47. Online Collaboration and Management Tools (Part 1)

As part of a new side business venture I have been working alongside a team of website and mobile app developers. It has been a good learning experience for me to see how the tech teams do things versus how the mining consulting industry conducts its business. We know there is a lot of private equity money flowing into tech and not mining, so they must be doing something right.
The tech start-up industry has developed its own set of jargon, like agile management, lean start-ups, disruption, minimum viable products, pings, and sprints. Some of their key methodologies would not make sense for the mining industry where one doesn’t have the luxury of trial-and-error and customer feedback to help complete your project. For software development, the attitude is get it out the door fast and your customers will then tell you what fixes they want to see. In mining you need to get it right the first time (hopefully). Having said that, some mining people will say they have seen 43-101 technical reports that follow the “wait for customer feedback” model.
Now where the tech industry can provide us with some useful advice is in the use of project management and collaboration tools. The software developers often work remotely and so make heavy use of the technology that exists or they develop new technology tools to meet their needs. Mining teams are starting to work from remote offices more often these days.
The following is a partial list (Part 1) of free software tools that I have used recently, mainly because I was forced to by the tech teams. Subsequently I have found the tools easy to use and most definitely some can be applied in our own industry, especially with diverse mining study teams. There are a lot more tech tools out there but my list includes the ones that I have personally come in contact with. Most of these are free to use with limited features and enhanced features are available if you subscribe to the full version at minimal cost. However even the free versions are useful and can be used to train your team. Most of them provide both web based and app based access so even when you’re on the road you can still use them and contribute to the team.
Trello: If you want to create a task list for your team, this is the app to use. Imagine a bunch of yellow post-it notes that you can put under various project categories, assign persons to each note, attached a file if you wish, and then have back and forth discussions within each note. Then once a task is done, just drag the note to another category (e.g. “In Progress”, “Completed”). Anyone or selected people can create a note or provide comment. See the image below for an example Trello screenshot.


Trello screenshot

Example Trello Screenshot

Slack: If you want to have a running record of group discussions that all or only selected team members can follow and join in on, then Slack is for you. It can replace the long confusing back-and-forth emails that we commonly see, when people sometimes forget to “reply all” so now you’re out of the loop. See the image below for an example Slack screenshot. It’s great for discussions amongst the team and you can have private one-on-one discussions or wide open team discussions and can attached files too. It provides permanent record of discussions or decisions made.
Slack Screenshot

Example Slack Screenshot

Basecamp: is similar program that incorporates features from both the above and some people swear by this tool. I have not personally used it so cannot vouch for it, but some say it is very good. Watch the video on their website describing what it can do.
My bottom line is that there is a lot of good stuff out there, readily available, much of it free, and can facilitate the management of your project teams. Just because its tech industry related, don’t assume it wouldn’t have an application in the mining world. Next week in Part 2 of this blog, I will describe a few more of the tech tools that I have found useful.

46. Tailings Disposal Method Risk

After the Mt Polley and Samarco tailings failures, there have been ongoing conversations about the benefits of filtered or dry stack tailings as the only way to eliminate the risk of catastrophic tailings failure. Mining companies would all like to see a similar risk reduction at their own project. However what mining companies don’t like is the capital and operating costs associated with dry stacking. The dry stack tailings processing cost and the transport cost are both costlier than for conventional tailings disposal and therefore would negatively impact on the overall value of the project. Obviously this reduction in value would get offset against an improved environmental risk and a better closure condition. So what’s a company to do?


