Payback time? Fallback plan? Money in the bank? What would you ask the CEO of a company you were considering investing in? In advance of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in March, newsletter writers Keith Schaefer, Eric Coffin and Lawrence Roulston are bringing energy and mining companies together for a "meet the management" Subscriber Investment Summit in Toronto. In this interview with The Mining Report, the experts share their sometimes surprising responses to the state of the industry.
The Mining Report: Keith, in a recent e-mail to your subscribers, you mentioned that one of the secrets to successful investing is meeting the management. Would each of you share some of the questions you ask company heads to determine if they can be successful?
Keith Schaefer: I am very focused on paybacks. When a company drills a well, I want to know how long it takes for that well to pay for itself. In the larger oil sector, anything that has less than a two-year payback is good, but in the junior sector, where I play, payback needs to be no more than 15 months.
You could ask for the net back, or profit per barrel, or the net present value [NPV] or the production rate. But that doesn't matter as much as the payback-how fast you get that money back so you can drill another well. That is, by far, No. 1. The information that goes into that answer encompasses the answers to many other questions.
The other big questions are how much money the company has and how big a deadline it has. How much liquidity does the company have before management has to raise money again? Those would be questions I would ask management out of the gate.
TMR: Do the secondary questions inform the first question? If a company is well funded is the payback time as important?
KS: Regardless, I want to see a 12-15 month payback. If management tells me it has a two-year payback, and it's a really small company, that just doesn't work. If the payback is right, I'll ask how much the wells cost, and how much money is in the bank, because I can do some pretty simple math to figure out the next time the company will need to raise money. But if a company doesn't have a 15-month payback and is really small, I don't care to hear anything else about them.
TMR: Eric, what do you want to know?
Eric Coffin: Life is not so simple at Hard Rock Co., unfortunately. Obviously, how much money a company has is very important. It tells us how fast that company will need to go back to market.
But I need to know the background of management, and what kind of projects the management team has been involved with. I like to see that team members have had hands-on exploring experience. Some guys are very good at running exploration projects successfully, and others not so much.
I also want to hear about the target, the geological model, the upside if this works out and the fallback position if it doesn't. Most of the time, the fallback position is either secondary projects and/or cash in the bank, so the company can go look for something else. You need to get an idea of the scale potential. If a company has a $20 million [$20M] capex and is drilling for 200-300,000 ounces [200-300 Koz] gold equivalent, there's just not a lot of upside there. I want to see that, if management is successful, there's a significant amount of upside. Explaining the target gives me some comfort that management knows what it is doing.
TMR: When it comes to a fallback position, do you like to see companies with multiple projects in the pipeline, or would you rather see them focused on just one project?
EC: I like to see other projects in the pipeline. There is some truth to the idea that you can try to do too many things at once. If I see a company that constantly switches over to whatever is hot that week, I basically just ignore it. I like to see that company management has a concept and a philosophy, like "We look for copper-gold porphyries," or "We're focused on epithermal gold projects." I like to see other properties advancing to drill target stage while the main property actually is being drilled. That gives shareholders a stronger fallback position, because exploration isn't going to work out on most projects. That's just the math.
On the other hand, I like to see that a company has two or three projects it can fall back on, not 15 or 20, with management running around in circles. But if a company is focused on just one property, and if I really like the targets, I'm not going to be afraid of the company. I just know it comes with a bigger downside if the drilling doesn't work out. You have to understand that going in. If that's the case, the target has to be that much bigger.
TMR: Lawrence, what do you ask to determine whether a company will be successful?
Lawrence Roulston: Beyond all the basic questions about the financial situation, the project and management's background, which are all important, I need to know whether management has the drive and determination to overcome the endless obstacles on the road to success. You can only get that sense if you talk to the people behind the company; spend a bit of time and get to know them.
Unfortunately, this industry has evolved away from old-style compensation, where members of management had low salaries and big stock positions, thereby aligning their interests with shareholders. We've moved way too far toward big salaries. There are a lot of people out there who are more interested in protecting their salaries than in adding shareholder value. Those intangible, subjective measures are critical to determining if a company will be successful.
TMR: What do you want to see in a CEO's background? Would you rather see someone from finance/business, or a geologist?
