As we look forward to a new year, a number of investable themes jump out to us at Ahead of the Herd.
The first is inflation and precious metals, namely gold and silver.
Earlier this month the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) forecasted three quarter-point rate increases in 2022, after holding borrowing costs near 0% since March 2020.
The Fed is reacting to higher-than-expected inflation which officials previously argued would fade as supply chain pressures owing to covid-19 eased. Instead inflation has soared, with the US Consumer Price Index reaching a 40-year high of 6.8%, fanned by a continuation of the pandemic, supply chain bottlenecks and strong demand for goods and services amid unprecedented fiscal and monetary policy support.
But, raising rates by up to 1% will not stop inflation.
Skyrocketing prices of everything from meat and eggs to dairy and pasta, both in Canada and the United States, is only partially due to supply chain disruptions. Food inflation is also being driven by record-high fertilizer prices and climate change.
Higher temperatures lower crop production, droughts like we experienced this past summer ruin crops and cause feed prices to soar, leaving ranchers no choice but to cull their herds. The prices of staple crops like corn, wheat and soybeans have all tracked higher.
Depleted natural gas inventories in Europe along with nuclear power plant closures have sparked an energy crisis there, with electricity prices in several EU countries hitting record highs.
Geopolitical tensions are also playing into the energy crunch. There is the potential for Russian gas destined for Europe to be curbed or halted completely if Russia invades Ukraine. A conflict could also further delay the start of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline linking Russia and Germany.
A 34% jump in energy prices is among the key drivers of 40-year-high US inflation.
Natural gas prices haven’t risen nearly as high (we are talking about European natural gas import prices being over six times higher than the US Henry Hub spot price), but motorists have been dealing with elevated gasoline prices all year.
At $3.39 a gallon, as of this writing, the US retail price of gas is the highest since the fall of 2014, driven by a sharp drop in oil exploration investment. This is making it hard for drillers to react quickly to an improving economy.
The trend of investing in renewable energy vs traditional oil & gas means that without fresh capital inflows, oil production could fall by 30 million barrels a day by 2030. With many parts of the world still dependent on oil and gas for heating fuel and transportation, keeping the demand for crude high, oil prices could remain buoyant for the next several years.
Our research into the gold to oil ratio found there is a strong correlation between oil prices and gold prices.
Food inflation will continue to be a problem as long as covid-19 continues to rattle supply chains and as crops wither under global warming-caused droughts. Forest fires and flooding from unusual weather events also threaten to damage crops, making it difficult for farmers to meet their yields. Higher agricultural commodity prices and the rising costs of farming inputs like fertilizer and diesel fuel, get passed up the supply chain and eventually hit grocery shoppers in the wallet.
Climate change is also causing water problems at mines, where it is needed for processing minerals. For example in Chile, the government closely monitors the water supply in the arid north where most of the big copper and lithium mines are, and has stepped in to impose water restrictions when necessary. This can exacerbate existing metal shortages.
Many industries are still dealing with supply-chain backups from the first iterations of the coronavirus pandemic. Now with the omicron variant spreading worldwide, and new restrictions being imposed, it is likely that gummed-up supply chains will continue to push inflation higher. As well, there is the strong possibility of a fourth round of direct stimulus payments being sent to American citizens, adding to the half a trillion dollars in “stimmies” that is helping to fuel economic growth, and inflation. From a pandemic-related low of USD$11,756 billion in July 2020, consumer spending which makes up two-thirds of US GDP, has risen to $13,723B, a huge increase of 16%.
At AOTH we don’t see these inflation causes improving anytime soon. In our opinion we see nothing but positives for gold going forward, given the Federal Reserve’s inadequate response to rising inflation which is not longer seen as temporary, or transitory, but a more “sticky” feature of the economy.
