More Of The Upside, Less Of The Down.
People have been putting their hard-earned cash into junior mining companies for decades. What exactly do these companies do with your money? They throw it into a hole and hope something good comes out. But let me be clear, investors can make a lot of money investing in mining companies if you know what to look for and are clear about your investment strategy.
This article is for those investors who may be less knowledgeable about mining and nervous of miscalculating the risks. I would also like to introduce you to a very interesting business model within the current electric vehicle (EV) thematic which removes a lot of these risks for investors.
First, let’s talk about mining risk. There is an ever-present risk factor that is inseparable from junior mining investment, and it is every investor’s most loathed buzzword: uncertainty. ‘Indicated resource’ and then ‘inferred resource’ estimates from preliminary drilling can become the flimsy foundation for investment decisions. Forming the top of this wavering base is the decision-making capacity of a company’s management team; they may have a promising asset, but without mitigating risk effectively, and employing an astute business plan or the appropriate strategy to deliver that plan, the asset can become uneconomical. Not only is the potential value of investment opportunities nebulous, but this value might not even be extractable.
The truth of the matter is all junior mining operations have an element of luck. We are dealing with resources that are hidden underground, with a list of risk factors that would make Evel Knievel wince. There are an innumerable number of things that can go wrong on a daily basis, and this is just on a company level: expand that logic to the wider financial market and the extent of risk becomes clear. The day to day role of junior mining management teams is to mitigate these risks in the best interests of their shareholders, but the reality is there is only so much influence they can have over an industry more akin to gambling than one might realise.
Junior mining companies have to sell us an idea that doesn’t necessarily require substantial evidence. Boards of directors and management teams are usually master salespeople who can coerce their way to funding they often don’t deserve. Unfortunately, this is the cold, hard reality of investing in junior mining companies; just as gamblers will head to the casino and get the fruit machines bleeping, people are always going to roll the dice and take a punt on a company they think can give them an exciting bang for their buck. Junior mining investment isn’t quite a casino of pure luck, but luck is of undeniable significance.
However, what if there was a better way? What if there was a way to gain exposure to much of the exciting upside of mining investment, but that steer away from geological risk and mining difficulties? The answer is in extracting value from materials and products that are already at surface. This provides a reliable, unequivocal inventory, and helps work towards the green energy sentiment sweeping the western world with all the ferocity of the awful Australian bushfires.
There is no doubt that mining is essential to provide the items we use in everyday life and no number of protesters outside mining conferences harassing mining executives is going to change that. The irony of these protesters filming themselves on phones made from mined materials, having travelled there on transportation made from mined materials, is not lost on me.
So, let’s get real. Mining is here to stay. If you want to talk about ethical mining, fine. Hold management accountable to those standards, fine. But if you go down this track, you need to go all the way. End to end.
I have previously spoken about true end-to-end green investing. We live in a time of disposable products. Many of these products contained mined materials which go to landfill and dumps. We then mine more materials out of the ground to make more products. It’s not just the ethical and environmental issues, commercially this doesn’t make sense. We are leaving billions of dollars of materials in dumps.
Mining ethically is one thing, but recovering value from end-of-life products is the, as yet, unanswered requirement for a fully functional and genuine green energy investment eco-system. A primary driver of the green energy narrative is the electric vehicle (EV) revolution. There has always been a contradiction when it comes to EV, because the very thing it seeks to positively effect, climate change, is only positively impacted at the front end of the process – less carbon emissions from the vehicles. If one is to analyse the process of battery and electric vehicle manufacture it is far from zero carbon neutral. In addition, the environmental challenges around battery disposal and destructive pyrometallurgic recycling techniques, mean the entire EV macro investment story becomes fatally flawed.
I recently wrote an article regarding an exciting solution to the cost and environmental ramifications of current pyrometallurgical norms. I explained how I discovered an Australian company, Neometals, who have a proprietary hydro-metallurgical battery recycling process which recovers +90% of materials (nickel, lithium, copper, cobalt, iron, aluminium, manganese). However, I didn’t fully explore the genius of their business plan, or how it relates to us investors.
Neometals is a company with value recovery at its core, and its plan will have the approval of the ‘green army’. Neometals signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with German-based private metal industry firm SMS Group to work jointly on the funding, research and evaluation of its lithium-ion battery recycling technology in October, 2019. If successful results are registered at the joint venture pilot plant, the companies will likely develop several fully operational battery recycling facilities.
Neometals’ market cap of AUS$103.44M bizarrely only equivalent to the company’s current cash reserves. They are equipped to make this happen technically and financially, and SGS brings all the contacts and cash to roll this out across Europe.
By partnering with a giant company like SMS Group, Neometals will secure contracts with vehicle manufacturers to provide large, stable quantities of feed-stock (scrap and end of life batteries) for their battery recycling plants. By establishing this robust supply, Neometals solidifies its dominance over traditional junior mining companies; there is nowhere near this level of certainty when mining underground resources.
In addition, Neometals will look to secure contracts to supply its >90% recovery of battery materials back into battery manufacturers. In my opinion, €5Bn SMS Group can confidently facilitate these arrangements, and can bankroll all aspects of the joint venture with confidence.
It is quite clear: by investing in Neometals, investors gain access to an undervalued, unique, proprietary solution that has the funding security investors wish for. The feedstock supply and market demand provide certainty, and the economics of the project provide junior mining upside but without the risks. The economics of the project also fit into the EV narrative in a way that junior miners have not yet been able to deliver on. By re-using surface-based material, Neometals reduces the costs, safety risks and environmental impacts associated with mining. The EV cycle now has an appropriate end, and it is an end that could make you a bucket full of cash.
The Neometals’ management team has pieced together an eco-system of people and partners. I am under no illusion; this team has a clear, solid plan for growth, with undeniable evidence of great success in the past. The company originally made their money with a lithium mining project, Mt Marion, in Australia, and timed their exit perfectly. They pocketed c.AU$140M, but more importantly returned c. AU$45M to shareholders. This is a team that clearly know what they are doing.
In conclusion, let’s start getting smarter with our investments. While conventional mining is always going to have the potential to make us money, why not consider alternatives that can mitigate risk and still provide excitement?
If you see something in this article that you agree with, or even disagree with, please let us know in the comments below.
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