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Friday, May 30, 2008
In the summer of 2007, I traveled to the gold-rich plains of Nevada...
I flew into the tiny Elko, Nevada, airport, which is ground zero for the most prolific gold producing area in the U.S., the Carlin Trend. In fact, I was one of the few folks on the flight not wearing work boots or a company logo'd shirt. At Elko, Joe, my geriatric helicopter pilot, picked me up for an aerial tour of Carlin and its fellow giant deposit, the Cortez Trend.
From the air, the north end of the Carlin Trend looks like a suburban housing development – of gold mines. Most of the mines dotting this region are simply huge holes in the ground (called open-pit mines) but several of the richest mines follow the ore bodies nearly a half-mile underground.
The Leeville Mining Complex, owned by mining giant Newmont Mining, contains one such underground mine. It's part of a huge cluster of mines located on the north end of the Carlin Trend.
The mine I visited, West Leeville, should produce about 400,000 ounces per year for six to eight years... and provide a revenue stream of about $100 million to $150 million at today's gold prices. While Newmont technically owns this stream of gold, another company gets a steady paycheck from that production...
You see, if Nevada were a sovereign nation, it would be the world's third-largest gold producer. The state produced 6.3 million ounces last year, 78% of U.S. gold production, and 12% of the world's production. The heart of Nevada gold production is the Carlin Trend, which has produced more than 50 million ounces since the 1960s.
While Nevada's mining riches are no secret to many investors, few have heard of the gold royalty business. Investing in gold royalty streams gives you a safe and diversified way to participate in the bull market in gold... without risking it all on one big strike or worrying about rising production costs.
First, you have to pay geologists to scour the Earth in search of prospective ore bodies – but that's only after paying governments the proper permitting and licensing fees.
Let's say you find a large body of ore after punching hundreds (and often thousands) of exploratory drill holes. Now you have to spend millions on mine infrastructure. This includes roads, mine shafts, electricity, and a smelter. In Newmont's case with the West Leeville mine, it took six years and hundreds of millions of dollars to get it up and running.
One way a producer offsets that cost is by selling a small royalty for the life of the mine. In general, a royalty is simply the right to receive a portion of a mineral resource. It could be oil, gold, copper, or any other commodity.
The mining company gets a lump-sum payment up front, and the royalty investor gets a paycheck for the life of the mine. A royalty company may make hundreds of small investments to spread its risk and even out future payments. The royalty company then distributes a small portion of its paychecks to shareholders through dividends and invests the rest in new projects.
THE CORRUPT WAY TO OWN COMMODITIES
Early this week, we introduced the idea of buying the ABCs – Australia, Brazil, and Canada – as a way to own commodities for the long term. SeveralDailyWealth readers wrote to ask, "Great... but what about Russia?"