The longer that energy, food and transportation prices, three main components of the CPI, remain elevated, the better it is for gold, the oldest and arguably the most successful hedge against inflation. Higher inflation combined with continued low interest rates (the Fed is severely constrained in how much it can raise rates due to ballooning interest payments on its $29 trillion national debt) should ensure negative real rates, always a strong buy signal for gold investors.
Gold is also expected to remain at elevated levels due to rising geopolitical tensions, from which it functions as a safe haven, and socioeconomic divisions made worse by the pandemic.
There are a number of hot spots in the world today that could easily flare up into a conflagration that escalates into a shooting war or even the nightmare scenario of missiles being launched.
They include the ongoing threat of war between North and South Korea that would draw in the United States; tensions between the US, China and its neighbors over Taiwan; a migrant crisis in Belarus that Ukrainian officials believe is a ruse invented by Russia to stage an invasion of Ukraine; and most recently, a high-altitude military buildup on the China-India border, where India is rushing construction of a series of new tunnels and roads.
Our second investable trend is the electrification and decarbonization thesis.
The shift to renewable energy and the electrification of the global transportation system doesn’t happen without a major push to mine more metals. Copper for electric vehicle motors, charging stations and electrical transmission lines; lithium for Li-ion batteries; and graphite for the anode part of the battery are in high demand, and the need for them is only going to increase, as governments push for stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit global temperature rise.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (NEF), by 2030 consumption of lithium and nickel will be at least five times current levels, demand for cobalt used in EV batteries will be 70% higher, and copper, manganese, iron, phosphorous and graphite — all needed in clean energy technologies and to expand electricity grids — will see sharp spikes in demand.
High demand is occurring at the same time as a supply crunch is taking hold, particularly for copper, lithium and nickel, which is shoring up prices and driving the valuations of deposits containing these metals higher.
The prices of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide, both used in the Li-ion battery cathode, have soared this year on break-neck demand and tight supply. Benchmark Mineral Intelligence forecasts lithium demand to more than triple between 2020 and 2025, rising to an annual million tonnes and out-pacing supply by 200,000 tonnes.
Without graphite, there will be no energy revolution and the trillion-dollar EV market might not exist, which is why Oilprice.com believes that graphite could be the hottest commodity of 2022.
The EV battery market alone is projected to consume well over 1.6 million tonnes of flake graphite per year, resulting in a 10-fold increase in demand by 2030. This is worrisome considering that total graphite mined in 2020 for all uses, including lump graphite for pencils and graphite used in nuclear reactors, was only 1.1 million tonnes.
Of the 89 million vehicles IHS Markit expects to be sold in 2030, it predicts 23.5 million will be electric. That means a soaring market for graphite. Graphite serves as the anode in lithium-ion batteries and is also used in electronics and portable tools. The average EV requires up to 70 kg of graphite. A Tesla Model S needs even more. Every million EVs require around 75,000 tonnes of natural graphite.
In September 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast that the electric mobility and low-carbon energy sectors would demand 25 times more graphite per year by 2040 than today. Even in 2019, the USGS was predicting a supply squeeze.
Because the US has no graphite mines, domestic manufacturers import all raw and processed materials. In 2020, US manufacturers imported 41,000 tons. That number pales in comparison to present and future needs.
It is estimated that the natural flake graphite market could reach a deficit as soon as 2023, with few new sources being developed around the world.
Supply challenges for energy and battery metals are being made worse by the various iterations of resource nationalism. As governments around the world demand more for extracting their resources, for example through in-country ore beneficiation (Indonesia), export restrictions (China), and higher royalties (Chile, Peru, the US) the higher costs to mine are reflected in more expensive metal prices.
Our third investment thesis relates to pollution abatement. While there is little we can do to stop climate change — the Earth will continue to warm, through natural cycles and human-caused temperature rise — there are technologies we can embrace that clean up our planet. Plastic pollution in particular is a relentless and seemingly intractable scourge on society, however one of our six companies has a solution.
