Perhaps predictable, it was still a surprise to discover that the process of reinventing small explorers trapped under a pile of some 500 largely forgotten Australian Securities Exchange-listed companies had started with a return to the dot.com world.
Back in the 1990s, the last time the mining world sank into a sea of despair with taxi-driving the first full-time job for geology graduates, there was a wholesale stampede into internet-based business opportunities.
Not many bright ideas from that first flush of web-based businesses survived, with most suffering the ultimate flush as they disappeared around the S-bend.
This time it could be different because the internet is living up to its promise of starting a global communications and business management revolution – the fact that you’re reading this web-based column is proof of the internet’s power.
But – and this is a big but – management of mineral exploration companies considering a switch will need to take care when choosing a switch to technology – and investors will need to take even greater care.
In the case of Minerals Corporation there is an argument to say it has “first mover” advantage in that it has been chosen (or chose for itself) a business that has successfully developed a computer-controlled workforce management system.
As is fashionable these days, the system is described as being “cloud” based, which is a trendy way of saying it stores data on a server in a remote location and permits access to licensed users via fixed or mobile computers, mobile phones, or whatever gadget is available.
The plan is actually a classic backdoor listing for the technology business, PRM Cloud Solutions, with Minerals Corporation acquiring PRM by issuing up to 1 billion shares in itself – 650 million for starters and another 350 million if future revenue hurdles are cleared.
Given that Minerals Corporation has 659 million shares quoted on the ASX the fresh shares will effectively transfer control to the vendors of PRM.
The existing management team at Minerals Corporation will step down if the deal is approved and a PRM team will move in.
What happens to mineral exploration assets, such as the Luisha copper prospect in the Congo province of Katanga, or the once-famous Skardon River kaolin project in Far North Queensland, will be sorted out later.
Hopefully, the new PRM team taking control of Minerals Corporation will quickly find buyers for the mining assets because there is something awfully unbalanced about a company that has a foot in the technology camp and another in exploration.
Reflecting again on the 1990s it was the miners trying to be a bit of both that lost their support fastest because investors with an interest in technology did not understand exploration and vice versa.
The reaction of the market to the proposed change of direction by Minerals Corporation has been mixed.
An initial burst of enthusiasm that greeted the Christmas Eve announcement of the deal quickly faded, perhaps because of the challenge in (a) convincing existing shareholders in Minerals Corporation that the cloud world was a good place to be and (b) hoping that cloud investors will understand how PRM will generate handsome future profits.
From pre-deal sales at A0.3c Minerals Corporation doubled on the day to post some sales at 0.6c – a handy early Christmas present for some share traders – but closed on Christmas Eve at 0.4c.
After Christmas, it was back to 0.3c.
Whether the plan by Minerals Corporation to morph into a technology-based business works (or doesn’t) is of little interest to Dryblower for a number of reasons.
Firstly, because small technology stocks are not part of his job description – and secondly because he reckons that the term “cloud” is grossly overused and is merely a way of marketing data storage and software use via an internet connection.
Cloud is really nothing more than the next generation of dot.com applications.
What does interest Dryblower is the question of whether Minerals Corporation is making a move that will become a trend, with other small explorers stuck in a crowded basement of stocks capitalised on the ASX at less than $3 million seeing technology as a way to create value for jaded shareholders.
Given what’s happening on overseas markets – where much of the recent action has been in tech-stocks such Apple, Facebook and Twitter – it’s a fair bet that the bottom end of the mining world is on the verge of a shift into the cloud.