Tough times and creative money mining

IT’S a tough market out there. But even if you can’t afford to drill holes or build mines, it pays to looks as though you are busy doing something, whether cutting salaries, signing MOUs or finding cash in the bottom drawer. The Metal Detective, by Stephen Bell
Tough times and creative money mining Tough times and creative money mining Tough times and creative money mining Tough times and creative money mining Tough times and creative money mining


Stephen Bell

Spare a thought for the CEOs of exploration outfits in the current climate, where mining money from the share market has become as hard as producing gold at a profit.

It can be done – recent $A1 million-plus examples include MZI Resources and Caravel Minerals – but low prices usually mean shareholders’ wealth is spread pretty thinly if new equity is raised.

The catch-22 for rock-kickers is that their reason for being is to drill holes, but to drill them they need money.

So how does one increase company funds by unconventional means?

As a CEO, you could always take a pay cut.

After all, the thriftiness craze has extended right to the top, with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto recently appointing much cheaper CEOs than their predecessors.

So why not divert some of those directors’ fees that otherwise would have gone to private school payments into the ground?

Shareholders will cheer you on.

Panoramic Resources’ Peter Harold told the Sydney Mining Club last week that his company got in early and asked their directors to take 5% pay cuts in November.

Deep Yellow was another early mover, while Troy Resources last month set a pretty high bar when it unveiled a 25% cut in the CEO’s base salary, alongside 10% cuts in executive salaries and directors’ fees.

Who would have believed just a year ago that the latest peeing contest would be the size of the salary cut?

If salaries were already lean, you could always flog an asset.

Magnetite hopeful Forge Resources last week sold another 7% of its Balla Balla project in the Pilbara to major shareholder and JV partner Todd Corp.

Forge netted $7 million and secured a further $1.5 million funding package for its Fraser Range prospect.

But if you don’t have a big brother for support, selling mines can be a tough journey - just ask gold miner Apex Minerals, which fell into administration after trying to flog Wiluna.

Another novel fundraising measure bobbed up last week. Pluton Resources and Gunson Resources achieved the equivalent of cashing in a term deposit in the bottom draw when they retired WA Mines Department environment bonds.

Pluton netted $19 million and Gunson $1.2 million after they opted to join the WA government’s new Mining Rehabilitation Fund, which involves annual levies.

WA Mines Minister Bill Marmion predicts the state government will return more than $1 billion in financial institution-held bonds to miners in the next 12 months.

It sounds impressive, until you realise the stimulus measure will be spread across roughly 3000 companies.

An average of $333,000 for each participant may be a lifeline for some cash-starved juniors, but hardly a massive game-changer.

If you can’t cash in bonds, cut salaries, or mine the market, at least look as though you are doing something constructive.

An old favourite is to unveil a memorandum of understanding.

MoUs normally sound impressive, but MD suspects some may have been signed on the back of a napkin after a boozy lunch at Black Tom’s.

They have proved popular for infrastructure-starved juniors struggling to commercialise stranded deposits in the Pilbara and Mid West.

Not that MD is knocking juniors for exploring every possible avenue, given how zealously Fortescue, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto guard their rail-port “production systems”

But the best kind of MOU is one that returns cash pronto.

Moroccan tin hopeful Kasbah Resources is a stellar performer in this category, having signed an MOU with Japan’s Nittetsu Mining on June 26.

Two days later, the company proudly unveiled a “paid” sticker on its ASX release after receiving $7.25 Million for Nittstsu’s right to acquire a 5% project stake.

If you don’t hold a desirable deposit in Africa, try initiating desktop studies on a hot new commodity.

But is there one out there? To paraphrase Avatar, James Cameron’s ludicrous greenie space opera, at present that particular commodity is unobtanium.

Or you could conduct a prefeasibility study on a project with no backers, no market and no real hopes of development; or perhaps build a pilot processing facility.

It always looks impressive when you can announce first “production” from Project X, even though the output is measured in grams and the plant is a two-foot high beaker sitting on a bench top.

The possibilities are endless: the message for these tough times is to ‘be creative’ and try to find a way to stand out from the pack.

Because there is no guarantee the times won’t get even tougher.