Filtered tailings stack

Example of a Dry Stack Tailings

In my experience when designing a new mining project, all mining companies at one point in time complete a trade-off study for different tailings disposal methods and disposal sites. Contrary to some environmental narratives, companies really do wish to know how the different tailings options compare because they would adopt the dry stack approach if it was the most advantageous method. The mining companies are fully aware of the benefits but the dilemma the company runs into is the cost and being able to somehow justify the technology. Complicating their final decision, companies also have options for reducing their tailings risk even if using another tailings disposal method and so the final decision can get very complex.
Often proponents of the risk analysis approach will use a risk-weighting approach to assign an expected economic cost to their tailings plans. For example, if the cost of a failure is $200 million and the risk is 0.1%, then the Expected Value is $200,000. The problem is that this is a theoretical calculation on an assumed likelihood of failure but in reality either the dam will fail or it won’t. So failure remediation money will be spent or it won’t be spent, it won’t be partially spent.
The degree of acceptable tailings risk therefore becomes a subjective factor. While implementing a dry stack may reduce the risk of catastrophic failure to zero, implementing a $100,000 per year monitoring program on a conventional tailings pond will reduce its risk. Implementing a $500,000 per year monitoring program would reduce that risk even further. Installing in a water treatment plant to enable periodic water releases may further lower the tailings risk. The company can look at different mitigations to keep lowering their risk, although recognizing that none of the mitigations would necessarily bring the risk down to zero. Finally the companies could compare the various risk mitigation costs against the incremental dry stack costs in order to arrive at an optimal path forward.
So the question becomes how low does one need to reduce the tailings storage risk before it is acceptable to shareholders, regulators, and the public. I don’t think the answer is that one must lower the risk down to zero. There are not many things in today’s world that have zero risk. Driving a car, flying in a plane, shipping crude oil by ocean tanker, having a natural gas furnace in your house..none of these have zero risk yet we accept them as part of living in modern society.
Environmental groups are always discussing ways of forcing regulators and mining companies to take action against the risk of tailings failure. This is commendable, however they generally fail to provide any guidance on what level of risk would be acceptable to them or to the public. It seems to be impossible for these groups to define what an acceptable risk is or provide any ideas other than the standard “shut down all mining” solution.
We know that in the long run mining is here to stay so we all should work together towards solutions. The solutions need to be realistic in order to be taken seriously and for them to play a role in redefining tailings disposal in modern mining. Dry stack may not be the only solution and we should be open to ways of improving the other tailings disposal methods so that companies have more low risk options available to  them.

45. Do Any Junior Producers Model a Gold ETF?

I have often wondered if any of the junior gold producers has ever tried to model itself after a gold Exchange Traded Fund (“ETF”). This hybrid-model may be a way for companies to provide shareholders a way to partly leverage themselves to physical gold rather than leveraging solely to the performance of a mine. Let me explain further.
Consider two identical junior mining companies starting up a new mine. Each of their two projects is identical; 2 million gold ounces in the reserves with annual production of 200,000 ounces resulting in a 10 year mine life. On an annual basis, let’s assume their annual operating costs and debt repayments can be paid for by the revenue from selling 180,000 ounces of production. This would leave 20,000 gold ounces as “profit”. The question is what to do with those 20,000 ounces?

Gold Dore

Company A sells their entire gold production each year. At $1200/oz, the 20,000 oz gold “profit” would yield $24 million. Income taxes would be paid on this and the remaining cash can be spent or saved. Companies may decide to spend more on head offices costs by adding more people, or they may spend some on exploration, or they could spend on an acquisition to grow the company. There are plenty of ways to use this extra money but returning it to shareholders as a dividend isn’t typically one of them. Now let’s jump forward several years; 8 years for example. Company A may have been successful on grassroots exploration and added to reserves but historically exploration odds are working against them. If they actually saved a portion of the annual profit in the bank, say $10M of the $24M, after 8 years they may have $80M in cash reserves.
Company B only sells 180,000 ounces of gold each year and puts the remaining 20,000 ounces into inventory in a vault. Their annual profit-loss statement shows breakeven status since their gold sales only cover their financial commitments and nothing more. In this scenario, after 8 years Company B would have 160,000 gold ounces in their vault, valued at $192 million at $1200 gold price.
If you’re an investor looking at both these companies in the latter stages of their mine life, which one would you rather invest in? Company A has 400,000 ounces remaining in mineral reserves and say $80M cash in the bank. Company B also has 400,000 ounces of mineral reserves and $192 million worth of gold in the vault. If I’m a gold bull investor and foresee a $1700/oz gold price, then to me Company B might theoretically have $272M in the vault. If I’m a super gold bug, then their inventory could be worth a lot more..theoretically.
I assume that the enterprise value of Company A would be based on its remaining reserves at some $/oz factor plus its cash in the bank. Company B could be valued the same way plus its gold inventory. So for me Company B may be a much better investment than Company A in the latter stages of its mine life. In fact Company B could still persist as an entity after the mine has shutdown simply as a “fund” that holds physical gold. If I am a gold investor, then Company B as an investment asset might be of more interest to me.
My bottom line is that it appears that most of the time companies sell their entire annual gold production to try to show profit on the annual income statement. Possibly this is to put some cash in the bank and to show “earning per share” to the analysts. My question is why not inventory the extra gold and wait for prices to rise if the company doesn’t really need the money or doesn’t want to gamble it on exploration or acquisitions? This concept wouldn’t be a model for all junior miners but might be suitable for a few companies to target certain gold investors.  They could provide an alternative junior mining investment especially interesting in the final years of a mine life. Who wants to buy shares in a company who’s mine is nearly depleted?  I might if they hold a lot of gold.

