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Six Resource Explorers with the Midas Touch
The below post is by Louis James, Chief Metals & Mining Investment Strategist
Ron Netolitzky, Bob Quartermain, Duane Poliquin, Ron Parratt, Ross Beaty, Jim O'Rourke all talk in this Moderation by Louis James, Casey Research
The following is a video recording of the Casey Research Explorers' League panel – moderated by Louis James – at the Cambridge House Investment Conference in Vancouver, January 2012.
Watch Video Here
Listen to the valuable information and guidance passed along by some of the most successful mineral explorers in the world… or read the transcript below.
Hosted by Louis James, Chief Metals and Mining Investment Strategist, Cambridge House Vancouver Investment Conference
L: Thank you very much again for coming down. Welcome. Explorers' League panel. As you may or may not know… how many people are subscribers? So mostly subscribers…. So, for those few of you who don't know, the Explorers' League is Casey Research's way of honoring what we call the serially successful explorers in our business: the people who have found not just one economic mine but several, multiple times and mines on a scale that really matter, a million ounces plus of gold equivalent or better. So these guys are mine finders – a company by that name just got bought, but these are the guys that actually do it or have done it several times over. We've got Ron Netolitzky, we've got Bob Quartermain, we've got Duane Poliquin, and if I've got my heads right here, we've got Ron Parratt, Ross Beaty, and Jim O'Rourke, who just built the Copper Mountain Mine. That's your fifth mine, Jim?
Jim O'Rourke: Pardon?
L: Copper Mountain is your fifth mine? You've lost track, you've built so many… fifth or sixth. Is it sixth? All right, onto the seventh in Gold Mountain. So anyway, these are the guys who have done it. These guys are, in our view, the best in the business. We are always having our doors open when they have a story to tell us, when they have a new project coming, we're all ears, because these are the guys who know how to get it done and have done so repeatedly. So, I guess, we'll just go down the row a little bit and take it one tranche at a time. Ron, if you can tell us what are you working on now, what's happening now that you're most keen to discuss and bring to people's attention, and we'll go back the other direction and talk about what's coming next.
Ron Netolitzky: My main work has been an "instant success" called Golden Band where we finally started pouring some gold; and now I'm hoping I can get away from operations and engineering and do what I really want to do in the belt, which is explore it for the deposits I haven't found or our guys haven't found. So that's the main thing. I'm watching northwest BC; I think it's exciting. We worked a bit in the Yukon through a company called Aben last year, and we were one of the few guys who at least had a drill success, but the market never appreciates it. I don't think anybody made any money on Yukon stocks last year unless you sold early.
L: Wait: before you give up the mic, tell us a little bit more about Golden Band – the symbol's GBN. It was an agglomeration story. You had all these satellite deposits. You’ve got an old mill for a dollar or something like that, and you put it all together.
Ron: Yes, it was a story that basically I got involved in the La Ronge Gold Belt in the early '60s for an oil company, so I kind of knew it was there. And then I got into the uranium business, and then 1977 came along, Three Mile Island came along, and the next week, my consulting business wasn't looking so hot anymore, so I started staking claims in the La Ronge Gold Belt. They ended up in a lot of joint ventures, a lot of other companies, one that disappeared off the board called Golden Rule. It got salted in Ghana – well after I left. And we got back into the La Ronge Gold Belt about 1994 with an associated mine called Komis. Klaus Lehnert-Thiel is VP of exploration, and it's his till techniques that allowed us to find a whole bunch of new deposits and new discoveries. And we're continuing with that game, and right now we're mining one that's unusual, and there are some samples at my booth called the EP Zone and we've got about 7,000 ounces in the glacial till running around 12 grams, so we're now just mining into the source of that, and it's definitely supergene enriched with chalcocite and native copper, which you aren't supposed to get in the Shield, and the grade of that is getting – probably going to approach an ounce, and then we'll get into some primary ore, but that whole thing was supposed to be 9,000 ounces, and I think at the start of the pit we've already probably got 9,000 ounces on the stockpile, so it's been a lot of fun.
L: Very good. So if you're moving on from the engineering, then I guess… you'll let us know when is the next Ron Netolitzky play for us to get involved in?
