Selection Criteria For Precious Metals Mining Companies: A tutorial
Written by Brian Boutilier 16 Oct 2010
With silver and gold price ascending, there is a literal jungle of both established, and new precious metals mining companies to choose from. How can a beginning investor organize all this information? How can we sift through the myriad of gold and silver companies in the hope of finding a good prospect? What defines and distinguishes the fundamentally sound companies?
In Part I of this series, Jeff Nielson introduced novice investors to this sector to some of the basic metrics we use to do a preliminary evaluation of these companies. I followed this by introducing criteria for a “screening process” with these companies. In Part II, Jeff delved more deeply into the data/facts on these companies, focusing on “producers” and “near-term producers”. In Part III, Jeff described how to evaluate earlier stage exploration and advancement type companies.
I will follow Jeff’s article, by doing a hands-on “tutorial”, where we apply selection methodology to a real-life company. For clarity, I will begin by outlining the selection process. Then, I will illustrate that process by conducting an analysis of Trade Winds Ventures, a gold-exploration company. In doing so, I hope to provide investors with a bit more structure, and some practice at selecting companies with latent shareholder value.
Selection Criterion Outline
Selection: Having already screened through various companies, we now need to look in greater detail, beyond the abstract. Gain a sense of the development of the company. Where are these companies in the lifecycle of a mine in relation to its various phases?
Discussion: Is the property at the stage of New Discovery>Resource Definition>Preliminary Economic Assessment/Pre-Feasibility> Feasibility Study> Permitting/Construction> (or finally) a Production Phase project? The stock price may vary according to these stages, but buyer-beware, it’s not a linear relationship. It’s not enough to find a good company; we must do so at a good time.
II. Stock Symbols
Selection: Is the company listed on the larger exchanges? Is there robust trading for the stock?
Discussion: Is the company listed on the Toronto Main Exchange vs. Toronto Venture, and or the NYSE/AMEX vs. OTC or “pink-sheets”? The main exchanges are more stringent in their listing criteria, so the company should be stronger, and forced to be more honest and straightforward in their communications. Is there robust trading? With “pink-sheets” and “OTC” listed stocks, they often don’t trade for days at a time. This means that with some of the smaller exchanges it can be difficult to get in/out of a position.
III. Share Structure
Selection: What is the level of dilution, relative to the overall share count? What is the fully diluted number of shares on the market? Is there value here for investors at the current price? What percentage is owned by the corporation, and is there any insider trading?
Discussion: Unless there is a good “Investors” section on the website, we need to dig into the financial results, and actually find the share structure. Are there Senior Notes, Warrants or Options? What are they priced at and when are they due? What is the true, fully-diluted capitalization? Below 100M, 100-300M or 300+. How does that relate to the share price, and is there a sense of this company being undervalued?
Selection: Are the projects in prospective areas? At what stage are the various projects, and can they advance to the next stage? What is the potential of unlocking shareholder value, or diluting the stock with further financing?
Explorers: Will there be upcoming prospecting of new properties? Are the properties near successful, historic mining camps, or a hot new area? What is coming in the near term? Are they defining the resource with VMS overhead surveys, trenching, drilling? Are they diamond drilling to depth or drifting to expand the resource? Is the resource open “on strike”: laterally, or to depth? Is the company infill-drilling to shift the mineralization from “inferred” to “indicate” to “measured' resources”? These types of exploration and advancing activities all represent potential value to the company and hopefully the shareholders.
Producers: Is the company just starting production? Increasing mining or milling capacity, streamlining the process, improving the production rate or profit margin? Opening another mill/plant? Drilling to shift reserves from probable to proven?
Selection: Is there adequate cash and equivalents? Is the current and long- term debt manageable? Is financing available to advance the projects (is it likely)?
Explorers: We look over the financials for evidence of recent funding activities which furnish the cash for exploration. We seek-out how much money is going toward purchasing properties, and how much for ongoing exploration. We weigh this against debt-load, and administrative expenses.
Producers: We search the financials for production rates for both production and revenues [right word?]. We want to see the company closing in on profitability as a new producer. We seek out low production costs per oz. (“cash costs”), increases in production rates, improving profit-margins, and quarterly or annual improvement in diluted gain/loss.
VI. Corporate Structure
Selection: Is senior management capable of the mission, vision they set forth?
