Predominantly a silver explorer, Dolly Varden Silver’s (TSXV:DV, OTC:DOLLF) flagship project is located in the southern part of British Columbia’s Golden Triangle, an area well-known for its base and precious metals deposits.
The property hosts four historically active mines — Dolly Varden, Torbrit, North Star and Wolf — all have parts that remain unexplored to this day. More than 20 million ounces of high-grade silver have been produced from these deposits between 1919 and 1959.
Dolly Varden’s project lies to the west of Hecla Mining’s Kinskuch Project. It also borders Fury Gold Mines’ Homestake Ridge, which it acquired late last year to consolidate what it considers to be an emerging silver-gold district.
The consolidated project, named Kitsault Valley, is now among the largest, high-grade, undeveloped precious metal assets in Western Canada, with a combined mineral resource base of 34.7Moz silver and 166,000 oz gold in the indicated category.
Regional exploration and reconnaissance drilling also led to the identification of a large new porphyry copper-gold system that may be related to others in the Golden Triangle such as KSM, Treaty Creek, Saddle, Red Chris and Snowfield.
In December DV announced encouraging results from last year’s regional exploration and reconnaissance drilling on its 100% owned Dolly Varden project, which is host to two past-producing silver mines (Dolly Varden and Torbrit) and two other historically active mines (North Star and Wolf).
Encompassing 10 holes testing five regional exploration targets, the drill results demonstrated “excellent exploration and resource expansion potential on the property,” DV stated in the Dec. 10, 2021 news release.
Results are pending for the 21 holes drilled near Dolly Varden’s existing resource.
Dolly Varden Project
The Dolly Varden silver project comprises 8,800 hectares (88 sq km) in the Stewart Complex of northwestern BC, which is known to host base and precious metals deposits.
Dolly Varden project map
Mining activity dates back to 1910, when the original Dolly Varden Mine was discovered by Scandinavian prospectors.
In its early days, it was among the richest silver mines in the British Empire. The other deposit in the area to see production later was Torbrit, which, at one time, was the third-largest silver producer in Canada.
Historical records show these two deposits together have produced more than 20 million ounces of high-grade silver between 1919-1959, with assays as high as 2,200 oz (over 72 kg) per tonne.
Production subsequently ceased due to low silver prices, and the assembled property was eventually acquired by DV with a view to re-awakening the historical silver mine.
An updated NI 43-101 resource estimate completed by the company in 2019 revealed 32.9Moz silver in indicated resources and 11.477Moz inferred, for a total of 44Moz Ag, all adjacent to the historical deposits.
Drilling and underground work that went into the resource estimation confirmed that the mineralization occurs as two styles.
The first is VMS (volcanogenic massive sulfides) similar to that mined at Eskay Creek to the north. Once the highest-grade gold mine in the world, Eskay Creek produced 3.3Moz gold and 160Moz silver at average grades of 45/g/t Au and 2,224 g/t Ag respectively between 1994 and 2008.
The second is cross-cutting epithermal mineralization similar to that being developed at Pretium’s Valley of the Kings deposit (Brucejack Mine).
The southern part of the Golden Triangle is the least explored of all. Only 3% of Dolly Varden’s property has been explored in detail up until now, leaving plenty of potential discovery upside.
According to DV, both the Eskay Creek and Valley of the Kings deposits are located on the same structural trend to the north of the company’s ground. So, it is possible that Dolly Varden represents the southern end of a large silver district that extends northward.
To prove this, the company completed 40 drill holes (11,397m) in 2020, 19 of which were in the Torbrit area. The rest were reconnaissance and exploration drill holes, testing multiple areas on the property.
Highlights included 310 g/t over 6m, a stand-out 304 g/t over 45.82m, and 306 g/t over 5.10m. Higher-grade core within those intercepts featured 648 g/t over 6.06m, 1,595 g/t over 1.06m, and 1,290 g/t over 0.6m.
2021 drill results
Last summer, the company kicked off a surface diamond drill program on the Dolly Varden property. A total of 31 drill holes (10,506m) were completed during the 2021 field season.
