Editor’s picks: top stories of week 10

The mineral exploration boom went into overdrive during the week ended March 9, the tenth trading week of 2007, with things hitting a fevered pitch at the 4-day Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention held in Toronto March 4-7.

  • While all mineral commodities are in a broadly bullish trend, this was uranium’s year at the PDAC, with literally hundreds of junior explorers unveiling new uranium exploration and development projects located around the world.

    But there is getting to be quite a bit of froth in the uranium sub-sector, and we expect some kind of shake out of the lesser-quality projects somewhere down the road.

    Our non-specialist readers should be aware that uranium is a lot like coal: there’s actually a lot of it lying around the planet; the tricky part is jumping through the regulatory hurdles, mining it and then selling it at a profit.

  • However, the uranium metal market still looks very strong, particularly in the short term, in light of Wednesday’s news that Rio Tinto‘s (RTP-N) Australian uranium subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia (or ERA) declared force majeure at its Ranger open-pit uranium mine in Australia’s Northern Territory, owing to very heavy rainfall associated with cyclone George.

    The mine, which is the world’s second-largest and provides 11% of global uranium supply, was shut down on Feb. 27-28, and will restart sometime next week. First-quarter production is expected to be 20-30% lower than expected, shaving about 1% off the expected global uranium production for 2007.

    Look for uranium prices — already high at US$85 per lb. U3O8 owing to Cameco’s flooding problems at Cigar Lake — to jump next week as a result.

  • A minor theme of the PDAC was the emergence of molybdenum as a significant sub-sector for mining investors.

    Ian McDonald and Kerry Knoll’s Blue Pearl Mining (BLE-T) is suddenly a dominant new force on the production side, and Eric Sprott’s Sprott Asset Management has unveiled its new molybdenum fund, in which Blue Pearl will participate.

    If you have any interest in molybdenum markets, a must-listen is Monday’s presentation by Blue Pearl’s vice-president of sales and marketing, Mark Wilson, on molybdenum’s future, which looks very rosy.

  • We were saddened to learn of another fatal small plane crash in our industry: On Thursday, Garnet Halliday, Paladin Resources‘ (PDN-T, PDN-A) executive general manager for operations and development, was killed in an aircraft accident near Lilongwe in Malawi, along with pilot Frank van-Veuren, principal of Executive Air Charter. Only those two were aboard.

    Halliday, aged 50, is survived by his wife Deborah and family. He was pivotal in developing Paladin’s new Langer Heinrich uranium mine in Namibia, and was leading the development team preparing for the construction of the Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi.

  • It was another furious week of M&A activity, with deals among the small caps dominating: Latin America-focused gold juniors Aurogin Resources (AUQ-V) and Morgain Minerals (MGM-V) are merging as equals; Denver-based cheque-casher Royal Gold (RGL-T, RGLD-Q) is adding to its royalty portfolio with an all-share, friendly bid for Battle Mountain Gold Exploration (BMGX-O); and Australia’s Zinifex actually lowering its friendly offer for Canadian Arctic explorer Wolfden Resources (WLF-T) by 9 cents to C$3.81 per share.
  • In Toronto’s financial district, the Ontario Club at Commerce Court is the main hub of public activity for the mining community.

    However, the club’s move at the end of this month to comparably swanky new digs at 1 King West has been derailed for the moment owing to condo developer Harry Stinson’s filing for bankruptcy protection as part of a larger, sour battle with partner David Mirvish.

    The Ontario Club will likely have to improvise as to the location of its upcoming events for a few months.

  • If you have time this weekend, and haven’t listened to it already, it’s well worth catching up with the goings-on of the world’s biggest gold miner Barrick Gold through its excellent, 3-hour-long “Investor’s Day” presentation available here.

    We see Barrick retaking the leadership role in the gold mining industry that it had lost for a few years to Newmont Mining and Goldcorp.


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