Discussion: Do they have a good blend of business vs. geologic expertise (for explorers)? Do they have experienced mining engineers and mill managers (for producers)? Do they have the marketing/fund raisers or the reputation to generate capital if an “advancer”? Does the board of directors have the depth and are they likely to have the connections and financial experience to generate capital, Joint Ventures or business partners to advance the projects? Discussions on the bulletin boards and blogs can help define the strength of the management and BOD.
VII. News Releases
Selection: Are they achieving their goals as set forth in last years’ corporate presentation? Are the projects advancing?
Discussion: How efficiently are projects advancing and are they meeting deadlines and targets? Are they finding the ‘rock’, expanding the resources or improving production, and/or margin of profit?
Selection: Does the corporate vision unlock shareholder value? Are there analyst reports, and what are their views?
Discussion: What corporate vision is offered? Do you (as the potential shareholder) think this will benefit you? Are the goals which have been set forth attainable? Are the annual presentations changing/evolving in a positive manner?
Having an outline to refer to, lets “play an open hand”. I will now review Trade Winds Ventures using the Selection Criteria and discussions as presented above. We will begin with TWD’s abstract from its website.
Abstract: “Trade Winds Ventures Inc. is a Canadian based gold exploration company listed on the TSX Venture Exchange, trading under the symbol TWD. The Company’s primary focus is the advancement of its Detour Lake Block A and Gowest properties, located in the Abitibi Greenstone belt in Northeastern Ontario, a prolific gold mining region which has produced over 65% of Canada’s gold.
Since 2004, Trade Winds has completed extensive diamond drilling programs of over 140,000 metres on the Block A and Gowest properties. An aggressive in-fill drill program is underway with the aim to increase the resource base and advance the project toward development of a stand alone open pit mine and mill operation.
Recently, Trade Winds as operator, completed a NI 43-101 updated resource calculation on the 50/50 Block A Joint Venture with Detour Gold Corporation at Detour Lake. The global resource calculation included an in-pit gold resource of 1.2 million ounces in the indicated category and 277,000 ounces in the inferred category. The total global resource on the Company's Block A and Gowest properties is in excess of four million ounces gold at a cutoff grade of 0.5 g/t.”
Discussion: This company’s “abstract” is well written and speaks volumes about it. We learn that TWD is an exploration company working in the prospective Abiibi Greenzone belt. We learn that they are expanding the resource for the Block A property. We learn that they are in the promising position of being “adjacent and along strike” with a larger company (Detour Gold), and its main ore body. Additionally, they have a 50/50 Joint Venture partnership with Detour Gold for the Block A property. To determine if these are positive selection criterion, we must also investigate Detour Gold. We will delve into more detail as we progress.
Stock Symbols: Listed on the home page, is the stock symbol for the Toronto Venture Exchange (TWD.V) With the use of other search engines, we find that TWD’s is also listed under the symbol TVR in Frankfurt and TWDIF on the OTC, which gives you some idea of its liquidity.
Discussion: The Company is not listed on the Toronto Main Exchange (TSX), or the NYSE-AMEX, This is not unusual for an exploration company. They simply don’t have the balance sheet and market-cap to do so. The main exchanges are very strict about the “financial strength” of the companies they list, and the accuracy of information presented. Therefore, trading this stock on the OTC (for American investors) may prove difficult. We will have to monitor the stock over time to see how the trading volume is, and how it responds to news releases from either TWD or Detour Gold.
Share Structure: Listed in the Investors Center under Share Capital.
Discussion: The Shares fully diluted are 171.1 million, multiply that with the share price of $0.28, which generates a market cap of $47.9 million (improved from $25M in July). If we are to select this stock, we have to weigh a couple of things. The first factor is the current level of dilution: 127 million issued and outstanding.
This is a moderate amount of dilution for a small exploration company. However they have a mineral resource for their flagship property, Block A and the Gowest zone. Can they advance these properties and what is the potential for further dilution in doing so? Secondly, there are a considerable number of warrants at a low price ($0.18-$0.19). We will have to find the expiry dates to determine if this might unlock upward movement of the Price per Share (PPS).
Projects: Block A. We are now somewhat familiar with the Block A Property, JV with Detour Gold. TWD is the Operator with the July 2009 NI 43-101 report.
