Towards the start of the 2019 calendar year, we identified a strong investment thematic in junior gold companies driven by the confluence of 3 primary ideas:

  • A potential rise in gold prices based on geopolitical factors
  • A weakening of the Australian Dollar based on macroeconomic factors
  • A resource and mine life deficit amongst mid-tier Australian gold producers

This led us to the identification and subsequent investment in Echo Resources, which was consequently taken over by Northern Star for a return over 100% in less than 12 months.

We believe this thematic is still strong and in this wire, we discuss a number of qualitative factors that help assist us in identifying high-quality gold opportunities and outline 2 names that tick our boxes.

Generating our own ideas

While it is very difficult to quantitatively screen companies due to the early-stage nature and non-financial characteristics of these companies, there are a number of different methods of discovering companies in this space. The most common of these are: sell-side (broker) research, industry comparisons and independent project assessors (typically covering later stage companies).

However, we tend to rely heavily on our own proprietary research library of almost 1000 primary research pieces to generate ideas and identify broad brush investment thematics. 

We largely avoid secondary research, but do find it useful on occasions to confirm and question the veracity of our own primary research efforts.

Geological factors

1: Depth and scale

These factors are very important in determining whether a deposit may be economic. A general rule of thumb is that the deeper a deposit, the higher grade it needs to be economic – this is a function of higher mining costs at depth. This should be looked at in conjunction with the scale of a deposit, as generally the larger the scale the lower the cost.

2: Geometry and mineralisation style 

The shape of a deposit is an important indicator of potential mining cost for example, a gently dipping equidimensional (spread consistently in all directions) shaped deposit will almost always be cheaper to mine than a steeply dipping, planar deposit. Disseminated (spread uniformly) style mineralisation deposits are preferable to vein or reef hosted mineralisation from our perspective, again due to lower processing costs.

3: Historical context and potential exploration upside 

We have a preference towards ‘time capsule’ projects where little modern exploration has been conducted. This could be for a number of reasons including areas where mining exploration has been banned, or where exploration was not conducted due to a low commodity price environment. We consider that exploration upside is generally considerably larger with these particular projects, given the historical context.

Corporate factors

1: Location/jurisdiction: 

This is important from an economic and strategic perspective. Government royalty rates can vary significantly between jurisdictions, along with the general legal and social environments. A resource situated near infrastructure will generally hold an advantage over a similar more isolated deposit. Being close to other producing mines allows optionality in terms of commercial outcomes for example, a smaller deposit that may not be large enough to support its own processing plant could potentially utilise a neighbouring mine’s processing plant for a fee.

2: Management team and corporate strategy 

Pursuing a prudent strategy can expedite the time needed to bring a deposit into production, and add considerable value to a project whilst mitigating risk. One common mistake we see is rushing into production too soon for marginal or higher-cost projects. Mineral production has its own skill set quite different from mineral exploration.

3: Overall economic evaluation 

To be robust and minimise downside, any economic studies on the deposit should use conservative assumptions and incorporate all costs. In the gold sector, a commonly used metric ‘AISC’ (all-in sustaining cost) is one of the most misquoted with each producing company using their own poetic licence to their quoted metric. Investors should perform their own calculations instead of relying on company provided AISC figures. In addition, we have a bias to project with relatively low capital intensity which usually results in a higher project IRR. Higher metallurgical recoveries are positive.

4: Ability to build relationships with credible larger counterparties: 

This is an important factor especially when considering commercial terms could be negotiated for production or exploration. A management team that can attract large partners to the company or its projects, adds credibility from our perspective.

5: Catalyst/s to rerate the stock: 

This is one of the more important elements in our process and can be either external, internal or multi-faceted. One must remember that the company cannot change the physical resources that may or may not lie within their ground and accordingly be very selective when investing in this space, taking a ‘resource first’ approach.

Preferred names

Our preferred names in the junior gold space are Yandal Resources (YRL:ASX) and Alice Queen (AQX:ASX).

Yandal Resources: Multiple catalysts

Yandal currently has a gold resource of approximately 200,000 ounces at their flagship Flushing Meadows deposit at a grade of 1.3 g/t. The deposit is at very shallow depths of less than 150m, is currently 1.8kms in length and is open at depth and in multiple directions. As such, we think there is strong potential for the size of this deposit to increase materially. This deposit, whilst planar and dipping is very shallow and likely to be able to be cheaply mined via an open pit. This tenement of 472 sq km has been historically held by majors during times of lower gold prices, and has had virtually no exploration over the past 20 years.