Ron: Well, I think the next play is the same company. I think I got some excellent expiration targets to maybe find the deposits that are going to give the belt some respect. I think there's natural evidence of a lot of bulk mineable targets there that people haven't worried about and definitely we have proven that – and history has proven there are lots of small, high-grade narrow-vein systems there. But I think there's opportunity for bigger deposits – low grade – that could be exciting. I am playing in northern BC, but frankly, I'm after a property. Until I get it, I wouldn't bring anybody else in because it's somebody I consider a little haywire that controls it.
L: All right. Bob, everybody here probably knows or has heard about the Pretium story. We gave you an award – a Best of Show award – so I don't want to repeat ourselves too much, but we got a question this morning maybe you can take on. The stock is trading at its all-time high. I mean it's a new stock, but still it's trading at its 52-week high, all-time high, whatever you want to call it. Can you persuade us that this is a good time to buy, or should we wait for a correction or what happens next with Pretium? Is there enough value added in the very-near term that it makes sense to buy Pretium at $16 right now?
Bob Quartermain: Right. As you know, I came out of retirement last year to take on the Pretium opportunity; and we did it on the thesis that there would be a high-grade gold opportunity sitting in the much larger bulk tonnage mineralization. When you think about it, today we've outlined North America's second-largest gold resource, 38 million ounces of measured Indicated resources, another 28 million ounces of Inferred, and within that we have now got about 8 million tonnes of mature running between 19 and 20 grams for about 5 million ounces. That continues to be open in all directions. It's open down dip, it's open along strike, and certain open at depth, and so there is still an opportunity there to add to the ounces identified to date. There is a lot of catalyst coming out this year in this quarter. We are going to complete a preliminary economic study on the high grade. The one we did in June last year was based off last year's resource, not this year's resource. We expect to have that this quarter. We are currently de-watering underground, and we've got a permit in place to actually drive a development expiration added from the Old West zone across into the Valley of the Kings. We'll have an updated PEA also on a bulk tonnage opportunity, because this is what we think is an "Osisko." Besides the very high-grade material, which sits within 1- to 2-gram material around it. We did a flow-through [financing] we announced the other day, so we've got the money to go back and we will be drilling aggressively, not only expanding on the resource but also doing in-field drilling, so we can move it on and complete a feasibility study by the end of this year. So throughout the year, there are going to be a lot of data points coming up, particularly starting in this quarter, and so I guess I would say, "I still own all my stock, and I'm not a seller."
L: Just one more question. This was discovered in Silver Standard. When you were there at Silver Standard, did you know it was going to get this big? Did you have a feeling like, "Yeah, this is it," or how much luck is involved here?
Bob: Largely luck. When I retired from Silver Standard in 2010, there was only a small resource at Bruce Jack, and there were a couple of drill holes that had hit some higher-grade material, and it was over the summer of 2010 that they drilled and then had a few more hits, and one of the drill samples had run a couple of kilos of gold, and I had only ever seen that type of mineralization either at the Royal Ontario Museum or when I worked at Red Lake, and felt if there is an opportunity like that here, then I'd like to have the opportunity to explore it – because like Ron, after doing Silver Standard for 25 years, it's good to be back sitting on the drill rigs. I was up there in the camp this summer, continued to do sections in the office, and so, no, it's – when Don McCloud at New Hawk did it, this was a blind deposit. They never saw it. No surface expression. It was just us methodically drilling every 50 and 100 meters. We lucked into the high-grade gold, and now we really know where to focus our drilling.
L: Very good. Duane, we've had a lot of questions about Almaden, and Ixtaca zone started out so sexy and exciting, but then it seems you're still hitting drill results but not quite the ones we had earlier on. Tell us a little bit about Almaden in general and about Ixtaca. What happens next and –
Duane Poliquin: What we've been doing for a number of years is, let me start – if you take Nevada, in western Nevada is the Comstock lode, which was discovered early, and then the tectonic plate that's shoving under North America, on the leading edge of that, you get copper-gold porphyries like Bingham Canyon, and you get all the Carlin-type stuff. And so we kind of applied that idea to Mexico, and over a period of years we took a helicopter – my son all the time and me with him as much as possible – and we sampled every intrusive center in eastern Mexico and every volcanic center from the American border clear down to Guatemala, and we have information the Mexican government doesn't have. We age-dated all of those. We did whole-rock analysis, and we got a geological understanding of the eastern half of Mexico. We started staking claims, and part of it was there is no competition there. There's not even any claims, so we acquired things like Caballo Blanco that had never had a claim on it before. It's not on any government map, and we found a gold deposit, which we've sold to a gold group, and we found a nice copper/gold porphyry that we're just doing a Titan-24 survey on right now, but it's shaping up very nicely. Then inland from that a little ways, we found this Ixtaca zone, which also came out of that study, and again never had a claim on it before. It is a brand-new discovery. The only reason it's still there is it's covered with a thin veneer of volcanic ash from some volcanoes about 90 miles west of there, so there's a little outcrop the size of this table in a creek with some little, tiny veins that have epithermal texture in them, so I'm quite proud of that discovery. We're drilling it right now, and I wouldn't agree with you that the results aren't as good. We think they're damn good results and they keep coming, and every hole we step out it's there, and so we're just going to keep – we've got four drills there working right now.