This drill program was part of an aggressive two-year campaign to infill and expand the high-grade silver resource at the Torbrit deposit, and to test multiple highly prospective targets throughout the property.
The drill results encompassed 10 holes that tested five regional exploration targets on the property, including the Wolf Vein extension and Western Gold-Copper belt.
The highlight was drill hole DV21-273, which tested the southwest projection of the Wolf Vein, 94m down plunge from the current mineral resource at the Wolf deposit.
This hole intersected 1,532 g/t Ag, 0.44 g/t Au, 2.11 % Pb and 1.07% Zn over 1.22m, within a brecciated sulfide-rich quartz vein hosted within a broader pyrite stockwork breccia zone of 17.50m averaging 214 g/t Ag and 0.47% Pb.
The current resource estimate for Wolf is 3.83 million ounces of silver at 296 g/t in the indicated category. The deposit is located approximately 2 km northwest of the Torbrit deposit, which hosts most of Dolly Varden’s resources at 25 million ounces of silver indicated and 10.5 million ounces inferred.
Hole DV21-273 is also significant as it tested the prospective Hazelton volcanic rock that underlies the sedimentary units of the Upper Hazelton for the Wolf Vein extension.
Discovering that the strong potassic alteration associated with silver mineralization within the volcanogenic Torbrit deposit continues beneath the sediment suggests that the mineralizing system continues to the west of the 4.5 km long surface anomaly.
According to DV, this opens up the exploration potential of the entire bottom of the Kitsault Valley north of Wolf towards the property boundary and onto the Homestake Ridge property, which the company recently acquired from Fury Gold Mines.
Wolf is the northernmost deposit found at the Dolly Varden project. Modeling of the epithermal vein style deposit indicates a stepped vein system, offset by steep faults. The hanging wall has a strong barium signature and the veins contain barite and quartz. There are underground drifts at Wolf, but no historical production was reported.
Drilling at other silver prospects also returned promising results. At the Syndicate target, a near-surface vein in hole DV21-270 returned 126 g/t Ag and 1.31 g/t Au over 1.10m.
Hole DV21-272 was drilled to test the potassic alteration zone at Silver Horde, located approximately 900m north of Wolf. The structure returned 9.0m averaging 126.7 g/t Ag within the volcanic host.
In other exploration drilling, DV’s technical team is encouraged by long intervals of stockwork quartz with strongly anomalous gold (>100 ppb) over wide intervals (up to 303m) along with silver and copper at the Western Gold Belt area.
Hosted within early Jurassic volcanic rocks, this style of stockwork and alteration is analogous to numerous gold-copper deposits and mines found throughout BC’s Golden Triangle. These include KSM, Treaty Creek, Saddle, Red Chris and Snowfield.
Such a finding could be a game changer for DV, given it was previously positioned as a pure silver-focused explorer sitting on a high-grade, potentially bulk-mineable resource.
The Western Gold Belt is located on the west side of the Kitsault Valley and trends from near the Dolly Varden Mine northward for several kilometers towards Homestake Ridge.
According to DV chief executive Shawn Khunkhun, the strong porphyry-related gold-copper-silver indicators is perhaps the most significant exploration breakthrough on the property in years.
Therefore, the next phase of exploration drilling will prioritize connecting the historical mines and current deposits of the Dolly Varden trend with the deposits at Homestake 5.4 km to the northwest along the Kitsault Valley trend.
Of course, the high-grade silver intercept at Wolf is also significant, as it confirmed Dolly Varden’s resource expansion potential. Assays are pending for the 21 holes completed at the high-grade Torbrit and Kitsol Silver deposits.
The three metals Dolly Varden is exploring for, have all been posting gains of late. Gold and silver both rallied this week, as investors parked money in safe-haven metals on fears of inflation and geopolitical tensions, ahead of a Federal Reserve meeting Jan. 25-26. Gold gained $30, Wednesday, and silver climbed 3%. Copper rose for a third session on Friday, breaking above 10,000 a ton as investors fled a sliding stock market and sought protection against rising inflation, Reuters said.
Gold market update
As Kitco News noted, gold’s move up coincided with the Biden administration’s announcing $200 million in military aid to Ukraine, citing fears of a Russian invasion.
