Don't ask Louis James if the gold price has reached bottom. He doesn't care. The senior editor with Casey Research is too busy trying to ferret out those gold miners with a bird in the hand, as he calls it in this interview with The Gold Report. He travels the world, most recently visiting Ethiopia, looking for companies with an overlooked story, an undervalued mine, an underappreciated grade. While James knows no one can time the market, he is quite certain he has found some good values.
The Gold Report: You warn investors against trying to time the market. If even experts don't know a bottom until it's behind them, how do regular investors know when to invest, when to buy the next tranches and when to cut losses?
Louis James: The wisdom of not trying to time the market is tried and true. Benjamin Graham said the same thing 60 years ago. I shouldn't have to defend this premise. Even though investors all know it, they fervently wish it weren't so -- they just can't help themselves.
You can't time the market. A bureaucrat in Washington can open his mouth and send the price of gold up or down 5% in an afternoon.
Fortunately, we can look for value. Value tends to be slippery in the junior sector when you have a bunch of companies that, as Doug Casey famously says, are little better than burning matches. They have no income. Even the biggest players in the field are so volatile that Benjamin Graham would never touch them.
However, there are things that we can look for. We can compare companies to their peers. We can look at the ounces in the ground and see if something is out of whack. We can look at cash in the bank. The market is so beat up now that some companies with viable projects are trading for cash or less. It's actually possible in a market this beat up to make relatively low-risk acquisitions.
TGR: You can't really tell when to buy, but you can tell which one to buy. What's the most important factor to look at when picking a stock?
LJ: I use Doug Casey's "eight Ps" formula. "People" is the first "P." The best projects can still be messed up if the wrong people run them. If you know the people involved have a track record unblemished by success, as Rick Rule likes to say, that's absolutely a warning, regardless of how cheap the shares are. Don't throw the fundamentals out just because it's on sale.
In fact, investors should start with themselves when evaluating any investment. Before they start buying shares, they need to determine what kind of investors they are. Risk-adverse investors probably want to stick with the producers. Investors after potentially big gains -- those tenbaggers, the 1,000% returns -- have to take a chance on early-stage, high-risk speculations.
TGR: Grade is important, but how does a regular investor reading a press release or a report on test results determine which are quality projects?
LJ: Grade is king for good reason. High-grade forgives many sins and makes many things possible. People also say that size is king -- that can also be true. I have been to projects that have very low grades and still make a lot of money, due to economies of scale.
Today, there's a great deal of skepticism about low-grade bulk tonnage projects. Companies have been taking write downs on projects that haven't worked out. Troubled projects are making headlines. There's a sentiment that low-grade bulk tonnage is out.
Investors want high-grade, but that's too simplistic. Large high-grade projects are very few and far between. There are not enough of those to sustain the industry.
I strongly urge readers not to throw the whole class of bulk tonnage out. You do need to be selective. If a company does a reasonable job and presents credible numbers in its economic studies, that does tell a lot.
TGR: You travel the world looking at investment opportunities and recently returned from Ethiopia. How do investors know what jurisdictions are safe?
LJ: There is no place that's completely safe. There have been adverse actions in Canada -- even in Québec. Nothing is sacred. However, at some level, price trumps risk. Yes, Africa, as a general rule, is higher risk than Canadian provinces are. That's the nature of the beast. The market often factors that into prices, but sometimes it overdoes the discount and that can be an opportunity.
A number of the countries in West Africa have been relatively stable: Ghana, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. The bad boy in the area is Mali, which unfortunately had military problems with rebels in recent memory, but those never affected the mining areas. The country just had a peaceful election. Negative headlines can be alarming, but it's a grave mistake to sell off everything in Africa just because one country had a problem.
For example, Eritrea and Somalia have garnered negative headlines recently, but, though nearby, Ethiopia is different. It does not deserve to be painted with the same brush. I did more than just look at projects. I walked the streets. I did man-on-the-street interviews. I haven't bought into any Ethiopia plays yet, but I came away quite impressed with the country, and am keeping my radar on, looking for targets.
TGR: You've spent a lot of time in Latin America. What catches your eye there?
LJ: French Guiana is an interesting, "off the radar" place. It has the same geology as West Africa and has been home to significant discoveries. French Guiana is not an independent country, but a department of France -- the regulators are in Paris -- which has shown a willingness to work with miners.
