Dryblower returns with a look at what might be the start of a minor miner recovery

THERE is no easy way to explain the remarkable recovery that appears to be underway at the small end of the Australian mining industry, but it has been such an impressive uplift relative to the rest of the stock market, that Dryblower is forced to fall back on a 1972 federal election slogan: “It’s time!”.
Dryblower returns with a look at what might be the start of a minor miner recovery Dryblower returns with a look at what might be the start of a minor miner recovery Dryblower returns with a look at what might be the start of a minor miner recovery Dryblower returns with a look at what might be the start of a minor miner recovery Dryblower returns with a look at what might be the start of a minor miner recovery


Tim Treadgold

Most readers under the age of 50 will not understand the significance of that catch cry.

Older readers will remember that it was the call from the late Gough Whitlam who swept the Australian Labor Party to power in 1972 largely on the strength of a belief that it was time for a change after 23 years of conservative government.

Quite simply, back in ’72, there was a mood for political change just as today there seems to be a mood brewing that small miners have spent long enough in the doghouse and it is time for bargain hunters to buy a seat at the table of what could be the start of a sustained recovery.

If anyone doubts that point then consider a few pertinent facts, starting with the rise in the small resources index on the ASX which, after excluding small gold stocks, is up by about 6% since early May to make it easily the best performing sector of the market.

When small gold stocks are added, the rise in the small resources index is reduced to about 4%, which still puts it well above the all ordinaries, which has flat-lined for several months, and a country mile ahead of the iron ore component of the index which is down 15%.

Then consider the price movements of a few stocks that have been so long in the sin bin that most investors have forgotten their names, if they ever knew they existed.

Last week alone there were a number of miraculous share price rises with genuine penny dreadfuls delivering double-your-money performances, or close to a delightful 100% price rise over just five trading days.

MOD Resources, a minnow with a couple of whales on its board of directors, including the canny Simon Lee and the ever-eager Julian Hanna, could have delivered a handy 112% return for some lucky punter who bought in at A0.8c at the opening call on Monday and had a chance to offload on Tuesday at 1.7c.

By the close of trade on Friday MOD had slipped back to 1.3c for a rise over the week of 62.5% thanks to encouraging exploration news from its Mahumo copper and silver project in Botswana.

Pilbara Minerals did a little better than MOD, managing to hang on to its 120% gain for the week when it closed at 2.2c on Friday after starting the week at 1c thanks to growing interest in a 50% stake in the Tabba Tabba tantalum project in the Pilbara region of WA.

Like MOD, Pilbara has a professional management team led by former accountant Tony Leibowitz (ex PriceWaterhouseCoopers) and seasoned exploration geologist Neil Biddle.

A third interesting mover last week, and one with perhaps the most interesting driving force behind it, was Strategic Minerals Corporation, a gold explorer with the Woolgar project in Queensland as its primary asset and one of Australia’s richest and most private investors as its major shareholder.

Chris Wallin, a coal miner estimated to be worth $2.8 billion according to BRW magazine, was already sitting on a 51.7% stake in Strategic but obviously thought it was time to clean up his position, which is why he lobbed a bid of 3.5c a share for the stock when it was trading at 2.8c.

In terms of a price rise the 25% boost from Wallin’s bid is not that special, and neither is Strategic’s total stock market value of $26 million.

However, what Wallin has done is play the mergers and acquisitions card, which is emerging as one of the drivers behind the small end of the mining industry – along with modestly improved prices for some of the base metals, such as copper and zinc, and a better outlook for gold, which is offsetting the downward spiral of the iron ore price.

Further up the mining-sector food chain and there are other examples of the M&A driver at work with the current best being Baosteel’s successful bid for Aquila Resources, which is about to shower about $1.1 billion on its shareholders (after discounting Baosteel’s existing stake in the stock).

Whether it is the “it’s time” factor, or whether there is an improving and sustainable outlook for base metals and gold, or whether there is a big M&A clean-up underway, the point is that over the past few small resource stocks have reclaimed the position as the top performing sector on the ASX – and that cannot be a bad thing for the mining industry.

First published yesterday in sister publication MiningNews.net.