“And this follows on with reports over the weekend that the UK was providing military assistance to Ukraine. It’s just like a perfect mix here for gold prices in the very short term,” DailyFX senior strategist Christopher Vecchio told the precious news outlet.
Higher inflation numbers are adding to risk-off sentiment in the market, which is already pricing in rate hikes and the possibility of central banks making a mistake while tightening.
OANDA senior market analyst Craig Erlam believes that traders are inflation-hedging because they don’t think central banks are doing enough to bring prices down.
The US Federal Reserve, whose job is to keep unemployment in check and inflation (the Federal Funds Rate) in the “Goldilocks” zone of 2%, is telegraphing three interest rate increases of 0.25% each (1% at the high end of the range) this year.
The US Labor Department said that its Producer Price Index (PPI) rose 0.2% from November to December, bringing producer prices to a record-high 9.7%, the biggest calendar-year increase since data was first calculated in 2010.
The same report said US consumer prices increased solidly in December, led by gains in rental accommodation and used cars, culminating in the largest annual inflation rise in 40 years. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) surged 7% in the 12 months through December, which is the biggest year on year increase since 1982.
As we have argued, the Fed (and the Treasury) is between a rock and a hard place, the Fed can’t raise rates enough to combat high inflation because doing so will wreck the economy, and imo, the Treasury will soon struggle to find enough buyers for US government bonds because the real yields are so low, currently in all cases negative.
This practically guarantees the continuation of Fed bond buying (QE) despite the much-ballyhooed taper. As for raising rates, we proved that the Fed can’t do it, at least not at the levels required to beat current inflation, which even if covid-related supply chain issues get solved, leaves another 3-4% to deal with. (higher prices will, imo, stay with us for a long time due to persistent food inflation, wage/ salary increases due to a shortage of workers, a ragged energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables that has led to high natural gas prices, and climate change which has a negative effect on crops)
Then there is the debt problem. We’ve written extensively about the dangers of the mounting US debt load. Gold correlates strongly to rising debt to GDP ratios. The US’s debt to GDP currently sits at 127.3%.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) — both reliable sources — project a deficit of $1.3T in 2022, and every year until 2031. This severely constrains the Fed’s policy options.
Each interest rate rise means the federal government must spend more on interest, reflected in the annual budget deficit, which keeps getting added to the national debt, which is almost $30 trillion. We are talking about interest costs nearing a trillion dollars per year, when the deficit is accounted for.
Furthermore, the incentive for buying a US Treasury bill or bond is gone, the buyer’s purchasing power eroded by inflation.
The current Federal Funds Rate is .08%, but CPI inflation is 7%, giving a real (after inflation) Effective Federal Funds Rate (EFFR) of -6.94%. This is the most negative EFFR since 1954. The 10-year yield, which pays better interest, is -5.3% in real terms.
Negative real interest rates, as most gold investors are aware, are a strong buy signal for bullion.
The fact is nobody is going to want to buy US debt at 7% inflation. The Fed will continue to print money, buy bonds and keep interest rates below 1% for as long as it can — probably hoping that inflation will magically melt away — all of which is extremely positive for gold.
Silver market update
The Silver Institute predicted that global silver demand will rise to 1.029 billion ounces in 2021, up 15% from 2020 and exceeding a billion ounces for the first time since 2015.
In a November report, SI said every area of silver demand was forecast to rise in 2021, including a record amount of industrial demand despite ongoing supply issues.
“The recovery in silver industrial demand from the pandemic will see this segment achieve a new high of 524 million ounces (Moz). In terms of some of the key segments, we estimate that photovoltaic demand will rise by 13% to over 110Moz, a new high and highlighting silver’s key role in the green economy,” states a press release that accompanied the Silver Institute’s Interim Silver Market Review webcast.
Demand for silver used in brazing and solder is expected to improve by 10%, aided by a recovery in housing and construction.
Silver bars and coins will continue to hold investors’ interest, with the Silver Institute predicting that physical investment in 2021 will increase by 32% to 64Moz, pushing the year-on-year total to a six-year high of 263Moz. US bar and coin demand is expected to surpass 100Moz for the first time since 2015, while in India, physical investment in silver is expected to recover from last year’s collapse, and surge three-fold.
