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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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Explainer: What Key Factors Influence Gas Prices?

To help understand what’s happening at the pump, it’s important to first know what key factors dictate the price of gas.

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Explainer: What Key Factors Influence Gas Prices?

Across the United States, the cost of gas has been a hot topic of conversation lately, as prices reach record-breaking highs.

The national average now sits at $5.00 per gallon, and by the end of summer, this figure could grow to $6 per gallon, according to estimates by JPMorgan.

But before we can have an understanding of what’s happening at the pump, it’s important to first know what key factors dictate the price of gas.

This graphic, using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), outlines the main components that influence gas prices, providing each factor’s proportional impact on price.

The Four Main Factors

According to the EIA, there are four main factors that influence the price of gas:

  • Crude oil prices (54%)
  • Refining costs (14%)
  • Taxes (16%)
  • Distribution, and marketing costs (16%)

More than half the cost of filling your tank is influenced by the price of crude oil. Meanwhile, the rest of the price at the pump is split fairly equally between refining costs, marketing and distribution, and taxes.

Let’s look at each factor in more depth.

Crude Oil Prices

The most influential factor is the cost of crude oil, which is largely dictated by international supply and demand.

Despite being the world’s largest oil producer, the U.S. remains a net importer of crude oil, with the majority coming from Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Because of America’s reliance on imports, U.S. gas prices are largely influenced by the global crude oil market.

A number of geopolitical factors can influence the crude oil market, but one of the biggest influences is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia.

Established in 1960, OPEC was created to combat U.S. dominance of the global oil market. OPEC sets production targets for its 13 member countries, and historically, oil prices have been linked to changes in OPEC production. Today, OPEC countries are responsible for about 60% of internationally traded petroleum.

Refining Costs

Oil needs to be refined into gasoline before it can be used by consumers, which is why refining costs are factored into the price of gas.

The U.S. has hundreds of refineries across the country. The country’s largest refinery, owned by the Saudi Arabian company ​​Saudi Aramco, processes around 607,000 barrels of oil per day.

The exact cost of refining varies, depending on a number of factors such as the type of crude oil used, the processing technology available at the refinery, and the gasoline requirements in specific parts of the country.

In general, refining capacity in the U.S. has not been keeping up with oil demand. Several refineries shut down throughout the pandemic, but even before COVID-19, refining capacity in the U.S. was lagging behind demand. Incredibly, there haven’t been any brand-new refining facilities built in the country since 1977.

Taxes

In the U.S., taxes also play a critical role in determining the price of gas.

Across America, the average gasoline tax is $0.57 per gallon, however, the exact amount fluctuates from state to state. Here’s a look at the top five states with the highest gas taxes:

RankStateGas tax (per gallon)
1California$0.87
2Illinois$0.78
3Pennsylvania$0.77
4Hawaii$0.77
5New Jersey$0.69

*Note: figures include both state and federal tax

States with high gas taxes usually spend the extra money on improvements to their infrastructure or local transportation. For instance, Illinois doubled its gas taxes in 2019 as part of a $45 billion infrastructure plan.

California, the state with the highest tax on gas, is expecting to see a rate increase this July, which will drive gas prices up by around three cents per gallon.

Distribution and Marketing Costs

Lastly, the costs of distribution and marketing have an impact on the price of gas.

Gasoline is typically shipped from refineries to local terminals via pipelines. From there, the gasoline is processed further to ensure it meets market requirements or local government standards.

Gas stations then distribute the final product to the consumer. The cost of running a gas station varies—some gas stations are owned and operated by brand-name refineries like Chevron, while others are smaller-scale operations owned by independent merchants.

The big-name brands run a lot of advertisements. According to Morning Consult, Chevron, BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell PLC aired TV advertisements in the U.S. more than 44,495 times between June 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2021.

How Does the Russia-Ukraine Conflict Impact U.S. Gas Prices?

If only a fraction of America’s oil comes from Russia, why is the Russia-Ukraine conflict impacting prices in the U.S.?

Because oil is bought and sold on a global commodities market. So, when countries imposed sanctions on Russian oil, that put a squeeze on global supply, which ultimately drove up prices.

This supply shock could keep prices high for a while unless the U.S. falls into a recession, which is a growing possibility based on how recent data is trending.

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Real Assets

Mapped: The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

Where in the world are the largest gold mines?

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map of the 10 largest gold mines in the world

The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

Gold mining is a global business, with hundreds of mining companies digging for the precious metal in dozens of countries.

But where exactly are the largest gold mines in the world?

The above infographic uses data compiled from S&P Global Market Intelligence and company reports to map the top 10 gold-producing mines in 2021.

Editor’s Note: The article uses publicly available global production data from the World Gold Council to calculate the production share of each mine. The percentages slightly differ from those calculated by S&P.

The Top Gold Mines in 2021

The 10 largest gold mines are located across nine different countries in North America, Oceania, Africa, and Asia.

Together, they accounted for around 13 million ounces or 12% of global gold production in 2021.

RankMineLocationProduction (ounces)% of global production
#1Nevada Gold Mines🇺🇸 U.S. 3,311,0002.9%
#2Muruntau🇺🇿 Uzbekistan 2,990,0202.6%
#3Grasberg🇮🇩 Indonesia 1,370,0001.2%
#4Olimpiada🇷🇺 Russia 1,184,0681.0%
#5Pueblo Viejo🇩🇴 Dominican Republic 814,0000.7%
#6Kibali🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo 812,0000.7%
#7Cadia🇦🇺 Australia 764,8950.7%
#8Lihir🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea 737,0820.6%
#9Canadian Malartic🇨🇦 Canada 714,7840.6%
#10Boddington🇦🇺 Australia 696,0000.6%
N/ATotalN/A13,393,84911.7%

Share of global gold production is based on 3,561 tonnes (114.5 million troy ounces) of 2021 production as per the World Gold Council.

In 2019, the world’s two largest gold miners—Barrick Gold and Newmont Corporation—announced a historic joint venture combining their operations in Nevada. The resulting joint corporation, Nevada Gold Mines, is now the world’s largest gold mining complex with six mines churning out over 3.3 million ounces annually.

Uzbekistan’s state-owned Muruntau mine, one of the world’s deepest open-pit operations, produced just under 3 million ounces, making it the second-largest gold mine. Muruntau represents over 80% of Uzbekistan’s overall gold production.

Only two other mines—Grasberg and Olimpiada—produced more than 1 million ounces of gold in 2021. Grasberg is not only the third-largest gold mine but also one of the largest copper mines in the world. Olimpiada, owned by Russian gold mining giant Polyus, holds around 26 million ounces of gold reserves.

Polyus was also recently crowned the biggest miner in terms of gold reserves globally, holding over 104 million ounces of proven and probable gold between all deposits.

How Profitable is Gold Mining?

The price of gold is up by around 50% since 2016, and it’s hovering near the all-time high of $2,000/oz.

That’s good news for gold miners, who achieved record-high profit margins in 2020. For every ounce of gold produced in 2020, gold miners pocketed $828 on average, significantly higher than the previous high of $666/oz set in 2011.

With inflation rates hitting decade-highs in several countries, gold mining could be a sector to watch, especially given gold’s status as a traditional inflation hedge.

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