshot of what the company does, the business model, where its projects and properties are.

b.     I will look on the companies home page, in its corporate presentations and in its financials

II.             Stock Symbols

a.     I will use several different websites to find the stock symbols for the company because the website does not always list all of its stock exchange symbols.

III.           Projects

a.     Information is usually found in the “projects” section of the website

b.     A look over the recent news releases will sometimes uncover new developments not listed in the projects section

IV.           Share Structure

a.     Found in “Investor Information”

b.     Sometimes one needs to look in the “financials” for current info, to include warrants and options.

V.             Financials

a.     Usually under “Investor Information”

b.     I will look over both annual and and recent quarterly reports

VI.           Corporate Structure

a.     Again listed under “Investor Information” or “Corporate” depending on the company

b.     Current news releases may show changes in management, or in the company itself

VI       News Releases

a.     Usually under “News”, occasional under “Investor Information”

b.     Look for new financing, new reported exploration or production results, etc.

VII            Media

a. Usually Under “Investor Information”, looking for corporate  presentations.

b.     Upcoming Conferences – press conferences or conference-calls



 

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Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, September 26, 2010
There are two points to keep in mind as we hear from Brian and other investors on how they research these companies.

First, they stress many of the same things, and second, none of the data they are gathering on these companies is too complicated for the average investor to understand.

Dgierl's suggestions about insider-buying and identifying major shareholders can be discovered in a number of ways. First, there is the company's web-site and IR ("Investor Relations") department. There are also site and commentators who report such data. More indirectly, there are the stock bulletin boards - with the understanding that there is a lot of "disinformation" in such arenas.

On the other hand, don't feel like you have to learn EVERYTHING about all these companies before it's "safe" to invest. The REASON why we acquire baskets of these companies is because there will ALWAYS be some degree of uncertainty - no matter how much "DD" we engage in.

Commit your investor dollars slowly and cautiously, as you begin to build positions. Accept that (like anything) you WILL make some mistakes as you buy these companies. With such "bad trades", study WHAT went wrong, and learn from it.

The WORST thing that could happen for a novice-investor in this sector would be to dive-in (as a matter of luck) at the perfect time, and simply watch a "rising tide" lift all "boats" in the sector. Experiencing this "beginner's luck" would inevitably lead to laziness and over-confidence - two of the worst sins any investor can commit.

If you make a bad pick, cut your losses and get out. If you make a good pick, don't forget to take some profits, because those "paper profits" can disappear very quickly. Remain HUMBLE, and never forget that no matter how long we play this "game", we all remain students.

Brian Boutilier
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written by brian boutilier, September 26, 2010
dgierl, I like your process, and will consider adding some of your suggestions to my own. As I stated early in the article, I have 2 stages to my process, screening and selection. Analogous to throwing a net (screening), then picking out the keepers (selection). I wrote the article to point out my net casting technique. You have listed many good ways of both screening and selection. The question I'm asking in the first phase, 'should I put even put this company on my watch list'? Perhaps that's what you are saying also. Again, nice process.

I like to get further into the weeds, the balance sheet, and corporate profile, assays and location in the selection phase. I agree with you, that can be much more work and detail. I choose not to waste too much effort on companies that don't warrant the effort.

I wait to throw out the non-keepers in phase 2, selection. Might be a nice fish, but too small. Back into the lake for now (watch list) For me, boards can change, properties are bought and sold. Like a prospect generator, they are turning over all the time. Therefor, I choose to cast a wide net, and allow time to assist me in selecting stocks at various stages. I like to have a large watch list. Part of my Phase II, selection criterion, looking at the lifecycle of the mine, and try discern what phase each project is in, thereby anticipating how the market may react at each phase. Alas, another topic, for the next article.

Finally, I wrote the article more to assist those who don't yet have a screening process. I didn't want to over-run new investors in metals and miners with too much detail. You have a method. You are a resource to new investors. I hope you continue to contribute. My thanks for you comments.
dgierl
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written by dgierl, September 26, 2010
This is what I wrote on the RBY Yahoo message board to answer another's question:

If you have some "high risk" money, that it's ok to lose, you can try the method I used which found me RBY.