L: I didn't say they weren't good, but we had some, let's just say, more exciting results earlier on.
Duane: Well, stay tuned. We've got four drills there right now, and it's going to keep coming. And there are going to be more, because we've staked a whole bunch of things in this belt. We've got two other copper/gold porphyries staked that we haven't had time to get to. We've got a bunch of other epithermal things with silver numbers, gold numbers on the surface. We just haven't had time to get to it yet. We'll drill this one off, and then we'll go down the belt.
L: Before you pass the mic on, let me ask about Gold Mountain, because some of our readers – because of the potential conflict of interest internally we haven't recommended it, we haven't said anything about Gold Mountain, though obviously we always love the Elk deposit. Both of you here –
Duane: Well, we're both here. Jim is –
L: Who's running the show? Who's going to make Gold Mountain happen? He's busy perfecting a mine…
Duane: Jim has just hired somebody to run the show, I think. He'll tell you. Do you want to tell him about that, Jim? Okay. Well, they did some drilling last summer, which I was quite delighted with, because we had never chased it into the volcanics, and they chased the zone into the volcanics and got some really nice numbers across underground mining widths and chased it about 400 meters into the volcanics. Everything else was in these vein swarms in the intrusive. So it's developing nicely, and Jim's the mining guy, which we're very delighted to be in with.
L: Jim's going to build out, but you're still going to have – you have an equity position?
Duane: We have a large equity.
L: Do you have a lot of input on the exploration?
Duane: Yes, indeed.
L: That's what I want to hear because you guys are my favorites.
Duane: We're still there. Morgan is still there. Morgan is on the board of directors.
L: Okay, Ron, so you already did a talk about Nevada. People probably don't need you to do the whole story over again, but bring us up to date on what's going on with Renaissance and what happens next.
Ron Parratt: Sure. Well, as many of you probably know, we're now about a year out on the spinout of Renaissance from AuEx. We had some good success there up in northeastern Nevada, a brand-new discovery, actually a new district of Carlin-type gold mineralization ended up in a 51-49 joint venture with Fronteer. They bought us, and three months later Newmont bought them for a couple billion dollars. It was quite a nice deal. Within three days of closing the deal with Fronteer, we did the spinout of Renaissance, the same team of people, almost all of the properties we had. Fronteer was only allowed to take the Pequop District properties, and we've been doing the same thing. We think the business model works very well. We are focused on continuing at that. We're going to be very disciplined in our business approach, as we had been before – use other people's money, leverage the risk out, minimize dilution, and get to discovery. We've got 30 projects we are working on now; 10 of those are in joint ventures. We drilled seven last year – Newmont, Sumitomo, Agnico, Eldorado, and some juniors, so a good program. You've got to be out drilling holes, taking swings with the bat to have success, so that's a great focus for us, and we will do more this year, and hopefully we will get to meaningful discovery as soon as we can.
L: How many projects are you going to drill this year?
Ron: Well, as I said, we did seven this year. I know now that we'll be drilling three in the first quarter of this year, two in Argentina, and we'll be starting probably a six-month drilling program at our silver property in western Nevada with Liberty Silver. We know that the Wood Hills results are good enough. None of this is out yet, but they're good enough that our partners are going to be back with a bigger program there. Sumitomo is already committed to a bigger program at Spruce Mountain. We're running that program… Early yet in the year for everybody else, but I'm sure we're going to do a fair bit more this year than we did last year.