44. Higher Metal Prices – Should We Lower the Cut-Off Grade?

When metals prices are high, we are generally taught that we should lower the cutoff grade. Our cutoff grade versus metal price spreadsheet tells us this is the correct thing do. Our grade-tonnage curve reaffirms this since we will now get more ounces of gold in the mineral reserve. But is lowering the cutoff grade really the right thing to do?
Books have been written on the subject of cutoff grades where readers can get all kinds of detailed logic and calculations using Greek symbols (F = δV* − dV*/dT). Here is one well known book by Ken Lane that sells for $998 on Amazon the last time I checked. You can also download a 38-page abridged sample of this book at THIS LINK and the full version is available for $150 at the COMET Strategy web site.

Theory of COG

Recently we have seen higher production cash costs at operating mines when commodity prices are high. Why is this? It may be due to higher operating costs inputs caused by increasing labour rates or supplies costs. It also may be partly due to the lowering of cutoff grades, thereby lowering the milled head grade, which then requires more tonnes to be milled to produce the same quantity of metal.
A mining construction manager once said to me that he never understood us mining guys who lower the cutoff grade when gold prices increase. His rationale was that, since the plant throughput rate is fixed, when gold prices are high you suddenly decide to lower the head grade and produce fewer ounces of gold and at a higher cash cost. His point was that we should be doing the opposite; when prices are high you should produce more ounces of gold, not fewer. In essence, in times when supply is low (or demand is high) may not be the right time to further cut back on supply by lowering head grades.
Now this is the point where the grade-tonnage curve comes into play. Certainly one can lower the cutoff grade, lower the head grade and produce fewer ounces now with the upside being extending the mine life. By doing this a company is able to report more ounces in their mineral reserve and the overall snapshot of the company looks better if it is being valued on reserve ounces.
The problem with this is that there is no assurance that metal prices will remain where they are or that the new lower cutoff grade will remain where it is. If the metal prices dip back down next year, the cutoff grade will be increased and the mineral reserve is back to where it was. All that was really done was accept a year of lower metal production for no real benefit. Such a trade-off essentially contrasts a short term vision (i.e. annual production) against a long term vision (i.e. mineral reserves).
My bottom line is that there is no simple answer on what to do with the cutoff grades, hence the need to write books about it. Different companies have different corporate objectives and each mining project will be unique with regards to the impacts of cutoff grade adjustments on their orebody. I would like to caution that one should be careful when taking your cutoff grade spreadsheet, plugging in new metal prices, and then running off to the mine operations department with the result. You need to fully understand the long term and short term impacts of that decision.

