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Three Qualities That Separate Junior Gold Winners from Losers: Eric Coffin

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Eric Coffin Gold juniors need to get back to the basics, says Eric Coffin, and it is going to take large discoveries to get the market excited again. In this interview with The Gold Report, the publisher of Hard Rock Analyst explains how the new economics of gold production require investors to concentrate on companies with three specific qualities, and names companies and the regions that could generate breakout projects.

The Gold Report: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke indicated last month that the Fed would begin to taper quantitative easing in September. The equity markets responded quite negatively to this. In the wake of this response, do you think the Fed is committed to this new policy?

Eric Coffin: I think the Fed is committed to tapering, but I suspect it will happen a little more slowly than some people think. Bernanke's quite cognizant that when he does taper it's going to have an impact on the markets. But you can't keep buying $85 billion worth of bonds a month forever. Bernanke has backed off a bit himself on this issue and was back to using 6.5% as his unemployment target. If the U.S. keeps creating jobs at the pace of 175,000 to 200,000 per month, it will take a long time to get unemployment to 6.5%—probably 18 months or more.

TGR: We've seen these hints about a slowing down or an end to quantitative easing (QE) for some time now, haven't we?

EC: A lot of people in the goldbug community can't stand Bernanke and I think they give him less credit than he deserves. I think these occasional hints he drops about ending QE early are completely intentional. He's testing the market to see how it will react and indirectly talking bond yields up in a way that doesn't induce some full blown panic. I think if we see him say he might move up the QE schedule and the market doesn't freak out—that will be the time he starts tapering. He's trying to get us used to the idea.

TGR: We've seen gold rebound in July. Why do you think this is happening, and do you think it's likely to continue?

EC: Some of it, a lot of it really, is due to the Fed backing off on its short-term tapering comments. And it's partially due to gold falling to $1,180/ounce ($1,180/oz). That's getting into the range a lot of the technicians were calling as a bottom. I don't completely accept technical analysis, but a lot of people who trade gold and commodities are chart traders, so you can't ignore those patterns.

"We've been getting down to pricing that's below the all-in cost for the gold mining sector, which means we're going to see cutbacks in production."

The other factor is that we've been getting down to pricing that's below the all-in cost for the gold mining sector, which means we're going to see cutbacks in production. This will flush out the supply pipeline pretty quickly. Ironically, it seems the gold market is taking the end of QE more seriously than other markets. I would like to think that means QE ending is partially or even largely priced into the gold market. Unfortunately, we won't know that for sure until the Fed actually pulls the trigger and decreases the bond buying.

TGR: Do you think that one big discovery could excite the whole market and bring investors back to the table?

EC: This market feels more and more like the markets I saw back in the 1980s and 1990s. That's not to say I think that the commodity cycle is necessarily over. If you go back to those markets, it was quite common that what would ignite them wasn't big moves in the commodities. It was almost always two or three big discoveries that really got traders excited and reminded them why they buy these crazy stocks.

I've talked myself into chasing companies with resources just because their ounces have gotten cheaper and cheaper over the last two years. While I think those companies will definitely catch bids if the gold price starts moving substantially, my gut feeling is that if you're looking for really large percentage gains in the near-term, they're going to come from discoveries.

TGR: Do you think that some regions will come back faster than others?

EC: Areas that are easier from a logistical and permitting point of view, areas that are mining friendly, will probably come back faster. This basically means North America or large swaths of it. Other areas like Central and Eastern Europe also look interesting and have a lot of discovery potential. A number of Central and South American countries—even though they're good areas geologically—will have a much more difficult time.

TGR: What about Mexico?

EC: Mexico has a couple of pretty big advantages. It has a good mining act and a well-understood and fair permitting system. It has gotten a lot better security-wise. Infrastructure is good in a lot of areas, and basic costs are also good. Mexico's geology has generated many highly oxidized and relatively soft and brittle deposits. This enables companies to set up heap-leach operations, which means that capital expenditures (capexes) are relatively low.

"Areas that are easier from a logistical and permitting point of view, areas that are mining friendly, will probably come back faster."