Appearing in no particular order, these are our six for ’22:
Max Resource Corp (TSXV:MXR, OTC:MXROF, Frankfurt: M1D2) – Within an underexplored region of northeastern Colombia, Max has not only been finding high-grade copper zones at its flagship CESAR property, but expanding these areas, confirming the potential existence of a massive copper-silver system comparable to the biggest in the world.
Max interprets the sediment-hosted stratabound copper-silver mineralization in the Cesar basin to be analogous to both the Central African Copper Belt, which contains nearly 50% of the copper known to exist in sediment-hosted deposits, and the Polish Kupferschiefer, Europe’s largest copper source.
For over a year, the company has not only been finding high-grade copper/ silver zones but expanding these areas to confirm this hypothesis. To date, five copper discoveries have been made along a 90-km-long copper-silver belt, demonstrating its significant regional potential.
CONEJO stands out for the grades Max is achieving there. The zone now extends over 3.3 km of strike with average grade of 4.9% copper using a 2% cut-off — unheard of these days when copper grades over 1% are considered excellent. CONEJO doesn’t appear to have the same amount of volume as the URU zone but the high grades suggest it wouldn’t need as much volume to delineate a resource. (Watch a video about CONEJO exploration and mineralization)
URU’s grades are a little lower than CONEJO’s but the mineralization Max is encountering suggests it could have scale.
Max’s goal is to partner up with a major to begin drilling at CESAR. Interest so far has been strong, with multiple non-disclosure agreements in place to advance the project, including a collaboration agreement with an industry-leading copper producer. There have been three field visits to the site from undisclosed parties, with a fourth one in the works.
The company has been granted four mining concessions at URU — a crucial step for first drilling, expected to take place in the first quarter of 2022.
Max Resource Corp.
TSXV:MXR, OTC:MXROF, Frankfurt:M1D2
Shares Outstanding 86.3m
Market cap Cdn$19.6m
Cypress Development Corp. (TSXV:CYP, OTCQB:CYDVF, Frankfurt:C1Z1) — Cypress has a sizeable lithium deposit in Nevada from which they aim to produce lithium hydroxide, the preferred lithium product for EV batteries. They see themselves profiting from a lithium market segment that is expected to see high demand and potential shortfalls in coming years, especially in North America as the production of battery cells and electric vehicles ramps up.
Cypress’ Clayton Valley lithium deposit would be mined from neither brine nor hard rock, but claystone. An average production rate of 15,000 tonnes per day to produce 27,400 tonnes LCE annually over a +40-year mine life means the project stacks up extremely well against any of the 10 deposits listed here. The company, in our opinion, is extremely undervalued, having already completed a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) and a prefeasibility study (PFS).
Most recently attention has focused on a pilot plant the company is running to test its lithium extraction process.
According to Cypress, the plant will provide essential data for a planned feasibility study and enable the company to produce marketing samples to support negotiations with potential offtake and strategic partners.
In November the company reported the launch of extraction testing of lithium-bearing claystone, with test work ongoing utilizing chloride-based leaching combined with the Chemionex—Lionex process for Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE).
The company just completed a 7-day continuous run at the pilot plant, operating at is designed feed rate of one tonne per day of lithium claystone.
If Cypress is able to prove, at its pilot plant, that it can make lithium hydroxide at reasonable cost, and can scale it up, it will be a huge coup for the company and will shift the goal posts for the lithium industry at a time when the industry is in dire need of finding a way to add significantly more supply to balance out explosive demand for battery-grade lithium.
Cypress’ very successful year, in terms of news and goal completion, has been noticed by the market. CYP shares hit a 52-week high of $2.54 on Nov. 15. Though the stock has slipped back in recent weeks, we expect continued progress at the pilot plant and other milestone completions will return CYP to its previous heights. Industry interest has been strong and we fully expect to see a buy-out before the end of 2022.
Cypress Development Corp.