L: All right. This might be also a question for Ross, but Argentina – as you know we got pretty cold feet about mineral investing in that country. I noticed that the Rio Negro province just re-legalized gold mining – that was a good thing. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your sense of the political risk in Argentina? You're quite welcome to disagree with the Casey consensus there, but tell us what you think.
Ron: Well, we went to the Santa Cruz province first of all because of the endowment. We think it's a great place to explore and that you can find gold there. It's not a stretch. You look at the epithermal systems. That area is very early in its exploration history. We see a lot of upside. Obviously there is some political risk. The assessment of the recent change by Cristina looks as though it's not going to be as great as everybody thought to begin with. Given that it's Argentina, I think people are going to figure out how to make it even less as time goes on. We don't see any diminishment of interest by potential partners for our properties down there. I attended an event in Toronto a couple of months ago on Santa Cruz proper through Macquarie. Great turnout, great interest. We're still very bullish on the area, and we are going to continue working down there.
L: All right. Well, Ross, we could probably do a panel just with you. We've got Magma, we've got Pan American, we've got all these different things going on, so I guess start out with your babies, your sweethearts. What are the sweet spots right now? If you're speaking to an investor who wants to get in on a Ross Beaty play, what two or three things would you tell him to focus on right now?
Ross Beaty: I would tell him to buy a portfolio of companies held by these guys, and they're going to be rich beyond avarice. If you'd done that three years ago, you'd have made a better investment than any other investment portfolio in this entire building.
L: That's actually true. If you did the numbers…
Ross: Yes. This is a very smart thing for you to do with a lot of these guys' companies. Bob has had the best-performing gold stock in the world in 2011 – I had the best-performing copper stock in the world in 2011. These are exploration discoveries, and that's what we do well. So, you know, it's a nice – and of course Ron had a fantastic home run in Nevada just a couple of years ago, a mature exploration district, and what did those guys do? They found an entire new gold district in the most heavily explored region in the entire world, right under the nose of all the majors, and Newmont had to come along and pay $2.5 billion to buy it from him. That's wealth creation by any measure, and it's wealth creation because he's a really, really good geologist, and Mark O'Dea is a really, really good geologist, and that's what makes the discoveries. So, buy the geological talent and listen to guys like Casey who follow these companies and find these guys. The NexTen is another group of smart guys out there, finding the opportunities under the nose of the majors and making their shareholders a ton of money. So, that's what I would do.
L: Okay, well, give us a stock pick here. Lumina is up…
Ross: So my little portfolio is a bit of a – it's a mixed bag. On one hand, you have a large, mature company like Pan American Silver that is a play on silver and that's going to go up or down depending on what happens to the metal commodity, really, because it is a big company – it trades $100 million of stock a day. This morning we just bought Minefinders for $1.5 billion, and I never thought in my remotest dream I'd ever be buying another company for $1.5 billion. It seems ridiculous, but you know what? It's going to make a much better, stronger company. It's a stable blue chip, second-largest silver producer in the world, primary producer in the world. It just doesn't have the wild swings that you're going to see with explorers. So that's at one end. On the other end, I guess, the two companies that I have that are exploration companies – one is called Anfield Nickel, and it's a nickel exploration stock in Guatemala, but even that is fairly mature because we're trying to sell it now. I mean, right now, we're trying to sell the company this year and the largest value added is behind us, so I wouldn't really recommend that particularly as an exploration stock to follow.
You could have asked me the same question that you asked Bob on Pretium with respect to Lumina Copper, which is a copper exploration project in Argentina which I thought had almost no value two years ago and now it's – I think maybe we can sell it this year for more than $1 billion. It is currently capitalized at about $580 million, so is it too late to buy it? They had an incredible run last year. The stock chart looks like a hockey stick. It actually looks like the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere over the last thousand years. Kind of… that's what the stock looks like.
So it's done very well, but it's trading at $13 and change today, and we think we'll be able to get more than $20 a share this year and that means it's pretty decent, relatively low-risk return for most shareholders. It's got very little downside, and it could maybe not double but come close to doubling. That's this year. So it's a decent return there, and that's a discovery story. That's pure and simple where luck, I think, has played a huge, huge part.