Yandal's projects are located in the Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia; this locality is thought to hold up to 30% of the world’s resources and is regarded as a Tier 1 jurisdiction. All the projects are located within trucking distance of multiple gold mills operated by 3rd parties, so can be commercialised rapidly. The quality and largely oxidised nature of the current resource ensures that this ore will be sought after by gold processors. The company intend on further building out its resource base via lower risk extension drilling and have recently started a program of 20,000 metres.

The management team are experienced, credible and focused having worked on the neighbouring projects that are held by Echo Resources. 

Northern Star, who have just acquired Echo, holds 15% of the company; with the Top 20 shareholders holding 80%. 

We think there are multiple potential catalysts for the company to rerate and believe the company will become increasingly attractive as they build out their resource base.

Alice Queen: More upside than downside

Alice Queen has a gold resource of around 500,000 ounces at its Horn Island project, in the Torres Strait, at a grade of 1.9g/t. The deposit is shallow with a maximum depth of 250m. Horn Island was reopened to mining activities in 2014, after a 25-year hiatus. 

Since then, AQX has lightly explored and applied modern exploration techniques to the project, attracting Saint Barbara (SBM:ASX) as a joint venture partner. What is so unique, is that SBM agreed to excise the existing 500,000-ounce deposit and associated infrastructure from the joint venture; with an option to buy into these areas for a 70% interest by paying ‘fair value’. We believe there exists significant potential at depth for the discovery of further gold resources, along with potential extensions at shallower depths.

Horn Island is located in the Torres Strait, Queensland. Northern Queensland hosts a gold endowment of around 40 million ounces, with 19 million hosted in Intrusion Related Gold System (IRGS) deposits; the system speculated to exist at Horn Island. The company intend on progressing the Horn Island project further in conjunction with SBM. The management team are committed, practical and focused; and have a world-class consultant team.

Horn Island has significant existing infrastructure in place including a deep water port, a domestic airport, and existing freshwater supply. We believe that this should translate into significant savings in terms of capital expenditure and consequent superior returns, should a mining operation recommence. 

The company have a proven track record of attracting and working with larger counterparties, having attracted SBM and Newcrest to its projects in the past. 

The company also hold very prospective exploration ground in NSW, less than 1 km from Alkane’s discovery at Boda; this was regarded as the best Australian porphyry discovery in 20 years.

Again, we see multiple catalysts for AQX to rerate notably, the exploration program being funded by SBM as well as further exploration success on the neighbouring tenements in NSW held by Alkane. 

We have previously written a detailed investment thesis on Alice Queen for Livewire, which you can read here

Disclaimer: Datt Capital currently holds shares in AQX and YRL. 

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Ben Ingram

Thoughts on AMI?

Emanuel Datt

Hi Ben, we don't have an opinion on AMI. It's a larger cap stock that seems to be well covered by other analysts

Mark Dawson

Hi Ben, stick with AMI. New management is in place and shares are currently trading at a discount. They also pay a dividend! I'd even suggest adding to your position. The only thing concerning me is access to water, however they're addressing this at the moment. There are a lot of other water thirsty Gold producers that are going to come unstuck shortly with the lack of water. So best check any Gold stocks you already own, otherwise expect downgrades to some production forecasts. I personally prefer gold companies that provide dividends and growth over risky explorers. Stocks such as SBM, EVN, NST, RRL and similar, are worth a look at current prices.

John McNamee

Emanuel, have you reviewed LEX - prime location, relatively underexplored and JV with Goldfields?

graeme meakin

Good article. I follow junior gold stocks with the same thematics as yourself. Ausmex (AMG) has caught my eye - gold and copper on the brownfields of Cloncurry (adjacent Newcrest & Soul Pattinson & processing plants) and about to drill the brownfields at Burra (S.A.) based on modern 3D geophys

Emanuel Datt

Hi John, Yes we have looked at LEX. We do like them, but think there aren't clear cut and dried catalysts as we feel is the case with YRL & AQX. Then again, Goldfields may surprise us all

Emanuel Datt

Thanks for the suggestion Graeme