TSXV:CYP, OTCQB:CYDVF, Frankfurt:C1Z1
Shares Outstanding 126.6m
Market cap Cdn$236.8m
Graphite One Inc. (TSXV:GPH, OTCQX:GPHOF) — Graphite One is planning to develop America’s first high-grade producer of coated spherical graphite (CSG) integrated with a domestic graphite resource at Graphite Creek, Alaska.
Currently there are no producing graphite mines in the United States The fact is, for the US to develop a “mine to EV” supply chain, it currently has no choice but to import its raw materials from foreign countries. For battery-grade graphite, that means China, which has a monopoly on graphite processing.
In February President Joe Biden signed an executive order (EO) aimed at strengthening critical US supply chains. Graphite was identified as one of four minerals considered essential to the nation’s “national security, foreign policy and economy.”
Being granted a High-Priority Infrastructure Project (HPIP) designation allows Graphite One to list on the US government’s Federal Permitting Dashboard, which ensures that the various federal permitting agencies coordinate their reviews of projects as a means of streamlining the approval process.
Graphite Creek is the highest-grade and largest known flake graphite deposit in North America, spanning 18 km.
The project is envisioned as a vertically integrated enterprise to mine, process and manufacture CSG for the lithium-ion electric vehicle battery market. Graphite One aims to become the first US vertically integrated domestic producer to do so.
The latest resource estimate (March 2019) for Graphite Creek showed 10.95 million tonnes of measured and indicated resources at a graphite grade of 7.8% Cg, for some 850,000 tonnes of contained graphite. Another 91.9 million tonnes were tagged as inferred resources, with an average grade of 8.0% Cg containing 7.3 million tonnes.
A preliminary economic assessment (PEA) envisions a 40-year operation with a mineral processing plant capable of producing 60,000 tonnes of graphite concentrate (at 95% purity) per year.
Once in full production, Graphite One’s proposed graphite products manufacturing plant — the second link in its proposed supply chain strategy — is expected to turn graphite concentrates into 41,850 tonnes of battery-grade coated spherical graphite and 13,500 tonnes of graphite powders per year. A location in the Pacific Northwest is being considered.
2021 has been a good year for GPH shares. The stock hit a one-year high of $2.39 on Nov. 18, a pinnacle we expect it to re-claim in 2022 given the amount of investor interest in graphite.
Remember, without graphite, there is no electrification and decarbonization shift, meaning that graphite could be the hottest commodity of 2022.
Graphite One Inc.
Shares Outstanding 81.5m
Market cap Cdn$162.6m
Freegold Ventures (TSX:FVL, OTCQX:FGOVF) — A large, bulk-tonnage gold project with significant room for expansion, Freegold’s flagship Golden Summit property is a 30-minute drive from Fairbanks, the second-largest city in Alaska.
In 2016 Freegold completed a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) for a conceptual pit using a 0.30 grams per tonne cut-off grade, and demonstrated 2,947,000 ounces of gold at an average grade of 0.69 g/t.
The study showed that just this small part of the deposit would produce 98,000 ounces gold per year for 24 years, with peak production of 150,000 ounces at a cash cost of $842/oz using only a $1,300 gold price.
The PEA also indicated that the first phase of production postulates a heap leach operation for the oxide ore (as did the Fort Knox comparison which sits 5 km southeast) with estimated capital costs of only $88 million that would last for 8 years. There are 528,000 ounces in the first phase of oxide production at an average grade of 0.63 grams per tonne gold.
Over 23,000 meters in 43 holes has been completed since drilling restarted in February.
2021 drilling focused on the Cleary-Dolphin area, with approximately 40,000 meters planned in 80 holes. The program continues to test Freegold’s hypothesis that there is potential for a higher-grade corridor of mineralization that may extend from the area of the old Cleary Hill mine workings towards the Dolphin intrusive.
Infill drilling to upgrade and expand the existing resource categories is also being undertaken as well as cultural resource and environmental baseline work aimed at advancing the project through pre-feasibility.
Results for the first two holes of the 2021 program were released in June.