We had a property in Argentina that we didn't think had much value. We called it the "ugly duckling" of a group of a whole bunch of copper deposits that we sold off over the last few years. Then we just all of a sudden started drilling holes in the right place, and we hit some fabulous copper results, high-grade, clean, huge. I mean everything that the major companies want to buy, and as the year went on, it just got bigger and better, and we're still drilling fabulous holes. We got seven drills going on the property. It's going to be – well, it was the biggest discovery of the year in the world last year for copper. There is lots of room for it to continue to grow, but ultimately the game plan is to sell it to a major, and we hope that will happen this year.
And then, in the sort of middle, my main focus this year isn't an exploration stock at all. It's not even a mining or mineral commodities stock, it's a clean-energy stock called Alterra Power, the merger between Magma Energy that I started a few years ago and Plutonic Power. Alterra Power for me is kind of like a legacy company. I'm really trying to build it into a huge clean-energy company because I think it's good for the world, it's good for my kids, and if I can do good things and make a buck at it and make a good investment case for a company that has appreciating value over time, I'm going to make my shareholders happy as well. So that's my main focus today. We are over the hump. We are a sustainable business now. We've got about $55 million per year of cash generation forever. Forever. This is not a depleting business. Once you build these clean-energy plants from wind or hydro or geothermal power, they go forever, which is an absolutely beautiful thing in contrast to mining, which is a depleting industry. So that's what I'm doing today.
Louis: Sorry. You're the broken slot machine. Where's the early pick? Where's the early-stage, you know, Anfield before it went up, Ventana before it went up, Lumina before it went up – is there one out there? Is there an early-stage Ross play?
Ross: Well, yes, but it's not really ready – it's not there being packaged for public company or for third-party investors.
L: We won't tell, right, guys? We won't tell.
Ross: Yes. So just watch this space. There you go.
L: Watch this space. Then duly program your Google News things to track the name "Ross Beaty." Okay, Jimmy, you built Copper Mountain. What next?
Jim: Well, I think a lot of you had an opportunity to go up there and see it on Saturday; and as you can see, we're a fairly new company. We went public in 2007, and I think, as Ross says, there was a lot of value added through the exploration. Currently our market cap's around $600 million, and we're just getting started as a producer. The mine now is fully operational. Our intent is to optimize it in the next few months, maximize our production, and demonstrate performance.
With regard to the exploration aspects, which we seem to be talking about – and I'm not an explorationist – but the property does have some excellent targets. We've got a very large property, about 18,000 acres, and we have about 5 billion pounds of resource right now and we believe as we drill some of our Titan-24 anomalies, this is going to increase. I guess lastly we see ourselves as having a very strong base for a growth company as a copper company and precious metals – about 20% of our value in sales right now is precious metals. So it's our intent to continue to grow the company through exploration, through doing joint ventures with guys who really are successful in finding properties at an early stage, and then also looking at mergers and acquisitions that would help our shareholder value.
L: What about the Voigt zone? I remember when we were up there before you built the plant and I was talking, all this copper is great, but I'm worried about copper… what about precious metals, and there were these drill holes in this area called the Voigt zone, just a couple, that suggested you might have a more gold-rich center there. Have we tested that? What's up with that?
Jim: I know, Louis has been pushing me in this direction forever, and this year we did put some drill holes in there. It was thought to be a fairly narrow zone, but there is a very large Titan-24 anomaly there, but they have drilled some of the areas and they did get good gold results. And as I've said, I'm not a geologist, so I can't give you the details right now but we did publish them.
L: Follow-up this year?
L: Will there be follow-up this year?
Jim: Yes. It will be followed up. Definitely.
L: Yes. It would be very nice to see a much brighter gold lining to the story there. I mean good insurance. Okay, I can think of lots of questions I can ask these guys all day. I know their projects pretty well, but it's a rare chance when you get to pick the brains of the best in the business, and here they are, so while you're here, do you have any questions? Does anybody want to – yes, sir?
