Gold Mining Stocks – What’s Wrong With The Juniors

Kenneth J. Gerbino

The reasons Junior mining stocks are underperforming are as follows:
  • The larger companies are getting all the action from newly converted gold enthusiasts and interested investors.
  • The junior market is still being weakened by insiders and promoters who are always sellers.
  • There are hundreds if not thousands of new promotional mining stocks being foisted on the readers of gold pages in the last three years and there is just so much money to invest in this sector. Therefore premium prices are diluted.
  • The invasion into the Hard Money camp by the Uranium companies. Every investor I know who owns gold and precious metal stocks but never owned a uranium stock now owns some. This diversion of capital to uranium diluted some funds that would have entered the Junior market.
  • Gold ETFs. Investor money can now go into an easy way to invest in bullion. This also could be argued that it helps the miners as it creates demand for gold.
  • Delays in drilling, engineering reports, permits.

A Big Rally Soon?

We are very near a major turning point in the mid tier and junior mining sector. The chart below shows the lowest junior mining valuation ratios in the last six years. We are using the TSX S&P Venture Index which is mostly mining stocks. The current ratios are at levels that in the past have signaled a major and substantial rise in the smaller gold and silver mining stocks.

As a reality check we can look at the ratio of the XAU to the Gold Price to see if this ratio is at a speculative level that may be signaling a major top in the making for all the gold stocks, which would of course include the juniors. During the above mentioned time period (September-November 2002) the Gold/XAU ratio was 4.8 (not shown). Today it is 4.8. This means the XAU gold stocks are tracking the gold rise at the same ratio when gold was $320, signifying a stable relationship. It confirms that the juniors on a relative basis are extremely undervalued and that a substantial rally should be starting soon.

New money into the gold arena is going into the big names. These managers and investors have not started to look at Canada and the junior sector yet. But as they eventually get more familiar and comfortable with the industry they start looking for smaller growth and value situations and that leads them into the junior sector. Quality juniors will eventually have a substantial move up from these levels but most others with speculative exploration programs will be left behind because of the stark reality that only one exploration stock out of a few thousand ever produces an ounce of minerals. This old ratio should change for the better as high metal prices, technology, more sophisticated exploration groups and increasing demand for resources increase their chances but it is still long shot investing.

The Three Amigos

Gold has many developments impacting it’s price and we have mentioned them many times. But currently we see three drivers at work that spell out a higher gold price: 1) The dollar has no where to go but down since interest rates are being sent lower and lower by the Fed to bail out the banks and our friends on Wall Street. 2) The credit/mortgage/real estate bubble dictates inflating the money supply or face possible immense institutional disasters. 3) Global money supply increases are continuing at a torrid rate especially in India and China.

Mining Analysis

The mining sector despite the volatility allows one to have a very clear idea of value. This intrinsic value is an inventory of basically rocks. These rocks contain a certain known percent of minerals. When companies spend $20-50 million with hundreds of drill holes and thousands of man hours on an area the size of 3-4 city blocks (maybe 400 feet thick, and underground) you have a pretty good idea what is in that mass of rock and what it is worth at various metal prices. When they do sophisticated testing on sometimes 5-10 miles of drill core, one can evaluate how easy or hard and costly it might be to extract the minerals.

Basic mining costs are known from hundreds of other mining projects: the cost to build the roads, buy crushers, build small towns for the workers, power and food costs etc. These are known factors and estimates can be made. Then it’s a matter of math and know how. That’s how you find winners. That is how you know if you have a good project. That is all we care about at my company on hundreds of projects and mining companies. You should try and do the same if you want to get serious about investing in this sector.

The key to making an above average return is competent evaluations and patience. This sometimes takes many years. Patience will outweigh the volatility of the gold and silver mining sector as intrinsic value eventually gets recognized. The laws of supply and demand let you sleep comfortably.

Inflationary Future

With all the money, people, and industrial progress globally we are confident that minerals (especially the precious ones) will be well above average investments for the next decade.

We are at a time when the central banks should be at least attempting to control inflation but instead most are printing more money. As the future unfolds and inflation accelerates, tangible assets especially mining companies with known resources of valuable minerals should be a top priority for investors.

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Kenneth J. Gerbino
1 February 2008