LR: Mining requires some very specialized skills. A person also needs to be an entrepreneur. If someone has had a big success in the past, that can be a plus, but it's also really exciting to find the young guys who are going to be the stars of next year. Both business and geology are important. A good company needs a well-rounded team that can cover all the bases.
TMR: The three of you are putting together a Subscriber Investment Summit the day before the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada [PDAC] convention in March. You have picked a number of companies to present at the summit, and be available to talk to investors. The three of you will be there talking to investors and companies as well. Can each of you tell me why you picked the companies you did, and about the catalysts that make these companies worthwhile for investors?
KS: A company has a novel way of treating wastewater. In addition to purifying the water so it can go back into the ground, the company extracts every little bit of energy from that water. That means any kind of oil, animal or plant residue. The company has the ability to shake that residue out, chemically separate it and create fuel. So it gets paid to take in the wastewater, and it gets paid to sell the fuel. So far, the company has two operations up and running.
This process is new and looks to be very cheap. Management has a very aggressive growth program, so the proof is going to be in the pudding on this one very quickly. The company has a very exciting story that they're going to test within the next two quarters.
TMR: What are some companies that will be at the Subscriber Investment Summit?
KS: One of them is Manitok Energy Inc. (OTC:MKRYF) [MEI:TSX]. It is a conventional oil play with a lot of gas. Now that gas prices are starting to move up, the company has been given a huge bonus. Manitok has a lot of leverage because even at very low gas prices, its wells were paying out in 8 to 10 months. It still has very low valuation despite the fast payback, so it is something that investors should know about.
TMR: Does it also have an advantage because it has a conventional well and doesn't have to deal with the depletion rates that some of the fracking wells have had?
KS: That's right. You are looking at very low depletion rates compared to fracked wells. A tight shale well could decline 65% in year one; these guys are closer to 40%. It makes a big difference in how many times you can pay the well back over the course of the life of the well. It is a big advantage.
TMR: What other companies will be at the Summit?
KS: Entrec Corp. (OTC:ENTCF) [ENT:TSX.V] is a call on oil sands development and liquid natural gas [LNG] development. The company is holding its own doing oil sands work, but if the government in British Columbia gets its fiscal framework set for LNG, Entrec owns the largest crane company in northwest British Columbia, and would be a huge beneficiary. I think the company would be a top stock for a pop once LNG gets going.
TMR: Eric, you have a couple of companies you've invited?
EC: I have followed Nevsun Resources Ltd. (NYSEMKT:NSU) for years. I was pounding the table on this one pretty hard late last year, because it seemed like it was getting sold down with all the other gold stocks, even though Nevsun's Bisha mine in Eritrea was switching to copper production.
Bisha is a high-grade volcanogenic sulfide deposit. And the mine is very unusual in that it has gone from being a gold producer to being a copper producer; the company has gone below the supergene gold mineralization in the same deposit. It is different levels of weathering and oxidation. Nevsun is now into the supergene copper. It will be mining that for the next three or four years. The gold and copper are both very high grade. After that, Bisha will become a zinc mine, also very high grade. This thing generates tons of money.
Nevsun has had a good run in the last three to four months. Its stock has more or less doubled, up to about $4 now. But I expect Nevsun to produce 200 million pounds copper this year, with some gold added in. I would think its cash costs are going to come in below $1. It already has about $1.50/share in cash. It is generating tons of cash flow. It is paying a dividend. I think there's room for that dividend to be increased from $0.14 this year.
The other thing that's always possible is a move on the M&A side, because the company has the cash to buy up assets. I know management has been looking around for a couple of years. Part of the problem is that its own project is so good that management just doesn't run across many assets that look better. Nevsun is a solid base metal stock that I like quite a bit.
TMR: Eric, do you want to continue with another company?
EC: I cover a company called Reservoir Minerals Inc. (OTCPK:RVRLF) [RMC:TSX.V], which, along with its joint venture [JV] partner, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (NYSE:FCX), made a pretty amazing high-sulphidation copper-gold discovery in Serbia. They put out a resource estimate of 65 million tons [65 Mt] of 2.6% copper and 1.5 g/t gold. It's a really impressive discovery.
