Gold News

Gold Mining in West Africa

Opportunities and threats...

AFRICA has produced gold for thousands of years, in places like Ghana and neighboring countries whose names have changed over the centuries. One thing that has not changed is that there's still a huge amount of gold to be found and mined in West Africa, as Mark Lackey explains in this interview with The Gold Report. That's what he likes about the area.

The Gold Report: When you last spoke with The Gold Report this past March, gold had just dropped from its first peak of the year, from $1,781/ounce (oz) at the end of February to $1,660/oz in a matter of three weeks. What are you projecting from here? 

Mark Lackey: I'm looking at a range from $1,680/oz to $1,850/oz, and moving up over the year so that by December I am expecting to see the gold price at $1,850/oz.

TGR: But you don't see a big breakout past $2,000/oz that some people are predicting?

Mark Lackey: It's possible, but for the gold price to go much higher than $1,850/oz there needs to be a good reason, such as a big decline in the value of the US Dollar or major gold buying by central banks. While I expect the Dollar will weaken somewhat in 2013, I don't expect a huge decline. Over the next few years we'll get above $2,000/oz, but probably not in 2013.

TGR: What do you see as the market drivers for gold at this time? 

Mark Lackey: Significant trade and fiscal deficits remain in the United States and the country is continuing to use quantitative easing, which tends to lower the value of the US Dollar. Investors are going to look at the US Dollar and the Euro and decide that there are other financial options they would rather own. Some investors will buy gold as an investment alternative to paper currencies. 

In addition, I believe that jewelry demand will continue to increase as a result of the growing middle class in Indonesia, China and India. Those are the demand factors that will move the price of gold higher in the short run. We also anticipate that some of the gold projects that are expected to begin production in 2013 will be delayed due to regulatory and permitting issues and this will lower the supply of gold on the world market and therefore push up the price of gold. 

TGR: What's the next concern that might become the focus for precious metals investors? 

Mark Lackey: I don't think Europe's problems have gone away after allocating over $300 billion to Greece. We cannot count on Europe to have the kind of economic growth it once did, but as long as it doesn't crater dramatically, there's still going to be demand for gold and other commodities. I'm looking at a modest recession in Europe in 2013. I do think the Spanish banking system will be bailed out but as long as Spain's sovereign debt doesn't have to be bailed out, Europe will muddle through.

TGR: Despite the relative strength of gold over the past year, the performance of gold stocks has been pretty disappointing. When and how is the turnaround coming? 

Mark Lackey: If you look at the performance of the gold markets, the one area where we've actually made some good returns was in the mid-cap gold producers and near-term producers that did rally with the price of gold. The problem for many of the larger producers was that they didn't reach the production numbers that they had forecast and their production costs were also above what they had planned. Thus their earnings and cash flows were below expectations and this resulted in share prices that did not follow the rising gold price.

There are a number of smaller gold companies that do not have much cash left on the balance sheet and found it difficult to raise money in this past year so this prevents these companies from moving their projects forward. The Toronto Venture market has declined from a level of 2,450 in April 2011 to 1,200 at end of 2012, so it is not surprising that many junior mining companies have had a difficult time trying to attract new financing. Many of those companies saw significant declines in their share prices especially at the end of 2012 as they were hit by tax-loss selling. 

We believe that there will be share price appreciation in 2013 for those junior gold companies that still have money (or can raise it) and have good projects. We expect that with gold prices going higher in 2013, investors will be buying the well-run junior companies, especially those that may have declined or lagged behind in 2012 due to the overall market conditions.

TGR: Where do you see the best opportunities for investors in gold stocks these days?

Mark Lackey: We look at three or four factors when we try to make a decision on a gold company. We like to see an experienced management team with a project or projects in a jurisdiction that does not have significant political risk. We also look for companies that have a mining-friendly terrain and have access to transportation, power and water. We prefer the companies to be producers or near-term gold producers. We are concentrating, as we mentioned earlier, on mid-cap and junior companies that have cash in the treasury and are also looking for those companies that are potential takeover candidates. My company, CHF Investor Relations, has several clients in gold. 

TGR: Last time you talked mainly about companies active in Africa. We know there is lots of potential there, but it seems that there's also been some unrest lately that might cause concerns for some investors. How does the current picture look to you?

Mark Lackey: The gold opportunities tend to concentrate in West Africa, where three of the four countries, Senegal, Ghana and Burkina Faso, are quite stable by anybody's standards and have had no problems with political unrest or indigenization of resources. In Mali, the problem is with the Tuareg rebels and Islamists in northern Mali. The mining companies are in southern Mali, hundreds of miles away. 

Last month the UN Security Council voted to have 3,300 African troops sent to Mali to remove the rebels from the northern part of the country. The mining employees who we have talked to in Mali have told us that their mining operations have not been impacted, either in production or exploration, by the problems in the north. There have been problems in other parts of Africa, but we have been watching West African projects closely. CHF has no clients in West Africa, by the way.

TGR: Where do we go from here, and how should our readers be positioning themselves for what lies ahead in 2013?

Mark Lackey: As I said, CHF has a number of clients in gold, some low-cost producers, too, but generally speaking, in the gold sector, we would concentrate primarily on jurisdictions we like. West Africa has a lot of advantages compared to some of the more traditional mining areas. One factor is that it is easier to get mining permits compared to some of the jurisdictions in North and South America. West Africa is also flat and dry, has water, power, transportation and a good labor force. In addition, we want experienced management teams that have experience in the jurisdictions where they are exploring. 

TGR: Thanks for the updates, Mark, and we'll stay tuned and hope for the best in 2013. 

Mark Lackey: Thanks for the opportunity.

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