43. Mining Fads and the Herd Mentality

Have worked in the mining industry for over the last 30 years it is always interesting to see the herd mentality that exists and how we all can easily get caught up in fads.  All it takes is a short term spike in a commodity price or a big discovery somewhere and then off we go running in that direction.  It doesn’t matter the rationale driving the event, all we know is that we need to be there and our investors want to be there too.
Based on my experience, the fads that grab us can include specific commodities, locations, or technologies. The industry is very flexible in that regard. I’ll give a few examples below and you probably have more examples from your own experience.

Commodity Fads

It seems that as soon as there is a price spike or positive market narrative, any commodity can take a life of its own.  The following are a few examples and when you think about them ask how many actually came into production or successful production.
  • Potash – a few years ago potash prices spiked and potash properties were all the fad no matter where they were located around the globe, be it Canada, Russia, Ethiopia, Thailand, Brazil, etc.
  • Lithium / Graphite – as soon as green technology started to be promoted in the news, miners couldn’t run fast enough to pick up the lithium properties, same idea hold for the graphite and vanadium and rare earth categories.
  • Uranium – years ago uranium prices spiked and Ur properties were hot everywhere.
  • Nickel; a spike in nickel caused a surge in nickel properties being it sulphide nickel, laterite nickel, or other forms.
  • Iron Ore – in conjunction with the Chinese construction boom, iron ore properties were hot around the globe, in high cost or low cost jurisdictions, it didn’t matter where the property was.
  • Diamonds – in conjunction with the first diamond discoveries in Canada, quickly diamond properties because hot, whether in the Canada or around the globe.  If you couldn’t get a property in Canada’s boom area, anywhere else was fine.
  • China in general – whereby every base metal project was thought of as either a potential supplier to China or a potential acquisition for Chinese companies.  As long as it could meet Chinese investor interest it was good.

Location Fads

We have all seen the staking rushes that occur when a world class prospect is discovered.  I’m sure we can all recall getting the large claim maps (as shown below) with their multicolored graphics showing the patchwork of acquisitions around a discovery. PDAC was great for distributing these and they were well done and interesting to study.
Mineral claim map example
Picking up properties in hot areas became the fad and share prices would move upwards regardless of whether there was any favorable geology on the property.  Who recalls the following?
  • Voisey Bay; with a mad staking rush around there, with nothing else really paying off in the long run.
  • Saskatchewan;  and the potash staking rush where almost every inch of the potash band was staked with only a couple of companies eventually moving forward and only one going into production.
  • Indonesia; during Bre-X people could get properties in Indonesia fast enough.
  • NWT;  where the diamond property staking rush was crazing in the mid 1990’s.

Technology Fads

Even mining or processing technology could get caught up in somewhat of a wave and become a fad for further study, a rationale often driven by suppliers or consultants.  Who can recall…
  • Paste Tailings; with numerous conferences and consultants promoting thickened or paste tailings technology as the panacea leading to numerous studies related to thickening, pumping, and disposal.
  • Block Caving; whereby in order to deliver high tonnages at low cost, bulk underground mining was being promoted.  Everyone wanted their underground project to be a low cost caving style operation.
  • High Pressure Grinding Rolls (HPGR); where process consultants would tout HPGR as the new replacement for conventional grinding mills.  I’m not sure this technology has taken the industry by storm as they were hoping.
  • IPCC; whereby inpit crushing and conveying was being promoted in many articles and global conferences as the solution to operating cost pressures.  I think implementation of IPCC technology isn’t as simple as envisioned.
  • Dot.com; in the early 2000’s many junior miners left exploration behind and transitioned to the dot.com boom, a fad with generally poor results.
  • Medical marijuana; seems to be the hopeful target for some junior miners today. Unfortunately there is only so much marijuana you can sell.
  • Pre-concentration; this seems to be a growing technology fad that may be gaining momentum, with a few consultants pushing for it to be studied more.  This isn’t new technology and will have its benefits but a big stumbling block is how many deposits are actually suitable for its application.
My bottom line is that over the years it has been interesting to watch the mining industry react to events.  Sometimes it seems like we’re passengers on a boat running from one side to other side and then back again.  Unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily make for smooth sailing and can result in upset stomachs.
What’s the next fad? I don’t know but if you could predict it we can probably make a lot of money.


