Almaden Minerals on Resource Intelligence TV
Almaden Minerals on Resource Intelligence TV: Interview with President and COO Morgan Poliquin
Almaden Minerals Generates Low-Cost Results with Prospect Generation
Where many exploration companies stop at one or two projects and drill for anywhere from one to more than 10 years, Almaden Minerals has a different approach: prospect for projects with good potential, then option the project out to another experienced company and let them do the advanced exploration. In the meantime, the company can continue doing what it does best: Prospecting for the next Fort Knox or Cripple Creek. The company’s President and COO Dr. Morgan Poliquin explains how investing in Prospect Generators can lead to great returns for investors.
RI: Morgan, I want ask you about your business model. The core of your company is prospecting and generating prospects. Can you explain why that is?
MP: We focus on the prospect generation stage because that’s our skill set. We’re geologists and we choose areas that are geologically permissive where the political risk is low and where the opportunities to develop are good. We use our geological skills to find new assets through prospecting, which also is not very capital intensive. However, proving up deposits does involve a lot of money and to that end of it we get partners to help us explore them.
RI: What is the profit potential in the Prospect Generator model?
MP: I think the greatest potential increase in value is the progression from a hillside that nobody knows has any mineral potential to a producing mine that is making money. So we’re looking for a large capital gain through that process.
RI: You are focused on an area in eastern Mexico. What have you found so far?
MP: Essentially we are looking at volcanoes that are millions of years old, within which the hot fluids have deposited gold and copper. Many people have heard of the Ring of Fire around the pacific. I was investigating that and so what we found was several new chains of volcanoes that were not well understood, in which gold and copper is deposited.
RI: Let’s talk about your important JV deal on Caballo Blanco in this under-explored part of eastern Mexico.
MP: Our JV partner Antofagasta can earn a 70% interest from us on Caballo Blanco and over the last couple of years we’ve made significant discoveries here. This is an area where we have both the deeper part of the volcano exposed, where there is a copper potential, and the top of the volcano preserved, where we have gold potential. To date, the gold part of the system has had about 30 drill holes in it and we’ve had some very good early stage results such as 94.5 meters grading 2.09 g/t gold. That drill hole actually included 39.62 metres grading 3.93 g/t gold.
RI: That’s a huge drill hole. That’s almost 100 meters. That’s a 35 storey building.
MP: Yes. To have these results in early drilling is really exciting, especially considering that this is an area that has no history of mining.
RI: How much must Antafagasto spend on Caballo Blanco?
MP: This has a two-tiered structure to it. They need to spend $12 million on exploration and complete a bankable feasibility study to earn 70%.
RI: What is it like working with a major mining company like Antofagasta?
MP: We are very impressed with that group. They have about $2 billion in cash and no debt and some operating mines in Chile. They are looking at a particular style of mineralization called copper porphyries where the copper the forms deeper in the volcano. They recognized that we had found some new prospects that represented virgin terrain of that kind and wanted to be involved with us at an early stage. I think their involvement is a testament to the early stage prospecting that we do.
RI: How many times do you go out and look at an area before you find a project like Tuligtic or Caballo Blanco?
MP: We look at hundreds of properties before we select something that we feel merits acquisition.
RI: What is involved between prospecting and optioning a project out?
MP: We like to bring it up to the drill stage if we can. That involves rock chip sampling, surface sampling and geological mapping. We also bring in several other tools, such as alteration mapping and induced polarization. We have our own equipment and a great crew on the ground.
RI: This type of exploration obviously costs. How are you financing Almaden’s prospecting efforts?
MP: We haven’t had to go to the markets often. The reason we employ the Prospect Generator model is that it is not capital intensive. Also we do generate income from our joint venture agreements, which provides income through the equity payments I described and/or cash payments. While we’re not 100% sustainable, we are very close to that and certainly in some years we have been.
RI: You don’t only have prospecting projects. You’ve got the Elk Gold project in British Columbia, which has a resource estimate with high grade gold mineralization. Is that a hedge on the Prospect Generator bet?
MP: When we discovered Elk Gold through prospecting, it was clear early on that it was a high grade resource. We have already direct shipped 50,000 ounces that averaged three ounces gold per tonne to a smelter without processing on site. In fact we still have 1,600 ounces of refined gold, which is part of our treasury.
What we’ve been able to do at Elk Gold adds significant value from that early stage development through drilling. Yes, it is a little departure from our business model, but we think its warranted given the geological risk, which is very low. We’ve been able to develop more than 250,000 ounces gold inferred and more than 250,000 ounces gold measured and indicated through drilling.