Hole GS 2101, drilled northeast of the contact with the Dolphin intrusive, continued to show very broad zones of greater than 1 g/t mineralization, with significant sections grading better than 1.5 g/t.
Hole GS 2108, drilled on the northern side of the Tolovana vein zone, intersected 41.1 meters of 3.99 g/t Au, within a broad zone of 296.3 meters grading 1.4 g/t Au.
In August, results from a further six holes (3,628.4 meters) were released, again intersecting mineralization above the resource grade. Hole GS 2122 intersected 2.94 g/t gold over 111.2 meters, and hole GS 2121 returned 609 g/t over 1.1m.
Visible gold was also identified in GS 2122 within narrow veins less than 20 cm wide, and in several other holes drilled in the vicinity of the Tolovana vein zone. Samples were taken and assays are pending.
The latest two holes from the ongoing drill program highlighted 12.9 g/t over 3.0m in the Cleary zone and 0.83 g/t over 310.9m in the Dolphin zone, including 16.3 g/t and 12.5 g/t over 3.1m.
FVL in 2021 went unrecognized by the market. However, this is a multi-billion-dollar asset trading at a hundred-million-dollar market cap, 1/20th of what it should be.
We see substantial upside to the stock price. If the deposit is drilled off properly and enough step-out drilling is done to expand it, Freegold could easily be sitting on 10 to 20 million ounces.
Freegold Ventures Inc.
Shares Outstanding 337,499,366
Market cap Cdn$118.7m
RooGold Inc. (CSE:ROO, OTC PINK:JNCCF, Frankfurt:5VHA) — New South Wales has become a focal point of Australia’s gold mining industry. The state’s gold endowment is said to exceed 100 million ounces, plus about a billion ounces of silver.
Coming off a series of property transactions this year and a recent name change (formerly JNC Resources), RooGold is uniquely positioned to be a dominant player in New South Wales through a growth strategy focused on the consolidation and exploration of highly mineralized precious metals properties in this prolific region.
Through its acquisition of Southern Precious Metals Ltd., RooGold Ltd. and Aussie Precious Metals Corp. properties, RooGold now commands a portfolio of 13 gold and silver concessions spanning 1,380 square kilometers, and is home to 137 historical mines and prospects.
Mineralization across all these properties is associated with significant, largely untested regional structures or contacts, on which gold and silver endowment is underpinned by historical mining activity, thus providing excellent discovery potential.
In addition, ROO has four silver properties covering a total of 289 km² and 31 historic gold-silver mines and prospects, also located within the prolifically mineralized but relatively underexplored New England Orogenic Terrane.
ROO’s initial exploration focus will be on the Peel-Manning gold and Castle Rag silver properties. To fund its activities, RooGold successfully secured in October a first-tranche financing of C$2.63 million.
The board members and senior management/advisors all have significant and demonstrated capital markets experience, with a proven track record of adding shareholder value. A notable figure on its advisory board is Dr. Quinton Hennigh, who for over 25 years has led exploration teams for Homestake Mining Company, Newcrest Mining and Newmont.
Dr. Hennigh is currently founder, chairman and president of Novo Resources; founder and director of Irving Resources; and director of New Found Gold. He also holds the position of geological and technical director at Crescat Capital LLC, an award-winning global macro asset management firm based in Denver, Colorado.
Crescat recently became a strategic shareholder in the company, and will provide expertise regarding RooGold’s exploration and development strategy, along with other geological and technical matters, with the support of Dr. Hennigh.
CSE:ROO, OTC PINK:JNCCF, Frankfurt:5VHA
Shares Outstanding 34.7m
Market cap Cdn$13.9m
Evanesce – Headquartered in Vancouver, Evanesce designs and manufactures sustainable packaging solutions using the latest advancements in material science. The still-private company’s plant-based packaging alternatives, which decompose in 90 days or less, are set to disrupt the industry. Its goal is to eliminate single-use plastic and Styrofoam waste in food packaging, which takes 500 years or more to decompose.
