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Parisian Musings On Silver

By: David Bond

-- Posted 13 November, 2006 | |

The Wallace Street Journal


By David Bond, Editor

Silver Valley Mining Journal


Gare St. Lazare, Paris Ė We are winding down two weeks of the most intensive campaign on behalf of silver Europe has ever seen. This juggernaut began two weeks ago in Munich, veered into northern Switzerland, hooked left into London, and finally has come back across the Channel to rest in Paris with todayís conclusion of the 2nd Paris Silver Summit.


We try to wrap ourselves around the significance of this awakening of the European consciousness regarding silver, the turnouts at these conferences, the wide-eyed interest of investors on the Continent and the U.K. in the fundamentals of silver and the mining opportunities they present. But it will take another long train ride, and another day and a half on Northwest jets, to let this settle in to something weíre able to write about.


Meantime, we were asked to give our thoughts to a group of about 80 Parisians attending a day-long, two-session Monday, 13th November Silver Summit at Maximís, just off the Concorde. It was drizzling outside, but inside was great warmth and camaraderie. Here is what we said:


Presentation to the 2nd Paris Silver Summit


Residence Maximís, 42 Avenue Gabriele

8me Arrt, Paris



Monsieurs et Madames,


Thank-you for this opportunity to address you at this Silver Symposium, and particularly thanks to Mr. Bernard Siou and to my dear friend, Mr. Eric LeMaire, for once again organizing this fine event. Please forgive my English; you would not forgive my French.


I bring you warm greetings from the silver fields of northern Idaho, in the United States, along with an invitation for you to attend our Silver Summit next autumn in Coeur díAlene and Wallace, Idaho. I am reminded, every time I visit the American Cathedral in this beautiful city of yours, then when I fly back home over the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour, both of these splendid monuments being dedicated at the same moment in November 1886, how deep the ties of kinship and friendship are between our two liberty-loving peoples Ė the best efforts of our politicians lately to belittle these ties notwithstanding.


As I said, I come from the silver district in the northwestern United States known as the Coeur díAlene Mining District. We are located in the top northeastern corner of Idaho, near the borders with Canada and Montana. On a recorded basis, silver production from this district is greater than those of the more famous districts, i.e. Durango, Mexico; or Potosi, Bolivia. Silver production from just one of our districtís mines, the Sunshine Mine, has at 300 million ounces exceeded, since 1884, the entire recorded output of the legendary Comstock Lode in Nevada. We have the largest and the deepest silver mines in the Western Hemisphere.


Our silver veins, because they tend to run vertically and appear to improve in grade as they deepen, offer promise for at least another century south of the Osburn Fault. The Lucky Friday Mine owned by Hecla, for example, is planning 15 years out to be mining at a depth of 3,000 meters; they are currently mining silver at 2,000 meters depth. There may be at least another 1 billion ounces of silver available to be mined south of the Osburn Fault which bisects our district. And there is new promise in the relatively unexplored area north of the Osburn Fault, where a silver structure similar to that being mined at Bunker Hill, Sunshine, Coeur, Galena and Lucky Friday mines is now thought to exist.


Silver deposition in the Coeur díAlene District occurred prior to the subsequent faulting, when the real estate north of the fault shifted, slid, some 15 kilometers. So such famous veins as the Yankee Girl, the Silver Vein, the Syndicate Vein, the Chester, the Metropolitan, may continue, dislocated, on the north side of this fault Ė perhaps as prolific as their counterparts to the south.


Just food for thought, should you consider investing in the Coeur díAlene Mining District. This district is vital, it is producing silver, and is being actively explored now by modern geologic methods that include induced polarization, satellite mapping, directional drilling. Some 90 percent of the Coeur díAlene District has yet to be explored, whether by primitive or modern methods.


You are confronted with a very complex process when presented with opportunities by silver mining companies, whether they are junior exploration companies or seasoned producers. So am I, when I am asked as a journalist to go out and look at a project. So I thought I would share with you some of the things I try to consider, to ask, to think about, before I go about writing up a company.


I try to evaluate a property from its operations potential. People talk about ounces, or grams, of this or that, but the reality is, mining companies mine tonnes. So the first question is, how much is one of their tonnes worth? And second, what does it cost to get this tonne out of the ground and to market. Now, when we are considering what a tonne of ore is worth, have we factored in what the smelter is actually going to pay for it? Letís say a tonne contains 20 ounces of silver. At $10 silver, the gross value of that tonne is $200. But the smelter is not going to pay the miner $200 for that tonne. The smelterman is first going to claim thereís only 19 ounces per tonne and that your tonne is 60 pounds light and then, depending on the country and feed demand, he will only pay the mine somewhere between two-thirds and nine-tenths of the value of the silver contained. So you need to do a little arithmetic. What will be the net, net profit of that tonne, after mining, milling, shipping and smelting costs are deducted? And how many tonnes per day is the miner expecting to produce? Multiply that times the number of working days per year that the mineís mill is running, divide that figure by the number of shares outstanding, and you can derive a pretty decent price to earnings ratio for that company. And what are they doing with these earnings? They had better be exploring for and developing new reserves at least 3 to 5 years out, for without these new reserves, the mine will soon founder.