42. Global Tax Regimes – How Do They Compare?

Just as a reminder for all QP’s doing financial analysis for PEA’s, don’t forget that one needs to present the financial results on an after-tax basis.   Every once in a while we still see a PEA technical report issued only with pre-tax financials.  That report is likely to get red- flagged by the securities regulators and the company will then have to amend their press release and technical report in order to show the after tax results.    No harm done other than some red faces.
When doing a tax analysis in your model, where can you find regional tax information?  For those of you that prepare financial models or are simply looking at mining projects in different jurisdictions, PWC has a very useful tax-related website.  The weblink was sent to me by one of my industry colleagues and I thought it would be good to share this.
The PWC micro-site provides a host of tax and royalty information for selected countries.  The page is located at http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/energy-utilities-mining/mining/tax.html
On the site they have tax information for specific countries and you can either view the information on your computer screen or download a PDF version.  Below is a screen capture from the PWC website.


PWC Mining taxes information

The PWC tax and financial information includes topics such as:
  • Corporate tax rates
  • Excess profits taxes
  • Mineral taxes for different commodities
  • Mineral royalties
  • Rates of permissible amortization
  • VAT and other regulated payments
  • Export taxes
  • Withholding taxes
  • Fiscal stability agreements
  • Social contribution requirements
PWC has a great web site and hopefully they will keep the information up to date since changes in the laws are occurring constantly.   It would be nice to see them add more countries to their 22 country database but it’s already good as it is.  Check it out.


41. Resource Estimates – Are Independent Audits A Good Idea?

Question: how important is the integrity of a tailings dam to the successful operation of a mine?   Very important; so much so that in some jurisdictions regulators may soon be stipulating that mining companies must have third party independent review boards or third party audits done on their tailings dams.  The feeling is that although a team of capable engineers may be doing the dam design, there is still a need for some outside oversight to get another perspective.  Differences in interpretation, experience, and errors of omission are always a possibility regardless of who does the work.  Hence a second set of eyes can be beneficial.
Next question is how important is the integrity of the resource and reserve estimate to the successful operation of a mine?   Very important; the mine life, project economics, and shareholder value all depend on it.     So why aren’t a second set of eyes or third party resource audits commonly done?
In the years prior to 43-101, junior mining companies could produce their own resource estimates and disclose the results.  With the advent of NI 43-101, a second set of eyes was introduced whereby an independent QP  could review the company’s internal resource estimate and/or prepare their own estimate and ultimately take legal responsible for the estimate.
Nowadays most small companies do not produce their own in-house resource estimates and the task is generally awarded directly to an independent QP.   Maybe companies don’t prepare their own in-house resource estimates due to the specialization needed in modelling and geostatistics, and the knowledge needed to use today’s block modeling software.   Maybe they feel doing their own internal resource estimate is a waste of time since an independent QP will be preparing an estimate for them anyway.
Given that, in many cases the project resource estimate is prepared solely by the QP or a team of QP’s.   In many cases this resource gets published without any other oversight, in other words without a second set of eyes taking a look at it.   The assumption is that QP doing the work is a qualified expert, their judgement is without question, and their work is error free.

Exploration Program in Andes

As we have seen recently, some resources estimates have been mishandled and disciplinary actions have been taken against some QP’s.   I guess one can conclude that maybe not all QP’s are perfect.  Just because someone meets the requirements to be a Competent Person or a Qualified Person does not automatically mean that they are competent or qualified. Geological modeling is not an exact science and will be partly based on the person’s experience and what they have seen in the past.
My question is whether it wouldn’t be good practice for companies to have a second set of eyes take a look at their maiden resource estimates produced by independent QP’s?   For example, where I have been involved in mining mergers or takeovers, often one side will tend to rebuild the resource model using their own team.  They don’t put 100% confidence in the original resource model handed over to them.  “Just give me the database” they ask.
One downside to a third party review is the additional cost.  Another downside is that when one consultant reviews another consultant’s work there is a tendency to list numerous concerns that are not really that material, which then can muddle the conclusion of the review.  On the other hand, a third party review may identify serious interpretation or judgement issues that could be fatal if they impact on the viability of the resource.
If tailings dams are so important to require a second set of eyes, why not the resource estimate that is the foundation of the project?

