Frik Els

Frik has worked as a financial journalist for 15 years covering a variety of industries for several publications including British Airways in-flight magazine, Business Insider, Investment.com, Driving.ca, YCharts and Business in Vancouver.

Frik presented at the Global Mining Summit in Las Vegas, Resources Investment Conference in Vancouver, Mines & Money London and has been interviewed on Korean state TV and CBC radio.

(DISCLAIMER: Frik Els does not own shares or hold positions in any of the equities he writes about. Nothing written should be viewed as a solicitation to buy or sell any securities.)

Keystone outrage now centred on Obama cronyism

Ever since Friday's New York Times report saying the US State Department assigned an important environmental impact study of the Keystone XL pipeline to Cardno Entrix, a company with financial ties to the pipeline operator TransCanada, in contravention of federal law, opponents of the project have shifted the focus of their opposition to allegations of conflict of interest and corruption. Two prominent names on the political left and in the green movement Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben put it most bluntly: Obama's plan to transport oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast reeks of cronyism and it is quite possibly the biggest potential scandal of the Obama years. TransCanada officials meanwhile appear to have been caught off guard by the vociferous protests that weeks of Keystone hearings that ended on Friday have elicited, pointing out that TransCanada won approval for a similar pipeline three years ago with little opposition.

Venezuela faces fresh $3.8 billion claim over nationalized gold mine

The International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes has advised Crystallex International Corp. that proceedings in its $3.8 billion case against Venezuela for nationalizing gold-mining assets has begun. The Toronto-listed company's main asset is its interest in the Las Cristinas gold project located in Bolivar State, Venezuela. Crystallex also holds interests in the Tomi and La Victoria mines in Venezuela and on Friday closed down 70% from its 52-week high. The stock was delisted in from the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year. Toronto-listed Rusoro is the only large producing gold miner operating in Venezuela and the country does not feature in the top 20 global gold producing states.

Mongolia re-opens bidding for world's biggest coking coal deposit

The Wall Street Journal reports Mongolia is relaunching talks with international miners on developing the western block of Tavan Tolgoi in the South Gobi desert, the world’s largest deposit of high-quality coking coal used in steelmaking. Mongolia's National Security Council rejected a deal struck with US giant Peabody Energy, China's Shenhua and a Russian-Mongolian consortium mid-September, just two months after they were announced as winners. At the time losing bidders from Brazil, India and South Korea raised serious concerns and Japan went so far as to call the bidding process 'extremely regrettable'. Mongolia still hopes to privatize its Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi coal-mining company which controls the remainder of the 6 billion tonne resource for upwards of $3 billion next year.

Pyrrhic victory for Mugabe as Rio Tinto gives up control of tiny diamond mine, but likely drops $200 million expansion

News reports on Saturday say Rio Tinto's Zimbabwe subsidiary Murowa Diamonds has ceded 51% of its equity to comply with a new law that requires Zimbabweans to own the majority of foreign companies. Rio Tinto says on its website it has completed a feasibility study and received environmental go-ahead to expand Murowa production 8-fold at a cost of $200 million. Saturday's report cast serious doubts on whether the investment, which requires foreign capital, would now be made. It appeared in recent weeks as if Zimbabwe was soft-pedalling the indigenization laws, but Rio Tinto's capitulation has now put pressure on Impala Platinum, struggling to hold onto its $20 billion worth of reserves in the country.

Miners, Arizona's Petrified Forest Park square off over potash

Tucson Sentinel reports the Painted Desert of northern Arizona holds hundreds of million years of history, from fossils of dinosaur ancestors to ancient Native American dwellings, but Petrified Forest National Park and the land around it also sit on as much as 2.5 billion tons of potash. The US Congress approved expansion in 2004, authorizing the park to purchase land from willing sellers. The park added the first 26,000 acres in September, but that purchase didn’t include the mineral rights because of a lack of funds.The old and new boundaries of the park are over approximately 50% of the Holbrook basin potash deposits and three companies – Passport Potash, American West Potash and HNZ Potash – currently are drilling test holes inside and outside the park to establish the depth and quality of the deposits.