Ross: So the question was – Pan American Silver has a huge deposit in Argentina called Navidad. It's the largest undeveloped silver deposit in the world, so it's really, really big – and the question is what's going on, and is it going to be developable because it's in a province of Argentina that banned open-pit mining and the use of cyanide about eight years ago. They kind of swept the baby out with the bathwater because there was a gold deposit in the mountains in a really beautiful area. They didn't want to mine that, so they said the whole province is off the territory for mining. So this deposit was then discovered. It's in the middle of nowhere. It's in a very nice, empty part of this Patagonian plain of Argentina, and it's a huge deposit. There's more than a billion ounces of silver, clean. It's right on surface. It's a beautiful, beautiful ore body, and it'll double Pan American Silver's production from 24 million ounces to 48 million ounces in, say, three years. The province, as Louis just said, the province just north of this particular province of Chubut is called Rio Negro. They also had a ban on the use of cyanide and mining, and they just overturned that in December – at the end of December – so what we expect will happen is in March this year, the government of Chubut has written a new law that's going to zone the province into places that you can mine and places you can't mine. The mountains will be no mining, right along the ocean will be no mining, and the center would be pro-mining. We've seen the law. The governor assures us it will be passed. There are some processes to go through, but we think it will happen in March, and that will open the way for development of Navidad. That will be a real game-changer for us.
L: We've seen laws like this before. The Santa Cruz province where Ron's operating, they also did something like this where they set out an area that was specifically "miners welcome here," and it happens to be where Ron is operating on the Deseado Massif. So there is precedent there. Okay, more questions. The question was, we've heard about going south into Latin America and the idea of the lower-hanging fruit having been picked and having to go farther afield to look for big, world-class deposits; are you guys doing that? Are any of you looking to go into what might have previously been regarded as too risky or not worth the trouble? Where are the new frontiers, and is anybody taking them on? Ron?
Ron Netolitzky: I think I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm liking working where the jurisdictions are as safe as I can get at my age. I mean you have enough exploration risk in this world to take on excessive political risk. Now, if there's a wonderful deposit that's already been identified, then you can look at it and say you play it from the political risk because you've got no exploration risks, but taking both on – not for me.
Bob: Well, we're in British Columbia and although some people think there's risk around that, we think it'd be mitigated. Projects have been developed here, with what Jim's just done, so projects get permitted in development here, and I'm a bit like Ron nowadays… keeping my focus a little closer to home.
Duane: Well, as I described earlier, we went into Eastern Mexico where we had no competition. Many of the things we've staked never had a claim on it before, and we're getting incredible assays, and two things are already obvious – one going to be a mine and one that we think will be a mine and we're just getting started in that area, but the other frontier is depth. You look at the Hudson Bay Mining in Flin Flon, Manitoba. They were mining there for 80 years, and they just found as big a zone, not just found, but a few years ago, found as big a zone as they had mined for 80 years underneath, straight below. I mean they're mining stuff that's 4% copper and 7% zinc and a quarter-ounce gold, and it's underneath, so there's going to be a lot of exploration to depth. There are these new techniques where you can see deeper with geophysics, and in old areas where there are lots of mines, people are going to go down to depth. Look at Pebble, the discovery at depth, and look at Oyu Tolgoi. There's going to be more exploration to depth in old, established areas.
Ron Parratt: Our company – in addition to Argentina and of course Nevada, we're working in Spain. So far, we've found the political environment to be reasonable. Things don't happen quite as quickly as we want, but we do have worries about obviously the Spanish economy, problems in Portugal, all over Europe right now. And it seems to me that people are just afraid to make decisions because all the government employees don't want to lose their jobs, and if they make a decision and approve a project or grant a license, they worry that the next group coming in will hold them at fault for that, and they'll lose their jobs and they don't want to lose their government jobs. You have to be pretty careful.
If it's in Argentina, some provinces, as you've just heard, are good to be in; some are not so good to be in. I work a lot in the US; I would not work in California. There are other states I'm not going to go to. You have to pick your battles pretty carefully. I agree with Ron. Exploration is really risky, and if you risk losing the asset you might find on top of the discovery risk, you really need to ask yourself if that's the right thing to do, so we're going to stick with the countries we are in now. We'll stay in the Americas. I think Mexico would be okay, but as a small junior company we can't be working in too many countries. I think we'll lose focus, and I think that'll be a bad thing.
Ross: I look at this question really from the standpoint of standing in your shoes as an investor, and I guess my bottom line to this is, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify your risks. Don't buy one company, buy a handful of companies. Don't invest in exploration in one country, invest in a pile of countries, because you just never know. There are so many risks in this game – not just geologic risk or mining risk but political risk, social risk, environmental risk, stupid risk that just makes no sense to anybody – but it happens and it just happens all the time. Australia – once thought to be the safest, best, lowest-tax jurisdiction – a few years ago brought in an absolutely idiotic, insane super province tax that destroyed Australia as a good place to do business. Luckily, the industry had such a big lobby power that they were able to stop the government from doing that, but BC, just a short eight or nine years ago, we had a bunch of socialists running this place, and they made a mess of it. They made an absolute mess of it. It was a horrible place to explore because they didn't give you any value. So things can change really quickly, and you just – you can be awfully clever about assessing a risk regime in terms of political and social environmental risk, but crazy things happen.