In the state of Sonora, a half-dozen gold mines have opened up in the last three or four years with average cash costs in the $400–450/oz range. The all-in costs probably aren't much more than $600–650/oz. By world standards that's really, really good.

TGR: Could you name some companies in Mexico that you like?

EC: One early-stage company I'm following is San Marco Resources Inc. (SMN.TSX.V). I like the management and I like the targets. San Marco did a joint venture agreement in March with Exeter Resource Corp. (XRC:TSX) that will give it a lot of spending on two of its three projects. I like the La Buena project, which the company probably won't get to until September, because it's a nice bulk-tonnage target. If drilled successfully, it could show a lot of ounces quite quickly.

SilverCrest Mines Inc. (SVL:TSX.V; SVLC:NYSE.MKT) is now a producer. The company has really strong management and very good cash costs. It did a great job of building a very successful gold-silver mine, Santa Elena, very cheaply by today's standards. SilverCrest got the initial heap leach into production for under $30 million ($30M). I'm waiting for a feasibility study on the expansion of Santa Elena with the addition of a conventional mill and underground mining. I know the company has already made the expansion decision, so the report is almost an afterthought. The company will also rerun some of the tailings from the heap-leach operation through that mill because the mill has much higher gold-silver recoveries than a heap leach does. That should bring production up by probably another 50% without bringing cash costs up that much. Current guidance for cash costs is $8.50 per silver equivalent ounce this year, which is pretty good.

"Mexico has a good mining act and a well-understood and fair permitting system."

SilverCrest also has a bulk-tonnage silver project called La Joya, which it has been drilling for about a year now. The resource is already up to close to 150 million ounces (150 Moz), and the company is not yet done expanding it. SilverCrest has been successful on a lot of fronts.

A company I have a significant holding in, Precipitate Gold Corp. (PRG:TSX.V), recently picked up an option on a gold project in northwest Sonora called Cecilia. I don't rate Precipitate in the newsletter because I'm too close to it but I like the fact the company is looking in Mexico.

TGR: Do you think the Yukon is still an area play?

EC: Not in the sense that just being in the Yukon is going to give you market cap and financing. It basically comes down to individual companies now and many of the companies involved there a couple of years ago have moved on. There certainly are successful explorers there. Kaminak Gold Corp. (KAM:TSX.V) continues to drill and continues to grow the ounces at its Coffee gold project. ATAC Resources Ltd. (ATC:TSX.V) is still drilling and adding ounces at the Nadaleen Trend in its Rackla gold project. Both of these are mature stories, however, so I do not expect big gains from them unless they add a new discovery or we see a good bump in the gold price.

One company we started following last summer is Comstock Metals Ltd. (CSL:TSX.V). The company has made a discovery that is right across the river from the original Golden Saddle discovery, which Kinross Gold Corp (K:TSX) bought for $140M in 2010 and which really kicked off the area play. Comstock has generated a number of pretty good holes from the VG zone of the QV project, basically 2–3 grams per ton (2–3 g/t) material, up to 4–6 g/t per tens of meters in a flat lying zone or close to a flat lying zone. I think there's a good chance Comstock will have repetitions of that zone.


Comstock QV Project, Yukon Territory

Comstock has just finished doing a lot of structural mapping, which is helping it sort out the discovery zone. The company just finished its phase 1 drill program and has started phase 2. It just reported the first results from phase 1, which included a couple of holes with 40–50 meters (40–50m) grading about 1.5 g/t. Those were both 150m stepouts. More interestingly, Comstock reported intercepting the zone with hole 17, which you can see on the upper left of the map above. That is a huge stepout—over 600m. There are no assays reported yet from this hole. If it contains even moderate grade that would be important because the hole greatly increased the scale potential of the zone.

I think that if Comstock can find 1–1.5 Moz, that would be enough to push the combined economics of its QV project and Golden Saddle across the river over the finish line. I think the combination of those two deposits would result in something with enough scale for development.

TGR: What other companies are you following in the region?

