It’s said to be an ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Much about our own epoch obviously interests and probably fascinates John Kaiser. But he might be accused of ambivalence for the silver linings he sees among the gathering clouds. The analyst and creator of Kaiser Research Online spoke with ResourceClips.com on a range of subjects, but with mineral exploration always in mind.
On gold’s rally
This one has a stronger foundation than previous upswings, Kaiser believes. Chinese aggression, Russian expansionism, Middle East volatility, Brazilian instability, the possible Brexit and the chances of a Donald Trump U.S. presidency all mean “we’re looking at an extremely turbulent world,” he says. “There’s good reason to expect gold to go higher as capital starts to hedge against all these gloomy scenarios.”
That could push prices between $1,600 and $2,000 in the next year, he maintains. “And if that’s happening in the absence of any inflation, that really leverages those ounces in the ground that the juniors have and makes operating mines more profitable. Even for exploration companies it lowers the bar for what counts as a new discovery.”
On the juniors’ rally
Kaiser attributes this year’s rebound partly to gold, but also to renewed interest in discovery exploration.
“I’m very pleased that the rally that started the third week of January did not succumb to the PDAC curse and slow down,” he says. “By May everything’s usually in the garbage can before the summer doldrums. We’re not seeing these substantial gains continue that we saw from February to April, but we haven’t seen the markets give up the gains either.
“We’re probably not going to see a roaring global economy driving up demand and catching supply off guard like we did during China’s supercycle. However, as this world gets more belligerent, we could see massive disruptions of supply.”
That would bring greater concern about jurisdictional risk for vital commodities. “An opportunity for the juniors would be to seek out existing deposits of these metals. They might not be worth developing now, but they could be treated by the market as leveraged bets on these big-picture geopolitical outcomes.”
On the Donald
A Vancouver native who’s spent 26 years in the U.S., Kaiser’s firmly among those who consider that country’s anti-establishment presidential contender an outrage.
“He’s basically touching on all the latent prejudices and biases of the country,” says Kaiser. “But another reason people will vote for him is he is not an anti-Keynesian. He and Hillary Clinton both understand that to get America cranking again we need fiscal stimulus in the form of infrastructure renewal. The Republicans have blocked anything along those lines….Trump could prove to be a giant wrecking ball for the stalemate that characterizes Washington. That could put him into power.”
But Kaiser wonders if Trump has a hidden motive to his campaign strategy.
“This guy is an extremely smart person and it’s possible that everything he says is just BS designed to manipulate the public. It’s like he’s satirizing everything. And if he ever did get into power, well first he’d have to deal with the limitations that congress imposes, but once he’s in power he might change his tune and discover all these reasons why it’s not practical to do all the stupid things he said he would do.
“The frightening thing is, what if this sub-narrative is wrong, that the man is indeed insane or worse. Or that he ends up being co-opted by the truly insane in the background, who make him the lever on all the insane stuff that he said, because he is just a human being and he has no true power structure. It would be a reverse takeover of Trump.”
Kaiser downplays the possibility of a Trump presidency meeting an extraordinary end—for example assassination, an establishment putsch or a distinctively American court order annulling the election.
But “whether it’s Hillary or Trump, tensions with China and Russia are on an increasing trajectory,” he says. “That would be good for gold and good for the juniors.”
On the scandium Field of Dreams
“The problem with scandium—and it makes me want to tear out my hair that the market doesn’t get it—is that the uses for scandium have been understood for 30 or 40 years.”
Used for aluminum-scandium alloys and solid oxide fuel cells, the rare earth element also finds its way into ceramics, electronics, lasers, lighting and radioactive isotopes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The stuff is widely abundant, but rarely in concentration. As a result it’s mined as a byproduct in China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, producing just 10 to 15 tons a year, the USGS states.
But if supply could grow, so would demand, Kaiser says. The aerospace and automotive industries would be prime customers. “The highest-grade deposits have been around 70 or 100 ppm, as in the Zhovti Vody mine in Ukraine, where the Soviets got scandium to build their airforce fleet. But nobody else has been able to produce a very meaningful supply that is scalable.”
That’s changing as two advanced Australian projects lead the way, Scandium International Mining’s (TSX:SCY) 80%-owned Nyngan project and Robert Friedland-backed, ASX-listed CleanTeQ Metals’ Syerston project.
“The difference these discoveries made is their 400-ppm grades are well above the 200 or 250 ppm you need to produce the stuff at $2,000 a kilo,” Kaiser explains. “At $2,000 a kilo it starts making sense to use a scandium-aluminum alloy. By being able to demonstrate that these deposits have long-term supply, they can produce as much scandium as you want if you’re willing to pay $1,500 or $2,000 a kilo. That will coax demand off the sidelines.
“The next few years will be interesting because those companies are going to try producing 35 to 40 tonnes a year. If they can succeed in demonstrating that they’ve got the recoveries figured out, they’ve got the costs figured out, they can scale these things each to about 150 to 200 tonnes of output, that will set the stage for all kinds of plans to utilize it. It’s really a Field of Dreams where if you build it, they will come.
“But you have to understand that there are all these applications for scandium that can’t be commercialized unless there’s a reliable, scalable supply.”