There is a growing scarcity of available precious metal mines in the world. The old majors such as Barrick (ABX), Goldcorp (GG), and Newmont Mining (NEM) are facing diminishing reserves in their existing mines. They are mature miners and their pockets are bulging with cheap dollars. Moreover, these majors are competing with the Chinese, Russians, Japanese, and Koreans who have all shown an interest in expanding their precious metals assets and diverting assets away from paper currencies into real assets. All of them know it is cheaper to buy growth rather than to find it; they're like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who must take two steps forward just to stay in the same place.
Sitting on cash and not converting it into resource growth can be deadly for a large company in this ebullient precious metals market. Many ponder why precious metal prices are rising, yet many majors are sitting on their laurels afraid to make the plunge to acquire projects. This has led many institutional investors and mutual funds to flock to the smaller explorers who are delivering the consistent results to the market that characterize growth. Many of the developers have underperformed, and this certainly has been an explorer's market. I don't have to work hard to prove this point.
The small miners have been significantly outperforming the large-cap mining companies. Investors are looking for resource expansion and growth. Many top companies are leaner and stronger with far superior assets than they were in 2007. Companies are able to expand developing discoveries at lower costs due to the weak economy and cheaper oil. Remember back in 2007, oil was up to $140 a gallon? Now costs are more inexpensive and precious metal prices are significantly higher. The operating margins have significantly improved. Some of these potential projects that were once marginal are gaining more interest as the high price of precious metals is improving the project economics of marginal projects. Now the question is who will be acquired. The best way to figure that out is to screen for the best mining companies using both a fundamental and technical approach.
I believe companies will acquire and invest in juniors due to fears of further bailouts in Europe and currency devaluations in the United States during 2010. Several US states are on the verge of bankruptcy. France is in danger of losing its triple-A credit rating and many European sovereigns have already been downgraded. The reaction to debt issues have been radical moves from central banks and governments to print and inflate asset prices at any cost. Deficits are soaring and investors are flocking to junior mining stocks. Many high-quality juniors have just recently made moves and are just beginning to return to pre-credit-crisis highs. If the majors do not act soon, many of these high-quality, high-grade projects will be swallowed up from the international demand for hard and real money. There are very few high-quality projects with production potential that suit the needs of majors. The majors are growing increasingly compelled to scour the planet for eligible deposits. The gold price has advanced over 25% this year, silver is up over 50%, and investors are curious as to which major will make the next deal. Discovery rates are dropping and there are a lack of viable low-risk deposits for a major. Faced with the prospect of declining profit margins and depleting mines, the majors must speed up the pace of seeking M&A activity. Such a search is not without risks. Venturing into foreign lands, dealing with unstable governments, operating in the midst of drug cartels and well-armed bandits, they pay top dollars for blue-sky potential in safe jurisdictions and close to infrastructure. Yet there are high-quality mines in the United States, especially in Nevada, that have been overlooked.
In 2010, majors began making moves that gave hefty premiums for blue-sky potential and high-grade assets. Recently the acquisition of Andean Resources by Goldcorp demonstrated how confident the Goldcorp team feels in the potential upside of the Cerro Negro project. Investors looking to make money in the mining sector should study similar projects that have all the criteria that majors are paying top dollar for. The Cerro Negro project has high-grade exploration upside, low cash costs, and blue-sky potential in a mining-friendly jurisdiction.
In their urge to merge, these majors are overlooking suitable prospects in their own backyards. Here, in the safer, stabler turf of the United States, there are hosts of friendly candidates waiting to be acquired. One candidate which I have informed my readers about for several months is Fronteer Gold (FRG).
Fronteer has a huge land position in Nevada, second only to Newmont, and is consistently announcing high-grade results from its 100%-owned Long Canyon Mine. It has been impressing the markets by expanding the mineralization to the northeast, and in its last press release it showed high-grade mineralization to the west. This is demonstrating to the mining community what an incredible deposit this is becoming and how it is open in multiple directions.
The recent results also validate Fronteer's move to acquire Auex Ventures in order to take 100% control of this asset. Fronteer has not just discovered a mine, it's discovered a whole new trend in a mining-friendly jurisdiction near infrastructure. This mine has the potential to get huge. Drilling results are continuing to expand high-grade intersections of around 10 grams per ton. Now,with the recent transaction this past week of its Michelin Uranium Deposit, Fronteer is in a strong cash position and is the largest shareholder of Paladin Energy, a world-class uranium miner. This provides Fronteer with liquidity. At any time it can raise money through selling shares and not diluting shareholders to build its gold discoveries.
Paladin is the eighth-largest producer of uranium with a pipeline of uranium projects and is in a strong financial position. This is an investment for shareholders who believe we're in the beginning of a uranium bull market. I believe in a couple of years the price of uranium will move much higher, placing Fronteer in a financial position to build world-class gold mines without needing financing or diluting shareholders. It also gives a concrete value to any potential suitor in case it should want to purchase Fronteer. Fronteer’s books have about $120 million of cash and around $250 million of Paladin Energy, an impressive balance sheet for an emerging-mine developer.