And so for me, I'm invested in 18 countries right now; and I happen to know every single year there's going to be one that is just absolutely wonderful beyond my expectations, and there's going to be one that's just a nightmare – again, beyond my expectations. The other principle I have, though, is "Life is too short." And that means don't go to places that are just pathologically criminal like Russia and most of the CIS. Both Bob Quartermain and I have joint experience in that. There are some parts of the world that are just super-tough that are, you know, no matter what the opportunity, it's just not worth the effort, and I put sort of Venezuela today in that category, quite frankly Bolivia, maybe Ecuador, places like that, certain countries in Africa, anywhere in the CIS. Life's too short. It doesn't matter what the reward. If you have to deal with criminals and people are trying to steal from you every single second, it's just not worth it.
Jim: Well, I think I have to agree with Ron and Ross in that, number one, of course, you've got a lot of risk, and I guess you have to weigh the political risk. If you had a fantastic deposit, you'd probably take a little more political risk, but I think as Ross said, I'm of an age too where I'm not going to venture out too far, and I don't have a bulletproof jacket, so I'm not going to take a lot of risk in terms of going to places where you don't know whether you really own anything or whether you can hold it or if somebody is going to take it, so I'm along that line too.
L: This is very, very interesting. Jimmy, I put you a little bit on the spot there because of where you're focused, but I wanted to see if I could get unanimity, and basically we got unanimity. These are the most successful, best brains in the business and this conventional – it's become almost conventional wisdom that the low-hanging fruit has been picked. We've got to go farther afield, and we have unanimity here saying, "You know what? Life's too short. Go where you know you can work," so that's something – it would be interesting to ask the same question at the NexTen panel and see if slightly darker average color of hair would give the same unanimous response. But no, that's very interesting. Words from the wise.
Okay, I think we have time for maybe one more question. Copper. Maybe a real quick two sentences, thumbs up/thumbs down on copper. You know, we have the bearish argument near-term about economic trouble. Doug Casey is talking about the Greater Depression and all these things, obviously bearish for industrial metals. We've got two copper producers sitting here. Obviously you want to be optimistic about copper – the world needs it. Chindia, all these things. Ron Netolitzky, just a quick take. Are you – long-term we're all bulls on copper because we know the world needs it, but near-term, this year – are you buying copper plays and would you?
Ron Netolitzky: I would look at any mineral. I think they all have their opportunities, and in this business I'm not short-term cycled. I mean, when everything comes out of favor, it's actually a great time to start playing in it, and you've got to be really contra-cyclic. We all pretend to be, but it's a hard decision to make because when everybody hates it is when you should love it.
Bob: Right, and I go to a comment that Ross made earlier about buying people around the table. I'm a Lumina shareholder, and I'm a very happy Lumina shareholder and I'm adding it to my position because of the exploration upside that's there. Same as my own company. I've owned Ron's companies, I've owned Duane's companies as well as Ross's, and so long-term I continue to be very bullish on copper and continue to own it in my portfolio, both major companies as well as members sitting around this table. Same with uranium. I'm with Ron on this. I think now is the time to be out there buying and I don't think you need to be concerned about what happens this year. If you're doing that, then you really have to look at exploration as a very long-term gain. With Ross I started investing in silver back in 1993-94. That has served me very well, and I'll continue to invest in the people around this table and the commodities that they're looking for, and I think that's a strategy that I'd follow.
Duane: In the short term, you know, everybody – just open the paper or watch the television. Every government in the world is in debt, and they can't pay them, and there's all this mess, but you know what – the world isn't going to end. I mean even the '30s, which was so terrible, it came to an end and life went on, and a lot of good life went on, so in the short term, I think precious metals are a good place to be because they've got to settle their debts, and they've got to do something, and they've got to make people believe in money again, and so on. So I think precious metals in the short term are a very good place to be, but there used to be an old expression, "Copper is king," and copper is the main metal of civilization, and it will go on and on and on, and as all these things get sorted out and human ingenuity and despite governments, things will be good, so long term I think copper is a great thing.