EC: Just south of the Yukon, in northern British Columbia, is Colorado Resources Ltd. (CXO:TSX.V). It's trading at about $0.87/share right now, and I was recommending it all through the winter at about $0.15 or $0.20/share. Colorado Resources has the three qualities I look for in mining companies. First, the company has really good technical management. The board of directors is made up of geologists who really know what they are doing.

Second, Colorado Resources has strong projects, one of which, Oro in the Yukon, has been optioned to Gold Fields Ltd. (GFI:NYSE). That project is probably a Carlin model like ATAC's, but at a much earlier stage. Gold Fields is committed for up to $20M in exploration and just began a $2M exploration program there that will include 3,000m of drilling. Colorado Resources also has a copper-gold porphyry project, North ROK, 10 miles from Imperial Metals Corp.'s (III:TSX) Red Chris mine in British Columbia. The company announced a hole of 242m with 0.85 g/t gold and 0.63% copper in April. Those are very high grades for that area.

Colorado Resources

Colorado North ROK Geophysics

Third, Colorado Resources has cash. Part of the reason it traded so well was because it had $8M when it started the North ROK drill program. Unlike 80% of the companies out there, Colorado Resources wasn't at the mercy of the brokers once it made a discovery. It closed a $4M flow-through placement July 11, which should bring it up to about $11M in the bank. The company only has 45M shares out.

There's lots of room for North ROK to grow. Induced polarization (IP) surveys show about 1.2 kilometers by about 200–300m with coincident anomalies. Plus, the project has a northern anomaly that Colorado Resources hasn't even touched yet. The "main" anomaly where drilling is ongoing and the new "north" anomaly are shown in the map above. This is a story with legs. The market wants some excitement. Investors want something that they can trade.

To receive a transcript of my recent interview with Adam Travis, president and CEO of Colorado Resources, click here to access it for free.

TGR: What about the other companies in the Red Chris area?

EC: There's a couple of early-stage ones I'm keeping an eye on. Peter Bernier and some of the other people behind the Blackwater discovery, which was taken out by New Gold Inc. (NGD:TSX; NGD:NYSE.MKT), have started a company called Prosper Gold Corp. (PGX.H:TSX.V), which is now going through the Qualified Transaction process. The company is raising $2.5M, which is earmarked for its project in the Iskut region. Prosper's neighbor to the east, Doubleview Capital Corp. (DBV:TSX.V), just reported an interesting but subeconomic drill intercept. Doubleview plans to return to its project for more IP and drilling once it has raised some money.

Redhill Resources Corp. (RHR:TSX.V) is interesting because it has about $6–7M in cash and investments. There's probably 10 to 15 companies that have been able to raise anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5M in the last month thanks to Colorado Resources' discovery. That is the sort of thing that gets traders to pay attention again.

TGR: Let's talk about the Dominican Republic. On July 9 GoldQuest Mining Corp. (GQC:TSX.V) reported 260m grading 2.54 g/t gold and 0.6% copper at its Romero property. How significant is this?

EC: It's pretty hard not to like a hole like that. It was one of two infill holes, both of which add ounces and open up the discovery area. I believe there are two more infill holes coming. They were chosen by the engineers that are going to be doing the resource estimate, so after these are released, they will probably start crunching numbers. It's not an easy guess to determine how many ounces GoldQuest has because a lot is going to depend on the cutoff grade. I'm going to stick my neck out and say 1.5–2 Moz will get reported in a maiden resource. I think the bulk will be in high-grade core, which could be treated either as an open-pit or as bulk tonnage underground. The latter would probably make for a lot easier permitting.

GoldQuest also has another discovery just south of Romero. That one's pretty much drilled off. It's called the Escandalosa and has maybe 300,000–400,000 oz, but the grades are quite high, and it's right at surface. That discovery at Escandalosa is really what kept my late brother Dave and I in this stock because the people that run the company—Chairman Bill Fisher and CEO Julio Espaillat—have put a mine in production in the Dominican Republic (DR). They are the same people who got the Cerro de Maimón mine into production before the company that they were running was taken over by Perilya Ltd. (PEM:ASX). That shows that these people know how to get something all the way across the finish line in that jurisdiction.

