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Visualizing the Life Cycle of a Mineral Discovery

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Visualizing the Life Cycle of a Mineral Discovery

Visualizing the Life Cycle of a Mineral Discovery

Mining legend Pierre Lassonde knows a little bit about mineral exploration, discovery, and development. Drawing from decades of his experience, he created the chart above that has become a staple in the mining industry—the Lassonde Curve.

Today’s chart of the Lassonde Curve outlines the life of mining companies from exploration to production, and highlights the work and market value associated with each stage. This helps speculative investors understand the mining process, and time their investments properly.

Making Cents of Miners: The Stages of a Mineral Discovery

In the life cycle of a mineral deposit, there are seven stages that each offer specific risks and rewards. As a company proves there is a mineable deposit in the ground, more value is created for shareholders along the way.

  1. Concept

    This stage carries the most risk which accounts for its low value. In the beginning, there is little knowledge of what actually lies beneath the Earth’s surface.

    At this stage, geologists are putting to the test a theory about where metal deposits are. They will survey the land using geochemical and sampling techniques to improve the confidence of this theory. Once this is complete, they can move onto more extensive exploration.

  2. Pre-Discovery

    There is still plenty of risk, but this is where speculation hype begins. As the drill bit meets the ground, mineral exploration geologists develop their knowledge of what lies beneath the Earth’s crust to assess mineral potential.

    Mineral exploration involves retrieving a cross-section (drill core) of the crust, and then analyzing it for mineral content. A drill core containing sufficient amounts of metals can encourage further exploration, which may lead to the discovery of a mineable deposit.

  3. Discovery

    Discovery is the reward stage for early speculators. Exploration has revealed that there is a significant amount of material to be mined, and it warrants further study to prove that mining would be feasible. Most speculators exit here, as the next stage creates a new set of risks, such as profitability, construction, and financing.

  4. Feasibility

    This is an important milestone for a mineral discovery. Studies conducted during this stage may demonstrate the deposit’s potential to become a profitable mine.

    Institutional and strategic investors can then use these studies to evaluate whether they want to advance this project. Speculators often invest during this time, known as the “Orphan Period”, while uncertainty about the project lingers.

  5. Development

    Development is a rare moment, and most mineral deposits never make it to this stage. At this point, the company puts together a production plan for the mine.

    First, they must secure funding and build an operational team. If a company can secure funding for development, investors can see the potential of revenue from mining. However, risks still persist in the form of construction, budget, and timelines.

  6. Startup/Production

    Investors who have held their investment until this point can pat themselves on the back—this is a rare moment for a mineral discovery. The company is now processing ore and generating revenue.

    Investment analysts will re-rate this deposit, to help it attract more attention from institutional investors and the general public. Meanwhile, existing investors can choose to exit here or wait for potential increases in revenues and dividends.

  7. Depletion

    Nothing lasts forever, especially scarce mineral resources. Unless, there are more deposits nearby, most mines are eventually depleted. With it, so does the value of the company. Investors should be looking for an exit as operations wind down.

Case Study: The Oyu Tolgoi Copper-Gold Discovery, Mongolia

So now that you know the theoretical value cycle of a mineral discovery, how does it pan out in reality? The Oyu Tolgoi copper deposit is one recent discovery that has gone through this value cycle. It exemplifies some of these events and their effects on the share price of a company.

    1. Concept: 15+ Years

      Prospectors conducted early exploration work in the 1980s near where Oyu Tolgoi would be discovered. It was not until 1996 that Australian miner BHP conducted further exploration.

      But after 21 drill holes, the company lost interest and optioned the property to mining entrepreneur Robert Friedland and his company Ivanhoe Mines. At this point in 1999, shares in Ivanhoe were a gamble.

    2. Pre-Discovery/Discovery: ~3 years

      Ivanhoe Mines and BHP entered into an earn-in agreement, in which Ivanhoe gained ownership by completing work to explore Oyu Tolgoi. A year later, the first drill results came out of drill hole 150 with a headline result of 508 meters of 1.1 g/t Au and 0.8%. To get a sense of how large this is, imagine the height a 45-story building, of which a third of story is copper. This was just one intersection of an area that could stretch for miles.

      Wild speculation began at this stage, as steadily improving drill results proved a massive copper-gold deposit in Mongolia and drove up the share price of Ivanhoe.

    3. Feasibility/Orphan Period: ~2 years

      In 2004, the drilling results contributed to the development of the first scoping study. This study offered a preliminary understanding of the project’s economics.

      Using this study, the company needed to secure enough money to build a mine to extract the valuable ore. It was not until two years later, when Ivanhoe Mines entered into an agreement with major mining company Rio Tinto, that a production decision was finalized.

    4. Development: 7 years

      By 2006, the Oyu Tolgoi mineral deposit was in the development phase with the first shaft headframe, hoisting frame, and associated infrastructure completed. It took another two years for the shaft to reach a depth of 1,385 feet.

      Further development work delineated a resource of 1.2 billion pounds of copper, 650,000 ounces of gold, and 3 million ounces of silver. This first stage of development for Oyu Tolgoi made Mongolia the world’s fastest growing economy from 2009 to 2011.