Ron Parratt: I certainly agree with Duane. I think a lot of the exploration plays we're looking at now are of course copper for the future. These aren't going to come out of the ground this year. We're looking at two, three, four years away, depending on the municipality that they're located in, so I think, really, you need to be thinking about the longer-term price environment and of course it's very deposit-specific. Each commodity has a range of production costs by commodity. You always want to try to look at those in the lower-cost curve position that are going to be sustainable long-term. They're the ones that are going to do well, and especially if prices go down and you're a lower-quartile producer, you're going to have a good company.
L: Ross, I'm a little bit nervous about giving you a chance.
Ross: Okay, so here's my pitch. So how many of you were at the Casey conference – where was it? – it was in Phoenix last November, October?
L: Yes, October.
Ross: So there's a Casey conference in October. Were any of you there? A handful. So here was a room – now October, I admit, was kind of a bleak time. There were a lot of European governments looking pretty iffy, and there was a lot of doom and gloom in the US still, of course there always is when you get a group of Casey investors together. I mean the whole bloody conference is all about, "What are we going to buy when everything melts down? We're going to buy guns and drugs so we can sell them." It was like one of these, you know – I mean, take a happy pill. That's kind of what I felt, and I was the only voice of optimism.
L: This is true; true story.
Ross: The only voice, and here we are in January, things are looking better. Copper price is up, gold price is up, silver price is up – you know what, Europe is going to live, it's not going to die, and we are not going into a vortex of hell, financial hell – we just aren't – and I think Duane's comment is valid. Every day there are more people who are born, we all want junk, there are more people getting into a monetary system coming from farms into cities, more people with more money means more people want junk, junk means commodities, commodities are what we produce and discover.
So there are two sides to this copper coin. There is the demand side. Demand is strong for copper. It is being driven by all these new people in the world, the new monetary or the new people who have money in the world in India, in Indonesia, in China and Brazil and Russia and all kinds of huge population areas – forget about Europe. Who cares about Europe? In copper on the demand side, Europe is a non-event. It doesn't matter – even the US.
The US today, nothing in the US drives copper demand. Copper demand is driven by what's happening in the emerging countries, and it's going crazy there. Copper demand in China went up 8% last year. The world built more automobiles last year than they've even built in history – I forget the number, but it was a record number of cars, and cars today use more copper than they have ever used before because there is more want, more need for, motors in the cars, there are more hybrid cars. They just use more copper, so the demand side of copper is fantastic. It's not going to melt down, it's good, it's strong. But what a lot of these pundits who even know the demand side don't understand is, on the copper supply side, it's equally bullish. We aren't finding as much copper as we're mining. We aren't finding it because the big deposits have been discovered. The new deposits are harder to find. They're not as big. They're not as rich. You can't see it from a satellite by and large like you used to. These are big, big deposits, and we are just not replacing consumption as much, and long term that's just as bullish for higher copper prices as increased demand. Now, of course it's not going to go up forever. At some point, there's going to be a price that people are going to stop consuming it or finding replacements, and they are going to start mining some of these really, really low-grade deposits of which there are a number in the world. But just to mine those takes five to ten years of permitting and financing and construction. Construction costs have gone off the chart, so mines are harder to build today, they're harder to permit, they're much harder to discover. If you look at a chart – there's a very cool chart that a group called the Mineral Economics Group has put out, which charts exploration expenditures for copper against discovery rates. It's an inverse curve. The more we're spending on copper exploration in the last 10 years, the less we're actually finding. The existing mines are becoming lower grade. They are becoming deeper. They're becoming more high-cost. The only way that supply equation can be matched with the increased demand is with higher prices, so I am bullish on copper for both of those reasons.
Jim: I don't think I can add anything to that, but I do agree, I mean, long-term we have the demand. We have a shortage of supply. It's going to be difficult to meet the difference, but also the cost of production. I mean, as the costs of production go up, the price has to be there, or else we're not going to have copper, so I have to be bullish on copper, and I feel very fortunate that we're in production at this time to enjoy the future.
L: Okay, with that, I think we better take a break. In 10 minutes, Jeff Clark will be back here to tell us about buying and owning gold and silver. Thank you very much. Gentleman, thank you very much – a great panel.