By Louis James, Chief Metals & Mining Investment Strategist
I’ve always wondered why we tend to glorify pirates and treasure hunters: the Indiana Joneses, the Jack Sparrows, the Long John Silvers. I think it’s because most people, while it may not be reflected in their daily lives, are adventurers at heart.
Don’t we all dream of digging a hole because we just know there’s something there, and hearing that telltale clunk of our spade striking the lid of a treasure chest filled with gold doubloons?
Fact is, the precious metals mining sector—although by many derided, as Doug Casey says, as a “choo-choo” industry—is one of the last bastions where wannabe daredevils can still dream big.
Luck—But Not Dumb Luck
Most of the companies my subscribers and I invest in are explorers looking for gold, silver, and other metals.
Of course today there’s a lot of science involved in finding those modern treasure troves. That includes the latest technologies, like XRF guns, to assay rock samples right in the field. And some geologists just have that spot-on intuition about how mineralization twists, turns, plunges, thickens, pinches out, breaks off, and reappears.
However, we can’t—and shouldn’t—underestimate the role of luck in every discovery. Mother Nature likes to hide her treasures well, plant false clues, and bury them deep. That’s what makes the treasure hunt so exciting, difficult, and ultimately (when successful) profitable.
Here’s a secret that most mainstream investors don’t know: There are literally thousands of mineral exploration companies, and MOST of them will never discover anything.
The money these companies raise in the market will be poured into the ground, and chances are that it won’t ever do any good.
This is what makes identifying companies likely to make a significant discovery so difficult—and therefore so enormously profitable when you do.
When an exploration company goes from having nothing to having proven and probable mining reserves of calculable value, share prices can go through the roof… pennies turn into dollars… and dollars into fortunes.
I love being part of the discovery process; especially when the mine gets built and creates new jobs, usually for people who desperately need them—not to mention the metals our civilization depends on.
Windfalls: A Trade of Many Baskets
This is all very exciting, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the part stock promoters don’t like to talk about.
The outcome of most exploration projects is binary—it’s either something or nothing, just as one can’t be a little bit dead or pregnant—and the odds of failure vastly outweigh the odds of success.
I’m not going to lie to you: Even when you’re backing the most serially successful people in the business, with good prospects and plenty of money to go after them, there’s no guarantee that every one of their projects will pan out.
So how do legendary investors like Doug Casey hit home runs speculating on early-stage exploration companies?
They do it by adopting a “large basket” approach, speculating on a best-of-the-best selection of early-stage penny-stock picks. Some of these stocks will go nowhere, make marginal gains, or become complete write-offs, but others will double, triple, or yield higher multiples.
The occasional 1,000%-plus gain—what we call a “ten-bagger”—pays for all the rest, and then some.
Obviously they don’t come along every day, but 5,000% and even 10,000% gains are indeed possible by speculating in this way—though you have to be willing to take some losses if you’re going to reach for something so far out on the bell curve.
Lower-Risk Plays: Haves vs. Have-Nots
Mind you, not all exploration companies start from scratch. Sometimes a known discovery that didn’t quite make the cut can later turn into a profitable mine—due to new technology… by combining “splinter deposits” into one project with economies of scale… or simply due to higher metals prices.
Sometimes a new geological interpretation is all it takes, and voila, an old discovery of little consequence magically transforms into a major deposit with very robust economics.
In some cases, even better management has turned a disappointing dud into a highly profitable operation.
And, of course, you can bet on a team that has already made a discovery, proved it up, and is now building a mine… because proof on the bottom line usually results in a rerating that moves share prices up.
You see that there are many ways to speculate on the process of discovering, developing, and exploiting mineral resources.
Naturally, the higher the risk, the greater the reward when successful. If a mine is already under construction, or is in operation but being expanded, the result will be less spectacular but more reliable gains.
Which is a good thing, because it lets you choose which investment style is right for you (or maybe it’s a mix of high and low risk).
Remember, natural resource stocks tend to move in sync with the price of the underlying asset. When gold, silver, or copper jumps 2%, associated stocks will often jump 5% or more—which makes it possible for us to make multiples of our original investment.
Buy Low, Sell High.
Of course the reverse is true as well: when metals and minerals prices drop, share prices in companies that produce them drop even faster, as has been happening for the last two years in the resource sector.
This would be a disaster if we were talking about pet rocks, bell-bottom jeans, or cars with enormous tail fins, but we’re not; we’re talking about things without which life as we know it would be impossible.
No Metals = Stone Age
Even if some genocidal world government were to kill nine out of every ten people alive right now, without the use of metals those left would barely be able to hang on. It’s that simple. And that non-negotiable—regardless of what some environmental extremists may fantasize.
With the population of our planet getting larger every day and unlikely to stop growing anytime soon, nothing short of global nuclear war or a similar catastrophe can stop demand for metals from rising. (And if that happens, we’ll have more important things to worry about than stock prices.)
In other words: Investing in mining companies is, without question, one of the surest long-term bets you can make.
That means times when metals prices “correct”—as they are doing right now—should be seen as buying opportunities. Buy low, sell high.
It’s remarkable how hard it is for even those who understand this simple, fundamental formula for speculation to actually act on it.
When prices are low, there are always those who bought at higher levels warning of what a disaster the given investment is. It’s very hard to put up your hard-earned cash when you don’t know if a market has already bottomed or will bottom in the future.
There’s only one remedy for that kind of ailment: Don’t bother trying to time the market, but focus instead on buying value when you see it.
That’s why I pull on my boots whenever opportunity presents itself, and hop in a Jeep, a helicopter, on a horse, or a rickshaw to go check out an opportunity for our subscribers. Only after checking and double-checking that a company indeed has the goods do I recommend it to our subscribers.
Right now is a great time to jump in… because even top-quality mining companies with proven reserves are currently selling for pennies on the dollar.
And as there’s no way metals prices can stay depressed indefinitely, all you need is some patience to watch the best of the best miners succeed.