Gold has lost its safe haven status

Does gold's precipitous $300 drop in September represent a fundamental market shift? It is hard to argue with this statement: "Global stock markets are volatile, central banks have not regained credibility, inflation is still a concern, and trust in the markets has not been restored. Yet gold continues to fall... Gold has lost its shine."

Strikers vow Grasberg shutdown if hourly $1.50 is not upped 8-fold

Workers at Freeport's Grasberg – one of the world's largest gold and copper mines – in the remote Indonesian province of West Papua vowed Friday to paralyse production, as their strike over pay enters its second month. About 12,000 of Freeport's 23,000 Indonesian workers have joined the strike that started on Sept. 15 and on Friday Freeport said some workers have returned, putting it in a position to increase mining and milling output. The gulf between the the two parties are so wide that chances of a settlement appear remote – Freeport has offered a 25% increase on wages while the union wants the current minimum rate of $1.50 an hour raised more than 8-fold.

Traders say rough diamond demand has dried up

IDEX Online News reports the rough diamond market is in a rut and demand for rough is so limited, that traders are not buying goods, even if offered at 12 or even 13 percent below what DTC's roughly 80 selected clients – called Sightholders – paid for at last week's Sight. Traders cannot move it, and manufacturers claim that with the current decline in polished prices they will lose money. IDEX says from a low cost supplier, DTC – the rough diamond sales and distribution arm of De Beers – has ascended to the pricier side of the list, alongside Russia's Alrosa. Many lots also went unsold at BHP Billiton's latest tender and Diamdel's auction, with bids falling short of the reserve prices.

Copper climbs 5.6% as 5,000 metal traders converge on LME

Reuters reports copper rose to its highest in nearly a week on Thursday to close at $7,225/tonne on the LME up from Wednesday's close of $6,820 as US data hinted at an improvement in the labour market and European policymakers' comments on dealing with Greece's debt crisis calmed nerves. Copper's strong gains comes at a time when some 5,000 merchants are gathering in the British capital for London Metal Exchange week, an annual event during which supply contracts are discussed. On Monday the red metal fell to 14-month low.

Vase steals the show as $19 million Golconda Pink proves too rich even for Chinese blood

AFP reports a blue-and-white Ming vase fetched nearly $22 million in Hong Kong on Wednesday, setting a new record at auction for porcelain from the 15th century Chinese dynasty. The vase went for more than double the lower pre-sale estimate, but at Sotheby's jewels and jadeite auction held at the same time the 9.27-carat Golconda Pink diamond with an estimate of $13 million – $19 million went unsold. Hong Kong is now the world's third-largest auction centre after New York and London, thanks to China's rapidly growing number of millionaires.

Antofagasta CEO says copper drop an overreaction, shares duly jump 7%

Shares in London-listed Antofagasta, the copper giant controlled by Chile’s Luksic family, jumped 7% in afternoon trade on the FTSE, one of the best performers on a good day for miners. CEO Marcelo Awad earlier told Dow Jones Newswires the slump in copper prices in the last few weeks is a market overreaction and it hadn't seen any of its customers cancel or delay shipments. Copper has slumped over 30% since peaking at an all-time high of $10,190/tonne in February and Awad added that European customers of Antofagasta – after Thursday's move upward worth £10 billion again – are nevertheless reluctant to commit to 2012 orders thanks to all the uncertainty in the eurozone. The Luksics could do with a bit of a boost: analysts say Chile's richest family may have lost their way after buying control of Latin America’s largest container shipping company last month.

Zambia lifts metal export ban

Reuters reports Zambia has lifted a ban on metal exports just two days after imposing it to sort out revenue collection and increase transparency in Africa's top copper producer, a minerals ministry official said on Thursday. It's good news for the Zambian mining sector – a lengthy suspension could have further pressured mines already dealing with volatile metal prices in recent weeks. Newly elected President Michael Sata has been concerned – analysts say with good reason – about copper exporters misreporting the amount of ore leaving Zambia, and earlier this week suspended export permits, to put new guidelines in place. Cobalt, gold and nickel also fell under the ban and now all export payments need to be routed via the central bank.