1. get a large list of micro cap gold explorer stocks
2. go through their financials throwing out any with long term debt and not enough cash income to pay for it over the next 5 or so years.
3. see where their properties are and see if any other gold was found nearby or see if any of the reports from the company say they have found some gold. If nothing shows positive, throw out that company. A current miner obviously qualifies.
4. check the qualifications of management. If they are only financial and not strong geology/mining, throw it out. If management is getting paid large sums and there is not income, throw it out. You also should try to listen to an update, presentation, or interview of the CEO to get a "feel" of him (or her). If the ceo doesn't seem to know what he is saying or something doesn't ring true, throw it out.
5. check who the insiders are and see if they have a large investment (these should be mostly management). If their investment is paltry, throw it out.
6. see who the other large holders of stock are. If they are only the market maker and/old investment banks, throw it out. If there are individuals or precious metal companies/mutual funds, check their knowledge and performance. If they are good, you may have a winner.

For example, when I found RBY, they had no long term debt and plenty of cash. Their properties included Red Lake, Alaska near the Pogo mine, and Nevada in the Carlin trend. Management had high qualifications in the way of education and previous experience. David Adamson spoke well and I could feel a degree of excitement in his tone. Rob McEwen was the main stockholder (very good rep and success in gold mining) and management had a substantial stake also.

If you don't want to do the homework, however, you can just shoot in the dark and hope. Hopefully, you won't lose too much.
navderek
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written by navderek, September 21, 2010
I must also say that Jeff, Brian and Chad, as well as other active members are doing great work here and sometimes I wish I could do something to contribute!
This is another great stepping stone into the crazy world of investing and already I'm feeling anxious to get my feet wet!smilies/grin.gif
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, September 21, 2010
Brown,

Brian, Chad and I all have VERY different backgrounds - both in terms of education and career. Yet we are ALL "investors" in these mining companies, ourselves. We make mistakes (like everyone else), but certainly never feel that we are "out of our league" in making investments in these companies.

Then I look at the mainstream, financial investment community - and all the financial advisors with GENERAL backgrounds making "recommendations" on these mining companies which are ridiculously simplistic, often to the point of being "dangerous".

So we say to people coming into this sector: learn to do this YOURSELF, not because we're all "investment geniuses", but because with a little time and effort, we can do AT LEAST as well as the majority of people giving advice in this sector (without paying any commissions).

Finally, for me personally, I SLEEP BETTER holding companies which I have studied and acquired myself - as compared with relying upon someone ELSE's ideas and selections.
Brian Boutilier
...
written by brian boutilier, September 21, 2010
Very kind sir. I too found some of the other websites confusing for a while. They can often be confrontational as you say. I certainly put a fair amount of time and effort into those sites, and gained valuable lessons in discernment along the way. I have learned what not to do, by making errors by not being objective. Most importantly, I have learned to question the information being posted, and to cut through the hype.

I think most investors get tired of people taking a position on a company, then expounding all over the blogs about the company "pumping" without necessarily having objective information to share. While they stand to gain in creating a buzz about the stock, they also lose the trust of most savvy investors. (and those investors will say so)

While we lack depth in out bullboards, they also lack the pumpers of the larger sites. We hope to grow without losing an honest exchange of information. Again, thanks for your comment. Briansmilies/grin.gif
Brown
...
written by Brown, September 21, 2010
Not really sure if this where you want to see such comments, but this is article and the one prior are the type of articles I have been dying to find. They are nice starting manuals for "how to" with regards to precious metals companies. I will admit I have a tremendous amount to learn in this market (I only started following the market right around the housing meltdown. I have become very disheartened with the information or lack there of, due to the egos and trash talk on other websites. I need to learn as much as possilbe as fast as possible without any b.s. This is the one website where I feel that the information provided is there to educate and actually help people. Well at least people who are willing to listen and consider other possibilities to what is spread around by the media. All this to say keep up with this kind of quick intro to help beginners (like me, or slow learners) get their feet wet. I really appreciate.

Thanks Brian, thanks Jeff.

Brown

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BullionBullsCanada.com is not a registered investment advisor - Stock information is for educational purposes ONLY. Bullion Bulls Canada does not make "buy" or "sell" recommendations for any company. Rather, we seek to find and identify Canadian companies who we see as having good growth potential. It is up to individual investors to do their own "due diligence" or to consult with their financial advisor - to determine whether any particular company is a suitable investment for themselves.

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