TGR: You've said before that you also like Colombia.
LJ: I like Colombia a lot because it was basically held off the market for decades due to the war there, making it a target-rich environment. That said, the country does have an active environmental movement, and you do need to take care to do things right.
TGR: Are there any countries that concern you?
LJ: Argentina has great mineral resources, but has become a very risky political jurisdiction, and Chile, once one of the most pro-mining countries in Latin America, has taken several turns for the worse recently. We wouldn't touch anything in Bolivia or Ecuador, and don't care much for most of Central America for mining.
We were quite concerned about Peru after the election of the current president, Ollanta Humala, because he used a lot of anti-mining rhetoric in his campaign. We completely exited all our Peru plays at the time. However, he's since turned out to be more practical than he sounded. Some projects are still on ice there, but mining isn't easy anywhere in the world and Peru does have a terrific mineral endowment.
TGR: What about farther north. What companies are promising in Mexico?
TGR: A country that doesn't get a lot of attention as a gold producer is Turkey. Does it have the geology to fit your profile of what can make money?
LJ: I would encourage investors to reconsider any negative attitudes they may have about Turkey because the country has shown that it is truly open to responsible mining. It has permitted eight major gold mines that have gone into production this cycle alone, including several owned by Western companies. There have been some protests unrelated to mining and some violence along the border with Syria in the news. However, the companies mining in Turkey are mostly far from those sources of tension, and have not been affected. If the market sees the place as higher risk than it is, that's an opportunity.
TGR: Any companies in Canada?
LJ: I also like ATAC Resources Ltd. (OTCPK:ATADF) [ATC:TSX.V], because it has sold off without any bad news from the company. It's up in the Yukon, which the market seems to have suddenly realized is remote. Of course, the Yukon is remote, but it's no more remote this year than it was last year. It's as if Mr. Market believes somebody has moved the Yukon farther up to the North Pole.
ATAC has been drilling into exceptionally high-grade stuff in multiple discoveries along it's very large Rackla property. It will take more drilling to prove all that up into NI-43-101-compliant resources with attractive economics, but the ingredients are there.
TGR: What advice can you give to investors who have been on this wild ride for the last year, looking for ways to protect or even grow their wealth in the current market?
LJ: Don't blink. Don't lose your courage. Do not sell just for portfolio balancing reasons or any other Procrustean approach. Gold is off, but don't panic. Don't realize losses you don't need to. Be disciplined.
This is an opportunity to average down. That can be a scary thing to do, but if your investment premises remain true -- gold is going higher, the company's story is still compelling, etc. -- averaging down is a necessary part of success. Let's say an investor buys something at $1/share, it drops to $0.50/share and goes back to $1/share -- the investor is merely back at the starting point and hasn't made anything. Suppose the investor averages down, buying an equal amount of the stock at $0.50/share. When it goes back to $1/share, the investor's average cost is $0.75/share. That's the way to come out ahead.
If it's a great stock, a great story, a great company run by great people and you believe the fundamental premise of rising metals prices going forward, don't be afraid.
TGR: Thank you so much for your time.
LJ: Sure, my pleasure.
This interview was conducted by JT Long of The Gold Report.
Louis James is the master of metals at Casey Research, where he's the widely read and well-respected senior editor of the International Speculator, Casey Investment Alert and Conversations with Casey. Fluent in English, Spanish and French, James regularly takes his skills on the road, evaluating highly prospective geological targets and visiting explorers and producers at the far corners of the globe and getting to know their management teams.
Louis James will be speaking at the Casey Research Fall Summit Oct. 4-6 in Tucson, Arizona, along with former presidential candidate and congressman Dr. Ron Paul, economist Dr. Lacy Hunt and The Crash Course author Chris Martenson. More information on the conference and conference audio is available here.
1) JT Long conducted this interview for The Gold Report and provides services to The Gold Report as an employee. She or her family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None.
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3) Louis James: I or my family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: ATAC Resources Ltd. I personally am or my family is paid by the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. The following companies have sponsored tables at the Casey Research Conference and/or purchased banner ads on the Casey Research site this year: First Majestic Silver Corp. I was not paid by Streetwise Reports for participating in this interview. Comments and opinions expressed are my own comments and opinions. I had the opportunity to review the interview for accuracy as of the date of the interview and am responsible for the content of the interview.
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Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.