TGR: What do you think of other companies in the DR?

EC: Precipitate Gold is there, and I had something to do with that decision. I really like the Dominican Republic, and I think this belt of rocks, the Tireo Belt, is going to generate more discoveries. Precipitate has spent a relatively small amount of money to fund its concession. It is waiting for the final approval of the concession, which should come in a month or so.

TGR: Does Precipitate have enough cash to drill its concession?

EC: The company has about $1.25M right now. One tool that has been quite successful for GoldQuest and Unigold Inc. (UGD:TSX.V), which is working to the north of GoldQuest, is IP surveys. IP picks up sulphide concentrations that may indicate economic mineralization. That's the next obvious step for Precipitate. It wouldn't be that expensive. Then some trenching, which would have to wait until the permit is fully granted. But even without trenching, on the Ginger Ridge area Precipitate has found about 14m of 1.5 g/t gold and 20 g/t silver. That's a pretty good start.

TGR: This spring Unigold announced some drill results: 1.33 g/t gold over 74m, 1.9 g/t gold over 35m and 1.33 g/t gold over 94.5m. How do you rate Unigold's progress at Candelones?

EC: I think the project is doing well, but marketwise Unigold seems to be having some issues. I'm not sure why a major investor decided he needed so desperately to sell the stock just recently as there has been no bad news from Unigold. The company has found a lot of ounces there. Some of the ounces are a little bit on the deep side for the grades it got, but a lot of targets haven't even been drilled yet. Some of the more recent better holes in a couple of the zones look a lot more Romero-ish. You're starting to see copper in some of those holes and some higher gold grades.

TGR: Can you tell us about some companies a little farther afield?

EC: Lion One Metals Ltd. (LIO:TSX.V; LOMLF:OTCQX; LY1:FSE) in Fiji merged with Avocet Mining. There were a couple of reasons for the merger. One was to bring onboard a nice-looking iron ore project in Australia. This has already been optioned to a Chinese group that controls a steel-making operation, so apparently the group wants the iron ore for themselves. Lion One seems to be fairly intent on trying to get it developed. Another reason was Avocet's uranium projects, some of which are joint ventured with Cameco Corp. (CCO:TSX; CCJ:NYSE). There's also a fairly interesting gold project in Australia. And Lion One liked that Avocet had about $5M, which was about its market cap at the time.

Lion One

Lion One Tuvatu Drill Plan

The reason why we started following Lion One in the first place was Tuvatu, its main project in Fiji. It's just a nice old-fashioned, good-grade underground gold deposit that still has quite a bit of room to grow. Right now it's roughly 600,000 oz at about 5–6 g/t. There doesn't appear to be anything terribly complicated about it. No messy metallurgy, and most of the structures are fairly vertical.

Tuvatu is the kind of low-capex, straightforward deposit that the majors are looking for these days. Don't talk to Goldcorp Inc. (G:TSX; GG:NYSE) or Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM:NYSE) or Kinross about 20 Moz on top of the Andes at 0.5 g/t. Been there, done that, don't want to do it again. Bring them something that's 4–5 g/t underground, has no big environmental issues and a small footprint that can generate 100,000–200,000 oz/year. Tuvatu is not big enough for that, but maybe it will be at some point. Even if it isn't, it is the sort of project that can be developed by a smaller company. Capex for that sort of small underground operation runs at about $100M+, not billions like the vast low grade operation may of the majors were focused on until recently.

After the merger with Avocet, Lion One's got about 60M shares out and probably $15M in the bank. It has to work its way through a preliminary economic assessment and a feasibility plan for Tuvatu but a previous operator took Tuvatu all the way to feasibility so Lion One has a lot of data in hand already. A new resource number should be out in a couple of months, and I would think it's probably up around 1 Moz now.

TGR: Any companies elsewhere?