At AOTH, we have long maintained that plastic is a scourge of modern society. In our quest to keep products fresh and safe before sale, we have over-done it. In most Canadian cities, one can’t go to a mainstream grocery store without being loaded up with plastic along with your weekly shop. Many products sport multiple layers of packaging.
Clearly this is an idea whose time has come.
In its corporate presentation, Evanesce notes that 40% of global plastic waste comes from packaging, and less than 10% of US plastic has been recycled since 1950.
Evanesce’s 100% plant-based, 100% compostable Molded Starch technology can be molded into diverse range of products including meat trays, cups, food containers and five-section meal trays. Best of all, they cost half of other eco-friendly alternatives.
Its biopolymers are cheaper than paper, better than plastic and BPI-certified compostable. Its range of food service products are made with high-quality 100% plant-based resins and include straws, cups, lids, bowls, plates, cutlery and more.
In October Evanesce opened its first US production facility in Hampton County, South Carolina, where it will produce eco-friendly food service products using renewable resources such as corn starch. The 15,000-square-foot facility has the ability to manufacture millions of compostable straws per day. A second plant is planned for northern Las Vegas, Nevada.
A C$10-million financing that closed in November is the second round of funding this year — the first round was in February — bringing the total capital raised to over C$15 million.
The rapidly expanding sustainable packaging market is expected to reach over US$1.2 trillion by 2028. As a solution to replace single-use plastics and Styrofoam in food services and packaging, Evanesce’s business model includes manufacturing, licensing, collaborative partnerships and joint ventures to accelerate the adoption of compostable plant-based solutions.
All six companies fit within one of our three investment themes detailed above, and we believe the high-quality management teams behind each are set to deliver attractive shareholder gains in 2022.
Long lasting inflation, continued low interest rates (<1%) and geopolitical tensions will propel gold (and silver) prices higher. Gold juniors in safe jurisdictions with deposits that are high-grade, scalable and near surface, are poised to do well. Two of our top picks are Freegold Ventures and RooGold, and there are other high quality management teams w/ imo world class projects on my site. Check the front page for details.
Battery metals that feed into the global trend of decarbonization & electrification underpin our second group of companies we think are going to deliver outsized gains in 2022. Cypress Development Corp has an outstanding lithium claystone deposit in Nevada, picked as the best jurisdiction in the world for mining investment by the Fraser Institute. Its currently running pilot plant is being closely watched by potential partners and acquirers. Cypress is one of the few advanced-stage lithium juniors without an offtake agreement.
The United States currently has no operating graphite mines but we happen to have the company with the largest and highest-grade flake graphite deposit in the country. It is my opinion that Graphite Creek will become a mine and I offer the following as evidence:
Note that Graphite One is not only aiming to produce graphite and supply much of what the US needs, but process it in-country, making the company a crucial link in a domestic mine to battery to EV supply chain.
Max Resource Corp is developing a huge copper-silver project in northeastern Colombia with the potential to rival two of the largest copper-silver districts in the world — Kupferschiefer and the Central African Copper Belt. The project which is being closed watched by major mining companies, could help to supply the copper market which is looking at a multi-year structural deficit. Copper is one of the most important metals for electrification & decarbonization, and so is silver, used in a multitude of industrial applications including solar power.
Last but not least, we have Evanesce, poised to disrupt the global packaging market with a range of compostable products that we predict will be embraced by a public hungry for alternatives to plastic pollution.
2022 should be a great year for AOTH companies especially the above-mentioned six and we look forward to bringing you news about each as they move their projects forward.
Richard (Rick) Mills
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Richard owns shares of Max Resource Corp (TSXV:MXR), Cypress Development Corp. (TSXV:CYP), Graphite One Inc. (TSXV:GPH), Freegold Ventures (TSX:FVL), RooGold Inc. (CSE:ROO) and Evanesce.
MXR and GPH are paid advertisers on his site aheadoftheherd.com