How to Choose a Molybdenum Stock

“What you are really mining is money,” veteran geologist Don Davidson told us during a recent interview about molybdenum. It applies to any mineral, whether gold, silver, copper, uranium or, of course, molybdenum. “All mining, regardless of the commodity, is just really based upon your mining dollars. It’s the value of the particular element and whether it is economic to extract it or not,” he explained.

Despite the shrill forecasts of some analysts who claim we should expect a price correction in base metals, molybdenum is very much in demand. “A lot of people envisioned this flip in the molybdenum price to be a short-term think, but I think with the economies that are rolling in Asia, especially India and China, we are never going to see the old price level again,” Davidson forecast. Another reason why the price of molybdenum could stay high comes as result of BP’s corroded oil pipeline in Alaska. We talked to a few industry insiders who believed BP could have increased the corrosion resistance in their oil pipeline had they added a tiny percentage more of molybdenum to the pipeline. Oil companies are probably going to require more molybdenum to prevent another costly oil spill.

Our discussions with geologists, investors and industry insiders reinforce the notion that the bull market in molybdenum is very much alive and kicking higher. We received an interesting email from Doug Fosbrooke, head of investor relations for Roca Mines, as we were soliciting comments about molybdenum demand. He wrote, “I received a call the other day from a Canadian-based representative of a Chinese moly/steel/metals dealer looking to buy MAX (the name of Roca’s molybdenum mine) concentrates. Even after telling him we had signed an offtake agreement for 100 percent of our production, the party still expressed strong interest in doing business with us. Another Asian dealer, with whom we had been in discussions to provide project financing capital also contacted us in the past week looking for our product.”
When a small and soon-to-be-producing molybdenum company is pursued by Asian interests, after it has widely announced that next year’s production has been sold in advance, we feel comfortable in expecting a stable, if not higher, molybdenum price. That should bode well for newly arriving molybdenum producers, such as Roca Mines, which hopes to start mining its MAX deposit in Canada in the fourth quarter. But how can an investor safeguard himself from the potential arrival of other, less known want to-be producers?

As we did with uranium and coalbed methane stocks, we compiled a list of “molybdenum-specific” tips for investors. For advice on how to separate the good companies from the bad, we turned to geological and engineering experts to guide us. Both Dr. Nick Carter and Don Davidson have several decades of experience in evaluating molybdenum projects. For example, Blue Pearl’s Yorke-Hardy molybdenum crucible deposit was renamed the Davidson deposit in honor of one our experts. Carter and Davidson are both members of the five-man senior exploration board for Roca Mines, which hopes to find additional molybdenum beneath the existing high-grade MAX deposit in British Columbia.

1. Keep your eye on the price of molybdenum. Nick Carter advised, “One of the biggest pitfalls related to molybdenum is price. We’ve seen spikes over the years. The last one was in the 1970s. One of the things you have to watch out for, in terms of molybdenum, is the price. It’s been pretty good the last couple of years and all indications are it’s going to remain, perhaps at these lofty levels.” Huge deposits and good grades are required to withstand lower prices.

2. Find out the average grade of the molybdenum deposit. “If any investor were to phone me and want to buy stock in moly mine, my immediate response would be, ‘Well, what is the grade’?” Carter said. “And if the grade isn’t a little bit better than 0.1 percent, and preferably closer to 0.2 percent, I’d say, ‘Well, you had better think about this a little bit.” Carter explained he liked the MAX deposit because at 2 percent, Roca Mines would yield 40 pounds per ton of molybdenum. At $20 pound, the gross in situ value of the deposit would be $800/ton. Mining and operating costs are said to be less than $100/ton, yielding an operating profit of $700/ton.

3. How deep is the molybdenum deposit? “Usually the deeper you go, the better grade you have to have in order to have material that can be mined for profit,” advised Davidson. “The deeper you go, your expenses can increase. Therefore, you’d generally have to have higher grade at depth.”

4. Is it underground or open pit mining? Davidson discussed Adanac’s deposit in British Columbia, “Because it’s an open pit, your mining costs are much lower.” Carter advised on deposits where average grades run low, “If it’s 0.1 percent, it had better be a big deposit and it had better be open pit, too. We’re not talking underground here. With 0.2 percent, you get a little more option, if you can get something that’s reasonably large and with grades approaching 0.2 percent. Cost of production in many open pit mines should be in the $10 to $11/pound range.”

5. What is the timeline for production? Some companies plan to begin molybdenum production this year or next. Others are looking a few years out. “The price is here now, but three years from now, when your mine’s up and running, the price may be $8,” Carter explained. “Maybe you’re not going to be able to cut it if you’ve got an overall molybdenum grade of 0.1 percent or less.” It is safer to evaluate a molybdenum company on a lower metal price than stretching your expectations by appraising it at the top of the market. “If molybdenum can stay north of $10-12/pound, it should be pretty good times,” Carter noted.

6. How pure is your moly concentrate? Carter advised investors find out answers to these questions: “Is there any copper associated with this molybdenum deposit? And if so, how much copper?” Carter warned, “If there’s something like 0.05 or 0.1 percent copper in the molybdenum system, this could be enough to really screw it up in terms of concentrate sales. There’s not enough (copper) to recover to make any money, and you could have serious problems in producing a moly concentrate that’s going to get you top dollar.” In the Kitsault molybdenum mine, there was significant lead content in the moly concentrate. “They took a serious penalty on that and they had to install a leaching plant to get the lead out of the concentrate,” Carter explained.

7. Does the molybdenum have a contract or offtake agreement with a leading buyer? “The most telling comment with regards to purity of the moly concentrate is: Does this company have a contract?” Carter pointed out. “If they’ve got a contract, you can be pretty sure the concentrate grade is going to be okay. There are specifications outlined in the agreement.”

8. What is the infrastructure like? Carter talked about one company, which he explained was in a remote location, and which he asked we not name. “There’s no electrical power!” he exclaimed. “There’s no hydroelectric, no power lines.” He did talk about how previously, with other mining operations in this area, power was produced by way of diesel-fired generators. “But in today’s world, I don’t think they’ll look at that,” he said. “It’s too expensive.” Big operations will require being on a power grid to function, while smaller ones, such as Roca’s MAX mining operation, can economically operate with diesel generators.

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