40. Integra Gold Rush Challenge – Watch for it at PDAC

Has everyone heard about the Gold Rush Challenge contest being held by Integra Gold Corp?  If not, I’d like to provide some information on it.  It’s another innovative event happening in the mining industry, following along on the footsteps of the Goldcorp Challenge held in 2001.

Gold Rush Challenge

The Integra Gold Rush Challenge is a contest whereby entrants are given access to a geological database and they are asked to prepare submissions presenting the best prospects for the next gold discovery on the Sigma/Lamaque properties.  Winners can get a share of the C$1 million prize.   Entrants will be given access to a database built from six terabytes of historical information that has been consolidated down to roughly 25 GB.
Integra Gold hopes that the contest will expand their access to quality people outside their company enabling their own in-house geological team to focus on other exploration projects.  Integra hope that they can get cutting-edge, innovative ideas not just from people in the mining industry but also from anyone proficient at analyzing big data.
From a recent press release update (Jan 6, 2016) here is what is currently happening.  It’s turning into quite the corporate event at PDAC.
In total 1,342 entrants from over 83 countries registered to compete in the challenge, resulting in 95 teams and over 100 proposals. Integra Gold is currently in the process of selecting the top 20 submissions which will be given to the Challenge’s technical judging panel.  The Challenge’s technical judging panel is made up of Neil Adshead, Andrew Brown, Benoît Dubé, James Franklin, David Rhys, and Brian Skanderberg.
By February 15th the judging panel will narrow the field down to the top five finalists.  These five teams will present to panel of industry leaders in a “shark-tank” style live finale at PDAC 2016.  Proceeds from the evening will go to a variety of Val-d’Or based charities.  The PDAC panel has been nominated and consists of Brent Cook, Chantal Gosselin, Rob McEwen, Sean Roosen, and Randy Smallwood.   It’s good to see the interest and participation from so many industry experts.
At PDAC there are always a lot of things to do, from visiting corporate booths, the tradeshow, gala award events, and hospitality suites.  Now the Integra Gold Rush Challenge brings another function to add to your PDAC agenda.
By the way, regarding the 2001 Goldcorp Challenge, it has been reported that it resulted in $CAD 575,000 being split amongst several teams and it having identified deposits were worth more than $6 billion and saved two to three years off the company’s exploration time.

39. Measured vs. Indicated Resources – Do We Treat Them the Same?

One of the first things we look at when examining a resource estimate is how much of the resource is classified as Measured / Indicated (“M&I”) versus the tonnage classified as Inferred.  It’s important to understand the uncertainty in the estimate and to a large degree the Inferred proportion gives us that.   At the same time I think we tend to focus less on the split between the Measured and Indicated tonnages.
We are all aware of the study limitations imposed by Inferred resources.  They are speculative in nature and hence cannot be used in the economic models for feasibility and pre-feasibility studies. However Inferred resource can be used for production planing in Preliminary Economic Assessments (“PEA”).
Inferred resources are also so speculative that one cannot add them to the Measure and Indicated tonnages in a resource statement, although that is what just about everyone does when looking at a project.   I don’t think I fully understand the concerns with a resource statement if it included a row that adds M&I tonnage with Inferred tonnes as long as everything is open and transparent.   When a PEA production schedule is presented, the three resource classifications are combined into a single tonnage number but in the resource statement itself the M&I&I cannot be totaled.  A bit contradictory I feel.
With regards to the M&I tonnage, it appears to me that companies are most interested in what part of their  resource meets the M&I threshold but are not as interested in how the tonnage is split between Measured and Indicated.   It seems that M&I are largely being treated the same.  Since both Measured and Indicated resources can be used in the feasibility economic analysis, does it matter if the split is 100% Measured (Proven) or 100% Indicated (Probable)?   The NI 43-101 and CIM guidelines provide definitions for Measured and Indicated resource but do not specify any different treatment like they do for the Inferred resources.