But there are other factors, too. How about the metallurgy of the ore? Is it a simple sulfide, easy to mill? Or is it complex, sulfides mixed with oxides for example Ė more difficult to process. Are there high levels of arsenic, mercury, or other undesirables that the smelter will charge you to remove? How about the mineís mill-tailings? What do they contain? Can they be removed and stored in an environmentally sound fashion? Or perhaps, are they themselves commercially valuable as a reagent to some other environmental problem nearby. Iíll give you a quick example. In Northwestern Quebec, Canada, where by the way you canít smoke in a restaurant any more, (would you please send a Lafayette to their rescue?) a mining company will begin producing a pH positive tailings, which it then proposes, with support from the province, to place on top of an acidic tailings pile that currently is posing an environmental problem. One will neutralize the other, to the benefit of the province, the mining company, and to the environment.


Speaking of environment, what of the political environment? For many reasons, most of them wrong, modern mining is a whipping boy of the environmental movement, of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) around this planet whose united aim seems to be to drive all of us back into the caves. But they are powerful, they have lawyers who are well paid to go looking for and whipping up trouble, and where they have a foot-hold, you have problems. Central America and the area of Indonesia are prime examples.


The NGOs are quite busy there, whipping up fears amongst ignorant villagers against the prospect of mining, when in fact a properly run mine could enrich their lives, bring education, literacy, electricity, and better health to their communities. I would not put too much stock in a company proposing to mine in those regions. Nor would I in places like Bolivia, where nationalization of the mining industry seems almost a certainty a year or two from now, and I question the wisdom of companies like Apex Silver and Coeur díAlene Mines for risking their futures on that country. I would rather have a marginal mine in Idaho, Northwestern Quebec, Mexico, or Peru or Argentina or China, than a King Solomonís treasure buried in Montana, British Columbia, Central America, Bolivia or Malaysia. Your odds are much better when the country wants you, and is willing to send the NGOs packing.


Now, what is the companyís track record? It is a truism that good managers can make profit from a marginal property, whereby poor managers can ruin a mother lode. The mining industryís history is littered with anecdotes bearing this out and I will not belabour them. And I guess this is where I come in. When I visit a property, I spend as much time looking over the people involved as I do studying their diamond drill results. How are the managers getting along with their workers? How are their relations with the local, provincial and national government? Who is the management? Is it all lawyers and MBAs, or are there engineers and geologists in the decision-making loop? Now, I will concede that an engineer can mess things up as well as an MBA, and you need business acumen in your inner circle, but if there arenít technical people on the top tier of management, people who know rocks and how to build mines and mills, then I would be very cautious.


Lastly, what are your own goals? Are you in for the long haul? Is this a stock you want your grandchildren to own? Or are you looking for a large near-term appreciation on the order of two to five years? Fortunately, the silver mining industry offers both. The greatest gains will of course come from the junior explorers, but there also is the greatest risk. A few of them will strike it rich; most will flash briefly, then go away. The long-term players will be around another century or two, but their price behaviour will be considerably more boring. But you can stick them in a shoe-box in your basement and forget about them until or unless you need some money.


I have not touched on the future of the price of silver, for the simple reason that I donít know what itís going to do and neither does anybody else, nor will I embellish on Ericís fine presentation earlier today. I could give you the standard Vancouver pep-talk, that it is going sky-high but I could not do it sincerely. Iím actually quite satisfied with the price of silver where it is right now; it would take a very special sort of mining company not to be able to profit at $12 silver, or $10 silver, or even $8.


Here is what I do know about silver: The world uses 200 million ounces more of it per year than it is able to supply from mining and recycling. I know that above-ground government stocks of silver, once totaling 2 billion ounces or more, have been completely used up in the past quarter-century, and that no government in the world is now able to manipulate silverís price by flooding the markets in order to save its paper currency. I know that silver has no substitute in its growing industrial and medicinal applications and that unlike gold, when silver is once used, it is gone forever.


And I have no doubt that if I gave you a choice between this paper Federal Reserve Note, and this one-ounce pure silver coin issued by the U.S. Mint, each denominated as one dollar, I have no doubt which one you would choose. Again, my thanks for the opportunity for us to meet, and for your gracious hospitality in the City of Lights.

-- Posted 13 November, 2006 | |

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