    5. Startup/Production: Ongoing

      On January 31, 2013, the company announced it had produced the first copper-gold concentrate from Oyu Tolgoi. Six months later, the company stated that it was processing up to 70,000 tonnes of ore daily.

    6. Depletion: Into the Future

      The Oyu Tolgoi deposit will last generations, so we have yet to see how this will affect the value of the mine from an investment perspective.

      It’s also worth noting there are still other risks ahead. These risks can include labor disruptions, mining method problems, or commodity price movement. Investors will have to consider these additional conditions as they pan out.

The More You Know

Mining is one of the riskiest investments with many risks to consider at every stage.

While most mineral discoveries do not match it perfectly, the Lassonde Curve guides an investor through what to expect at each stage, and empowers them to time their investments right.

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Real Assets

Visualizing Global Gold Production in 2023

Gold production in 2023 was led by China, Australia, and Russia, with each outputting over 300 tonnes.

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Graphic breaking down global gold production in 2023

Visualizing Global Gold Production in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Over 3,000 tonnes of gold were produced globally in 2023.

In this graphic, we list the world’s leading countries in terms of gold production. These figures come from the latest USGS publication on gold statistics (published January 2024).

China, Australia, and Russia Produced the Most Gold in 2023

China was the top producer in 2023, responsible for over 12% of total global production, followed by Australia and Russia.

CountryRegion2023E Production (tonnes)
🇨🇳 ChinaAsia370
🇦🇺 AustraliaOceania310
🇷🇺 RussiaEurope310
🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America200
🇺🇸 United StatesNorth America170
🇰🇿 KazakhstanAsia130
🇲🇽 MexicoNorth America120
🇮🇩 IndonesiaAsia110
🇿🇦 South AfricaAfrica100
🇺🇿 UzbekistanAsia100
🇬🇭 GhanaAfrica90
🇵🇪 PeruSouth America90
🇧🇷 BrazilSouth America60
🇧🇫 Burkina FasoAfrica60
🇲🇱 MaliAfrica60
🇹🇿 TanzaniaAfrica60
🌍 Rest of World-700

Gold mines in China are primarily concentrated in eastern provinces such as Shandong, Henan, Fujian, and Liaoning. As of January 2024, China’s gold mine reserves stand at an estimated 3,000 tonnes, representing around 5% of the global total of 59,000 tonnes.

In addition to being the top producer, China emerged as the largest buyer of the yellow metal for the year. In fact, the country’s central bank alone bought 225 tonnes of gold in 2023, according the World Gold Council.

Estimated Global Gold Consumption

Most of the gold produced in 2023 was used in jewelry production, while another significant portion was sold as a store of value, such as in gold bars or coins.

  • Jewelry: 46%
  • Central Banks and Institutions: 23%
  • Physical Bars: 16%
  • Official Coins, Medals, and Imitation Coins: 9%
  • Electrical and Electronics: 5%
  • Other: 1%

According to Fitch Solutions, over the medium term (2023-2032), global gold mine production is expected to grow 15%, as high prices encourage investment and output.

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Real Assets

Charted: The Value Gap Between the Gold Price and Gold Miners

While gold prices hit all-time highs, gold mining stocks have lagged far behind.

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Line chart comparing gold price and gold mining stocks since 2000.

Gold Price vs. Gold Mining Stocks

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on Apple or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Although the price of gold has reached new record highs in 2024, gold miners are still far from their 2011 peaks.

In this graphic, we illustrate the evolution of gold prices since 2000 compared to the NYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index (HUI), which consists of the largest and most widely held public gold production companies. The data was compiled by Incrementum AG.

Mining Stocks Lag Far Behind

In April 2024, gold reached a new record high as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signaled policymakers may delay interest rate cuts until clearer signs of declining inflation materialize.

Additionally, with elections occurring in more than 60 countries in 2024 and ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, central banks are continuing to buy gold to strengthen their reserves, creating momentum for the metal.

Traditionally known as a hedge against inflation and a safe haven during times of political and economic uncertainty, gold has climbed over 11% so far this year.

According to Business Insider, gold miners experienced their best performance in a year in March 2024. During that month, the gold mining sector outperformed all other U.S. industries, surpassing even the performance of semiconductor stocks.

Still, physical gold has outperformed shares of gold-mining companies over the past three years by one of the largest margins in decades.

YearGold PriceNYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index (HUI)
2023$2,062.92$243.31
2022$1,824.32$229.75
2021$1,828.60$258.87
2020$1,895.10$299.64
2019$1,523.00$241.94
2018$1,281.65$160.58
2017$1,296.50$192.31
2016$1,151.70$182.31
2015$1,060.20$111.18
2014$1,199.25$164.03
2013$1,201.50$197.70
2012$1,664.00$444.22
2011$1,574.50$498.73
2010$1,410.25$573.32
2009$1,104.00$429.91
2008$865.00$302.41
2007$836.50$409.37
2006$635.70$338.24
2005$513.00$276.90
2004$438.00$215.33
2003$417.25$242.93
2002$342.75$145.12
2001$276.50$65.20
2000$272.65$40.97

Among the largest companies on the NYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index, Colorado-based Newmont has experienced a 24% drop in its share price over the past year. Similarly, Canadian Barrick Gold also saw a decline of 6.5% over the past 12 months.

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