RI: How large is the Elk Gold project and how much have you actually explored?
MP: It’s a large property holding of about 15,000 hectares but we’ve been focused on the initial area of quartz veins that had very high-grade results. In order to move the resource to the measured category we’ve had to do quite close spaced drilling. Other parts of the property do have similar potential and we have more scout drilling and trenching results that indicate that there is the potential for additional veins and mineralization.
RI: Let’s talk about your Caldera project, also located in Mexico.
MP: Caldera is an early stage discovery also in this area of eastern Mexico. Caballo Blanco was the first place we found this kind of mineralization in these older volcanoes. We know the direction in which this chain of volcanoes was oriented and we found Caldera along this trend, too. It’s at an early stage of development but we’re finding the kind of alterations that are indicative of a very preserved portion of a volcano, with similar potential to Caballo Blanco.
RI: I was going to ask you, “Green fields or brown fields?” but I have a feeling it’s green fields mostly for you.
MP: Absolutely. I think that mining risk is a combination of geological and political risk. It’s very tempting for governments to tax and expropriate mines and we’ve seen that throughout all of history. Many kings have made mines the monopoly of the state for obvious reasons. Metals are useful in terms of money and weapons. That’s the political side of it: A lot of people focus on very low geological risk and high political risk. From our perspective we’re very comfortable with the geological risk. We’re comfortable with an area that has great geological potential, but is unknown.
Personally, I believe the world’s metal is going increasingly to have to come from countries with low political risk and higher geological risk. I believe the areas with high political risk where geological risk is low have been picked over already, and if they’re not picked over there is immense competition—and no longer just from western countries. I think it’s a very competitive world for metals and I believe the mineral deposits of the future will have to be found by companies like ours that have a greater understanding of unfamiliar geology.
RI: How do your JV partners and potential JV partners find trust in you? What is it about Almaden and yourself that they are looking at?
MP: We’ve done it before. We have found deposits that have become mines.
RI: Your company was formed in 1986 by your father, can you tell me a bit about the formation of the company and how it evolved into what it has become today?
MP: We should probably go back a little bit before that. My father’s first public company was Wesley Mines. He did an IPO on a gold project that he recognized in the very early days of the Carlin Trend in southern Nevada and went public on that. The problem was, although he really believed in the geologic potential of the project, he had difficulty as a geologist raising money to advance it. In the end, he discovered that the best way to advance the project was to form an option agreement whereby another larger company would pay for exploration and earn an interest. So, out of that was born our business model. His company Wesley Mines was bought out. It was taken public at 25 cents and went up to $7 per share on this discovery.
What my father learned was that having 40% of a significant discovery is enough of a capital gain for everyone to do very well—and that’s why we operate this model. So that’s why you would buy Almaden, because you would be exposed to that potential on numerous different fronts, not just one. Our capital requirements, because we’re sharing the risk on these properties, is much lower. We’re as close to a sustainable exploration group as you’re going to find. We are able to manage our funds and mitigate the high costs of exploration.
RI: What, about since 1986? Can you point to successes that might give investors comfort that an investment in Almaden is a good idea?
MP: We’ve found some new projects, Caballo Blanco is one that is well on its way. We’ve also had a couple of deposits go into production. We found the Trinidad gold deposit in western Mexico. It was a testament to the potential of Mexico and our prospecting endeavor. We optioned that to Eldorado and they put it into production.
RI: To summarize, how would you suggest that investors evaluate Almaden Minerals as an investment?
MP: I think they should look at our company as a means of exposing them to the potential for capital gain with minimum risk. The world is going to need a lot of metals to maintain the standard of living we all have come to expect. They are going to have to be found through prospecting and that means that prospecting is going to be rewarded through higher metal prices. I believe that we can provide these new prospects that will be the mines of the future.
RI: Based on the list before me of more than 25 projects and about ten joint ventures it looks like you’ve got a good head start.
MP: That’s right. We have a lot of irons in the fire. We have the capacity to constantly create new assets, which are these exploration properties, from scratch, using our prospecting abilities and we don’t rest on the potential of these properties alone. We think very highly of them, but the odds are that not all of them are going to be mines. Nevertheless, we have the capacity to keep generating without diluting our shareholders.
Almaden Minerals Ltd. (AMM:TSX)
Name: Almaden Minerals Ltd.
Shares outstanding: 49,023,000
Province: British Columbia
Address: Suite 1103 – 750 W. Pender Street
Postal code: V6C 2T8
Phone number: 604-689-7644
Fax number: 604-689-7645
Email address: email@example.com
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