A major source of silver investment demand, exchange traded products, are forecast to see total holdings rise by 150Moz. Last January to November, silver ETP holdings increased by 83Moz, bringing the global total to 1.15Boz, within a whisker of 2020’s record-high 1.21Boz.
The supply picture for silver is especially interesting.
According to SI, “In 2021 mined silver production is expected to rise by 6% year-on-year to 829 Moz. This recovery is largely the result of most mines being able to operate at full production rates throughout the year following enforced stoppages in 2020 due to the pandemic.”
“Overall, the silver market is expected to record a physical deficit in 2021, albeit modestly. At 7Moz, this will mark the first deficit since 2015.”
Silver demand is only likely to strengthen, given its use in solder, solar panels, 5G, EVs, and printed and flexible electronics — not to mention steady investment demand in the form of physical silver (bars & coins) and silver-backed ETFs.
Remember, less than 30% of silver production comes from primary silver mines, with over half sourced from lead-zinc operations, and copper mines, meaning that silver’s fortunes are tied to other industrial metals.
The prices of zinc, lead and copper have all done quite well, rising a respective 37%, 16% and 24% from a year ago.
Copper market update
Copper is coming off a historic year during which prices broke records on not just one, but two, separate occasions, hitting $4.76/lb in mid-October after peaking in May.
During the first half of 2021, copper rallied off the back of a sharp recovery in economic activity across the world, led by top consumer China. Also pushing prices higher was the belief that pandemic-related stimulus, plus the global push for decarbonization, will further lift demand for the industrial metal.
That saw copper prices break the $10,000/t level towards the end of April, the first time that has happened in a decade, and eventually surged to a new high the week after.
Then in the second half, copper received yet another boost amid an energy crisis that affected several major producers and threatened global supply. In October, a surge in metal orders from warehouses in Europe saw LME inventories plunge by as much as 89%, to their lowest in 47 years.
All these events factored into copper’s record-breaking year, though many believe that the red metal is just getting started. Click to read AOTHs in-depth copper market analysis;
In two decades, copper producers must, at the minimum, double the current production of 20Mt to have a chance of coming close to meeting demand. This equates to one new Escondida mine (1Mt annual production) every year for the next 20 years!
While such a feat is difficult to achieve, finding the right investments in projects leading to copper discoveries would help to close the supply gap. According to CRU, the copper industry needs to spend upwards of $100 billion to erase what it estimates to be a 4.7Mt deficit by 2030.
We aren’t the only ones feeling bullish on copper. Goldman Sachs is reportedly forecasting copper will, on average, reach $5.39 in 2022 and $5.44 in 2023. The investment bank said it expects “extreme deficits” coming as soon as mid-decade, due to a lack of new development commitments, combined with accelerating growth in green demand.
“To solve the long-term supply gap copper faces, we would need to see close to 40 new average-sized copper mine projects being approved,” LiveWire quoted Goldman saying. “And as we all know, bringing forward a new mine of any description is getting harder to achieve in a timely fashion.” Indeed in some jurisdictions, getting from discovery to resource definition to commercial production, can take upwards of 20 years.
Snow may have blanketed the Golden Triangle of northwestern British Columbia, putting a temporary halt on all mineral exploration activities, but there is still plenty of news to come out of Dolly Varden’s namesake project. Assays are pending for the 21 holes completed at the high-grade Torbrit and Kitsol Silver deposits.
In the spring, when DV returns to the property with boots on the ground, we expect to see continued investigation of the Dolly Varden project targets, including the Wolf Vein extension and Western Gold-Copper belt.
Also likely to be a priority is the connection between the historical mines/ current deposits of the Dolly Varden trend, and the deposits at Homestake Ridge 5.4 km to the northwest along the Kitsault Valley trend.
Readers stay tuned; this is a company we’ll be watching closely.
Dolly Varden Silver Corp.
Shares Outstanding 130.6m
Market cap Cdn$98.1m
Richard (Rick) Mills
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