CIM Resources to Mineral Reserves

Relationship between Mineral Reserves and Mineral Resources (CIM Definition Standards).


In my past experience with feasibility studies, some people used the rule-of-thumb that the tonnage mined during the payback period must largely consist of Measure resource (i.e. Proven reserve) and then the rest of the production schedule could rely on Indicated tonnage (Probable reserve).  The idea was that a way to reduce project risk was to ensure that the production tonnage providing the capital recovery should be based on the resource with the highest certainty.   Nowadays I generally do not see this same requirement for Measured resources, although I am not aware of what everyone is doing in every study.   I realize there is a cost, and possibly a significant cost, to shift Indicated resource to Measured so there may be some hesitation. Hence it may be simpler for everyone to simply regard the Measured and Indicated tonnages in roughly the same way.
NI 43-101 specifies how the Inferred resource can and cannot be utilized.  Is it a matter of time before the regulators start specifying how Measured and Indicated resources can be used?  I see some potential merit to this idea but adding more regulation and cost to an already burdened industry is not helpful.
Perhaps in the interest of increased transparency, feasibility studies just need to add two rows to the bottom of the production schedule showing how the annual processing tonnages are split between Proven and Probable reserves.  One can get a better sense of the resource risk in the early years of the project.  Given the mining software available today, it likely isn’t difficult to provide such additional detail.

38. Claim Fees Paid for a Royalty Interest – Good Deal or Not?

I have read several articles about how the junior mining industry must innovate to stay relevant.    Innovation and changing with the times may be what is needed in this economic climate.
One company that is trying something new is Abitibi Royalties.  They are promoting a new way for them to acquire royalty interests in early stage properties by offering to fund the claim fees on behalf of the property owner in return for a royalty.
Their corporate website states that they will pay, for a specified period of time, the claim fees/taxes related to existing mineral properties or related to the staking of new mineral properties.   In return, Abitibi Royalties would be granted a net smelter royalty (“NSR”) on the property.  It may be a gamble for them but it’s not really that risky given that the low investment needed to pay claim fees, even if one considers having to make these payments over multiple years.
Abitibi are specifically targeting properties located near an operating mine located in the Americas. They are keeping jurisdiction risk to a minimum.   Abitibi state that their due diligence and decision-making process is fast, generally within 48 hours.  No waiting around here but likely this is possible due to the low investment required and often the lack of geological information to do actually do a due diligence on.
To give some recent examples, in a December 14, 2015 press release, Abitibi state that the intend to acquire a 2% NSR on two claims in Quebec and will pay approximately $11,700 and reimburse the claim owner approximately $13,750 in future exploration expenses. This cash will be used by the owner towards paying claim renewal fees and exploration work commitments due in 2016.   Upon completion of the transaction, these will be the ninth and tenth royalties acquired through the Abitibi Royalty Search.  For comparison, some of their other royalty acquisitions cost were in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 each (per year I assume).   I think that those NSR interests are being acquired quite cheaply.
The benefit to the property owner may be twofold; they may have no other funding options available and they are building a relationship with a group that will have an interest in helping the project move forward.  The downside is that they have now encumbered that property with a NSR royalty going forward.
The benefit to Abitibi Royalties is that they have acquired an early stage NSR royalty quite cheaply although there will be significant uncertainty about ever seeing any royalty payments from the project.   Abitibi may also have to continue to make ongoing payments to ensure the claims remain in good standing with the owner.
It’s good to see some degree of innovation at work here, although the method of promotion for the concept may be more innovative than the concept itself. Unfortunately these Abitibi cash injections investments are not enough to pay for much actual exploration on the property and this is where the further innovation is required, whether through crowd funding, private equity, or some other means.   I’m curious to see if other companies will follow the Abitibi royalty model but extend it to foreign and more risky properties.