TMR: The Summit-where all of these companies are going to be in one place for investors to talk to-is being held in conjunction with PDAC. What are you hoping to hear at the conference? What trends will you be sharing with attendees?
LR: The mood is definitely picking up in the resource industry. We had a terrible couple of years, but interest is coming back. Most retail investors are shell-shocked. But the "smart" money-the veteran investors-are coming into the market now. The better-quality companies are already starting to move up on a fairly consistent basis.
Beyond that, there is a huge amount of money waiting in the wings. Part of that is U.S. private equity. These investors recognize the tremendous value to be found in the industry. We haven't seen a lot of deals announced yet, but they're looking at things. I think we're going to see a lot of money from that sector coming into the resource space over the next few months, which will contribute to what's already beginning to be an upturn for the industry. PDAC is a tremendous event. There are people from all over the world coming together in one place. Conferences are a very important venue, where investors can get face-to-face with the management teams.
TMR: Eric, are you looking forward to the same upbeat spirit?
EC: Yes. I am calling for 30%+ gains on the Venture this year. That sounds like a lot, but it is a speculative index. I pointed out to readers that for those gains to happen, all we really need is 10% of the companies on the Venture to do very well and carry the can for everybody. Another 20% will do reasonably well, and get financed along with the top 10%. Half of the companies will probably do nothing and, hopefully, a bunch of them will disappear. I'm quite happy to see some of the also-rans not around anymore.
Gold has reacted quite well to good news and bad news. The Chinese are strong in the market still. It looks like gold has put in a fairly important double bottom, and I think the Venture index has as well. I expect things to be a lot more optimistic. PDAC will be a chance to find out if management groups are building their own momentum. It's tough to stay on track when you've gone through three terrible years. But the management groups that have been able to hold things together and raise money are the ones that will come out of the starting gate fast.
TMR: Keith, is it the same story in energy?
KS: No, it's almost the opposite. I've been warning my subscribers that energy might be going into a trough. There is a lot of fear that ongoing production increases are going to cripple commodity prices, which would not be pleasant. I tried to a pick a group of companies that either have the teams or the assets-or both-that can make it through any bottoming that we might see in the cycle later this year.
TMR: Thank you all for your time. See you at the Subscriber Investment Summit.
Readers of The Mining Report can sign up for a complimentary ticket to the Subscriber Investment Summit 2014 for a limited time only. Register here.
This interview was conducted by JT Long of The Mining Report.
Keith Schaefer is editor and publisher of the Oil & Gas Investments Bulletin, which finds, researches and profiles growing oil and gas companies that Schaefer buys himself, so Bulletin subscribers know he has his own money on the line. He identifies oil and gas companies that have high or potentially high growth rates and that are covered by several research analysts. He has a degree in journalism and has worked for several Canadian dailies but has spent over 15 years assisting public resource companies in raising exploration and expansion capital.
Eric Coffin is the editor of the HRA [Hard Rock Analyst] family of publications. Responsible for the "financial analysis" side of HRA, Coffin has a degree in corporate and investment finance. He has extensive experience in merger and acquisitions and small-company financing and promotion. For many years, he tracked the financial performance and funding of all exchange-listed Canadian mining companies and has helped with the formation of several successful exploration ventures. Coffin was one of the first analysts to point out the disastrous effects of gold hedging and gold loan-capital financing in 1997. He also predicted the start of the current secular bull market in commodities based on the movement of the U.S. dollar in 2001 and the acceleration of growth in Asia and India. Coffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or the website.
Lawrence Roulston is an expert in the identification and evaluation of exploration and development companies in the mining industry. He is a geologist, with engineering and business training, and more than 20 years of experience in the resource industry. He has generated an impressive track record forResource Opportunities, a subscriber-supported investment newsletter. Roulston has launched an investment fund, the Metallica Development Fund, to take advantage of severely over-sold positions in high quality resource companies. The focus of the fund is on companies with production and/or advanced-stage exploration and development projects-companies with potential for near-term recovery in value that also have potential for longer-term growth.
1) JT Long conducted this interview for The Mining Report and provides services to The Mining Report as an independent contractor. She or her family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None.
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3) Keith Schaefer: I own or my family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: Manitok Energy and Entrec Corp. I personally am or my family is paid by the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. My company has a financial relationship with the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. 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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