A Generation of Mentors

It’s hard for me to re-read KPMG‘s October report “BC Junior Mining at a Crossroads,” commissioned by the BC Securities Commission, without feeling not just loss but what will be lost. The report’s findings echo the lamentations of my friends and former colleagues who run or rely on public companies in the natural resources sector: This is the worst downturn ever; there is almost no money to be had; the senior mining firms have abandoned the junior companies, as have younger investors.

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The report’s language is succinct:

– Less money is currently being put into exploration or the necessary studies needed to move a project forward (for financing or development). Much of the funding raised is survival capital, i.e., being used to keep the company operational until such times as the market returns.

– As stock prices have dropped significantly and the market appetite for Juniors has lessened, it has become increasingly difficult and less attractive to raise funds through public offerings. The dilution factor is a major concern of most of the Juniors, as they do not see the upside of
significant dilution of ownership.

– There was some sentiment amongst the Juniors that until the Seniors show consecutive quarters of profits without further write-downs of “toxic” assets on their balance sheets, junior mining company projects will not be of interest to the Seniors. Until stock prices rise and investment returns to the Seniors, Juniors will continue to have a problem raising money.

– The competition for investment capital has become more intense, and Juniors stand to be less competitive than many sectors because of their risky nature and the longer term required for return on investment, if any.

– As a result, many Juniors have chosen to go into a survival mode instead, until the markets become more favourable and interested in mineral exploration investments. However survival is still not cheap. Maintaining a listing and other administrative requirements can cost from $75,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on the circumstances of the company. Many Juniors only have $100,000 in cash available and will only be able to survive another year or so.

When these Juniors disappear, their management, geologists, geophysicists, and technicians will need to find new lines of work. So will their corporate communications and investor relations officers.

Indeed, these latter are often the first to go when funding’s gone. At least these people, though, have skills and experience that transfer relatively easily across sectors of service and commerce – from retail to not-for profits, from education to government – and across lines on a map.

Whither the geophysicists and their high-end colleagues?

I don’t fear for their economic survival; they are super-smart and resilient folk; they will make it, somehow, but elsewhere, away from Canada’s once exalted mining industry. My fear is that they won’t come back when the Junior market does, however many years that this will take.

And then who will mentor BCIT’s newly minted geotechnicians and UBC’s young geologists, guiding them in the field, fostering their laboratory acumen, keeping them safe, and supporting them with continual education and feedback? How will this new generation fare when their mentors are elsewhere?

(photo of Granville Street, Vancouver, by Bob Basil)

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