Discussion: What make this company attractive is that it’s neighbor, Detour Gold has positive results of its feasibility study for the surrounding properties. In this study, it confirms that Detour Gold is likely to become a significant, future gold producer with an average annual gold production of 649,000 ounces over a mine life of 16 years. Average LOM cash operating costs of US$437/oz., with expected capital costs for mine construction to be $992 million. With Detour’s current cash available at $300M, they are on route to having the money necessary to build the mill for processing ore. More importantly, they have a resource which fully justifies those capital costs.
Total Mineral Resource Estimate for BLOCK A Property (adjacent)
Source: NI 43-101 Technical Report, July 2009. Watts Griffis and McOuat.
The potential for raising shareholder value with this property is twofold. First is that the resource may be expanded with the combined drilling programs between TWD and Detour. There is a main vein running through both Detour and Block A (M Zone). Secondly, there may be a route to future production for the block A property. We will have to look for recent drill programs or drill results to determine how they are progressing. For now, having an adjacent property is a positive selection criterion.
Gowest: TWD is also the 100% owner of the Gowest Property. Upon investigating the NI 43-101, we find that the Gowest Property contains the westward extension of the high-grade gold M-Zone Structural Corridor, which have been systematically drilled by Trade Winds along a strike length of over 4.6 kilometres, and is open to expansion to the west.
Gowest Total Mineral Resource Estimate
Discussion: Of note, the cut off grade for the mineral resource used was .55g/t. We as potential shareholders have to be cognizant of the cut-off grades being reported. The resource can reportedly be much higher, if the cut-off grade is lowered. For instance, the total reserve for Detour gold can vary between 11.8 Million Oz to 20 Milliion Oz depending on whether using the .50 vs .30 g/t cutoff level. Another thing to consider is the reclamation rate. There will be more Gold produced if the reclamation rate for doing so is high (over 90%). The historical reclamation in the nearby operation at Red Lake was .945%, so this is a positive also.
Financials: We look in the Investors Centre of TWDs website under Financials. When looking at the 2009 year-end results, we find that the Cash and Cash Equivalents are 678K year end 2009.
Discussion: This is a bit low, and not likely enough to fund next years drilling program. So now we have to dig into the most recent quarterly report. There we find that they generated 3.3M cash generated with a private placement of warrants. It is good news that they have the operating fund for next years drill program. The other side of that sword is that the share dilution went up.
Now lets look over the financial a bit further, a see what they are offering for Warrant information. On March 30, 2010, the Company completed a private placement totaling 22,000,000 non-flow-through units at $0.15 per unit, for total proceeds of$3,300,000. Each non-flow-through unit consists of one common share and one half of one non-transferable non-flow-through share purchase warrant. Each full share purchase warrant entitles the holder to purchase one additional common share. Since the current stock price is around.27-.33, these warrants represent some potential price instability for common share holders, and are not necessary a positive influence on the stock price going forward.
Corporate: Senior Management and BOD are listed and furnish career details on the site.
Discussion: The BOD is heavy with corporate financing background with only one Geologist. Perhaps good, M&A may be a priority. The Senior Management: Top 2 are the same as the BOD, with 1 more Geo, and a couple of consultants. They have considerable experience. This represents a small corporate footprint. While that is a positive in keeping administrative costs low, it suggests a reliance on Detour Gold or another business combination to go forward to advance the projects.
News Releases: The News Releases listed on the website date back to 2005. Discussion: It’s good to have a historical perspective on the year over year progress. We can see that they have been aggressively drilling, and are expanding the Block A resource. They are also doing preliminary metallurgic studies, suggesting they are heading toward PEA or Pre-Feasibility.
Media: Furnished on the TWD website, there are corporate presentations, Independent analysts, and fact sheets
Discussion: From Fact Sheet 2009, TWD outlined the proposed 2010 exploration program of 12,000 metres drilling, assaying of drilled sections not previously sampled, and metallurgical assessment of pit ore. We find from news releases this year, that they accomplished their goals. This is a good indicator that they have both the vision, resources and are making deadlines.
In this article, I outlined is detail the selection process, and then demonstrate its use with a real life exploration company. In doing so, I trust that the reader will be more conscious of latent shareholder value, or lack thereof for companies they are screening. Spotting flashy headlines such as “We found gold” is not a stocking picking method. We must find the companies that pass our criteria, the ones that can advance the project and unlock shareholder value.