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Why Investors Should Stay Away from Exotic Gold Mining Stocks

New technology and a higher gold price means some US areas are getting a second look...

YOU DON'T have to travel the world to make money in Gold Mining stocks, according to Xeitel Capital Management founder David Sidders.

Sidders reckons Nevada has world-class geology, infrastructure and a mine-friendly legal system without the substantial risks of international resource development. In this interview with The Gold Report, Sidders discusses how to keep investments simple by staying close to home. 

The Gold Report: What is your overall strategy for gold-related investments at this time? 

David Sidders: As with any sector in the market right now, everybody is a bit cautious. There's risk in everything and around every corner. We have problems in Europe. We have problems in the US Investors are pulling in the reins, and money is tight. In this environment, I strongly prefer domestic operations in well-known, proven, mining-friendly jurisdictions. I don't need the additional political risk from overseas investing. 

The strategy is simple—stick with domestics. If you want something exotic, go order a Mai Tai at the bar. Investors aren't compensated for the risks involved in exotic mining investments at this time. Investors have been chasing rainbows in Africa and windmills in South America and lots of other fantasies when they could be focusing on domestic projects that are crushing rock, pouring ore and making profits in Nevada. 

TGR: Do you have a preference between exploration/development and production?

David Sidders: I like two scenarios here. I like smaller companies that are defining an ore body and building reserves. I also like producers that are increasing production and containing costs. Clearly, the companies that are looking to build mines—they already have this magnificent resource and now they need to come up with financing—are finding that the input costs and the capital expenditures (capex) are exploding. 

Even the majors are seeing cost pressure; some pretty big majors have dropped out of large capex projects. One strategy to deal with cost escalation is for the major to re-examine existing operations and see how it can run them better, perhaps on a smaller scale while adding to reserves. Another strategy would be to buy new blue-sky opportunities in proven jurisdictions. Not far off places like Ecuador or Mauritania, but somewhere closer to home, somewhere the company may have nearby operations. 

TGR: That brings us to Nevada, which you like, but Nevada is already a huge gold producer. Most of the majors are there and have been there for over 20 years, producing a lot of gold. Has all the low-hanging fruit already been picked? Could there be that much exploration upside? 

David Sidders: In Nevada, something like 24 metal mines and 24 industrial mines currently are in operation. So that's four dozen mines, and all the majors are there. There are more holes in Nevada than there are on a dartboard. That is not bad—it indicates that the ground is good. Many of those holes were drilled long ago; the technology has improved and Gold Prices are higher. Today's industry is different from 15 years ago. 

What is new in Nevada? One example of an area that is getting a second look is the Bullfrog Mining District. We're seeing some juniors working there now. One of the juniors has a resource of greater than 1 Moz Indicated and Inferred in the Bullfrog Hills. There is still exploration opportunity because the technology and the economics have improved dramatically since the area was first mined. The improvements are in addition to the well-known advantages that Nevada already has—low cost surface mining, ores that can be processed by chemical leaching and a favorable legal and tax system. There is a reason that Nevada produces 80–85% of all the gold in the US. 

TGR: The Nevada gold fields are concentrated in several trends: Battle Mountain Trend, Getchell Trend, Walker Trend and so on. The Bullfrog district is in the latter. Is it possible that some of these trends are relatively underexplored?

David Sidders: I think so. The capex of new mines in this area is low. 

TGR: What is your exit strategy for these types of investments? Could it be M&A or mine building? 

David Sidders: Mine building can be expensive, but it is one option. A faster, and probably better, exit strategy is to sell to a major that is already operating in the area and needs to replace reserves. The goal of the junior is to create value by proving up a great ore body and selling it to a major at a revalued price. 

TGR: Are there other domestic or North American areas that you're interested in?

David Sidders: I like Canada, and specifically Timmins. Everybody likes Timmins. It's another jurisdiction with a 100-year history. All of the majors are up in Timmins and a whole string of juniors. To summarize, I like the blue-sky opportunities where we're drilling to prove up a resource for a smaller producer. At the same time, if the efficiency can be improved, a major might become interested and ideally become a bidder.

TGR: Is there money out there to finance permitted mines with a defined resource?

David Sidders: Sure there is. That money will come from the majors who want it. Once reserves have been defined, they have lots of cash. If the majors are passing on big projects, they still need to replace their reserves. If a major passes on advancing a Donlin Creek-sized project, that's a lot of money that can be reallocated to something that's already running or a resource that's a little closer and a little simpler to bring to fruition.

TGR: Over the past couple of years, there have been a lot of investors who thought they had lay-ups. But the junior sector moved sideways or down. How do you deal with the investing psychology in the junior sector when the stocks trend sideways or down—for what seems like forever? 

David Sidders: You have to remember, last year things got very low, and they bounced. The conditions are, again, where we're getting oversold here. People are nervous and people are throwing out value, and they're doing it almost irrationally and for comfort. But at some point, we'll start to see a little M&A. We've already seen some companies try to merge with one another to keep things going. We've seen some acquisitions, and I think that will increase as we go into the fall. Once the risk appetite returns, we're going to definitely see first these domestic companies take off and then, later on, the companies operating in far-flung jurisdictions should get a bid as well. Prices are getting so cheap.

TGR: It feels as if we're in a holding pattern macroeconomically as well as in the sector. It could be the summer doldrums. Maybe things will get a little bit more exciting in the fall. 

David Sidders: There's an election coming up. There are problems with Europe. If there is a convincing victory in the election in the US, money is going to come back into the market. Equities are cheap, and these gold equities are cheap. They're trading for $35–40/ounce in the ground. At some point, everything becomes so cheap that they become acquisition targets. 

TGR: Do you have any closing thoughts? 

David Sidders: Keep it simple. Just keep it simple for the next little while. Stay domestic. Avoid unnecessary risk. You don't need Nigeria or New Guinea in your portfolio. 

TGR: And if you still seek more risk, there are plenty of casinos in Nevada as well.

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