EC: Mundoro Capital Inc. (MUN:TSX.V) is in Serbia. I like that area. Hard Rock Analyst was already following Reservoir Minerals Inc. (RMC:TSX.V) when it and its partner, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (FCX:NYSE), made a very impressive high sulphidation copper-gold discovery at Timok in Serbia. It's just south of what's called the Bor mine, which most people have probably never heard about because it was behind the Iron Curtain for decades. Reservoir drilled blind targets and discovered some incredible mineralization. The best hole was 5.13% copper and 3.4 g/t gold over 291m. Reservoir has discovered several holes like that.

Mundoro has six or seven concessions that more or less surround the Reservoir/Freeport discovery. It is applying the same discovery techniques, the same geophysics. I like the targets. I also like that the company has $15M. Mundoro is still trading at about 20% less than the value of the cash in its bank account. In this market that is kind of the perfect speculation. It still has to hit something, but the downside is quite limited. Mundoro has other targets in Serbia and in Bulgaria as well. I like that region. There have been a lot of big deposits discovered through that belt. Serbia's quite welcoming of foreign investment. Anybody I've talked to who has worked over there raves about the place.

TGR: Are there any other companies that we haven't mentioned that you think are well positioned to thrive with gold at its current price?

EC: I think you've got to look for companies that are looking for relatively simple, low-capex situations. I think that's what the mining business has gone back to.

TGR: The three criteria you cited for successful companies are strong management, strong projects and cash. Given how difficult it has been and will be to raise financing, would you say cash is the most important criterion?

EC: It's definitely a really important one, but I wouldn't value a company solely in terms of cash. Unless a company has strong targets and management that's willing to be proactive about those targets, there's no real rush to buy it.

TGR: Considering how bad it has been for junior mining equities, what is it that keeps you excited? What is it that keeps you in the market?

EC: I've always been a discovery guy, and I'm always looking for good development stories. Being there for the big drill hole and swinging for the fences is probably what keeps me interested. I don't think we're done discovering new deposits. It has never been easy, and it is probably getting harder, but the big discoveries are what get everybody excited. When they work, you see these stocks going up 400%, 500%, 1,000%. That's what keeps people in the game.

TGR: Eric, thank you, for speaking to us today.

EC: The Gold Report readers can access my exclusive interview with a company that has made HRA subscribers gains of 750% over the past seven months. Click here to access this and our special subscription offer now.

Eric Coffin is the editor of the HRA (Hard Rock Analyst) family of publications. Responsible for the "financial analysis" side of HRA, Coffin has a degree in corporate and investment finance. He has extensive experience in merger and acquisitions and small-company financing and promotion. For many years, he tracked the financial performance and funding of all exchange-listed Canadian mining companies and has helped with the formation of several successful exploration ventures. Coffin was one of the first analysts to point out the disastrous effects of gold hedging and gold loan-capital financing in 1997. He also predicted the start of the current secular bull market in commodities based on the movement of the U.S. dollar in 2001 and the acceleration of growth in Asia and India. Coffin can be reached at [email protected] or the website

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1) Kevin Michael Grace conducted this interview for The Gold Report and provides services to The Gold Report as an independent contractor. He or his family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None.
2) The following companies mentioned in the interview are sponsors of The Gold Report: SilverCrest Mines Inc., Comstock Metals Ltd., Unigold Inc., Lion One Metals Ltd. and Mundoro Capital Inc. Streetwise Reports does not accept stock in exchange for its services or as sponsorship payment.
3) Eric Coffin: I or my family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: San Marco Resources Inc., SilverCrest Mines Inc., ATAC Resources Ltd., Kaminak Gold Corp., Comstock Metals Ltd., Colorado Resources Ltd., GoldQuest Mining Corp., Precipitate Gold Corp., Lion One Metals Ltd., Mundoro Capital Inc. and Reservoir Minerals Inc. I personally am or my family is paid by the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. My company has a financial relationship with the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. HRA does not request or accept payment from any companies for their inclusion in HRA publications. HRA publications are subscriber supported. I was not paid by Streetwise Reports for participating in this interview. Comments and opinions expressed are my own comments and opinions. I had the opportunity to review the interview for accuracy as of the date of the interview and am responsible for the content of the interview.
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