Rarest rare earths will stay in short supply

Despite worldwide efforts to reduce the consumption of rare earth elements, researcher IMARC Group expects strategies like substitution and recycling to have a little effect on demand for erbium, dysprosium, terbium, neodymium and europium in the short term.

Forget pricing, politics and pipelines – there's a much bigger threat to the oil sands

Even if both Keystone XL and Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipelines are built, bitumen is expensive to extract and cannot compete with the many new shale oil plays – particularly in the Bakken oil basin where studies put the recoverable oil at 24 billion barrels – which have pushed US production to its highest level in a decade. No wonder Enbridge – busy building out its capacity in Bakken while Northern Gateway wallows in the approval process – said "it's the wild west out there at the moment."

Greens sue over Keystone 'construction', TransCanada says it only 'mowed some grass'

The Keystone XL pipeline project of TransCanada Corp. should be halted because the US did not complete an environmental impact review before work started, green advocacy groups said in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday. The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and Western Nebraska Resources Council alleges the public process was a "sham" and that TransCanada has already started construction in the lawsuit filed in Omaha, Nebraska federal court. Governors of five of the six states the pipeline crosses have backed the project, except for the Nebraska. TransCanada has strongly denied the claims – all it did in Nebraska was "mow some grass."

Europe gold reserves jump €56.8 billion

Gold and gold receivables held by euro zone central banks rose by €56.8 billion to €420 billion after a quarterly revaluation, the European Central Bank said on Wednesday. Net foreign exchange reserves in the Eurosystem of central banks rose by €13.2 billion to €191.1 billion after the revaluation, the ECB said in a weekly consolidated financial statement. The combined balance sheet of the ECB and the 17 national euro zone central banks grew by €80.8 billion to €2.289 trillion, the statement showed. The euro fell against the dollar on Wednesday as worries about a Greek default persist and one day after the first European bank had to be bailed out.

North American Palladium to expand flagship Ontario mine

Canada's North American Palladium said it plans to expand its flagship mine in Northern Ontario at a cost of around $75 million for the first phase of the project. Phase 1 of the Lac des Iles expansion should be completed in the fourth quarter of next year when the shaft will begin operating at a rate of 3,500 tonnes per day. The mine is located northwest of the city of Thunder Bay, and its primary deposits are palladium with some platinum, gold, nickel, and copper by-products. The company, which also operates two gold mines in Quebec, received a bump at the opening of trade in New York with the stock up 3.3% in a softer broader market.

LME says buyers lining up as it clears first gold trade

Businessweek reports on the day it cleared and matched its first gold trade the London Metal Exchange which handles some 80% of global trade in metals futures, told members on Tuesday that it has receive "many" expressions of interest from potential bidders. The 134-year-old exchange is facing increased competition from other exchanges in Asia and is plagued by a backlog of industrial metals particularly aluminum that’s building at warehouses. LME-monitored warehouses contain 6.7 million metric tons of metal and at some warehouses such as Detroit it can take as long as seven months to withdraw metal. The LME is looking to start trading silver next year.

Dow Jones makes 400-point U-turn but gold stays weak

US stocks were driven down at Tuesday’s start with the Dow Jones falling as much as 250 points as Belgium's Dexia become the first Eurozone bank to be bailed out before making a dramatic about turn during the last hour of trade to end up 153 points or 1.4%. The S&P 500 dropped shortly after the opening bell only to end up 2.25% at 1,124 points, but is still down 18% over the last four months. The resource-heavy TSX composite index were almost at a two-year low before making up some of the lost ground to end down just two-thirds of a percent. Gold could not capitalize on the ongoing volatility and fell further after hours to trade at $1,623/oz. Bullion had briefly dipped below $1,600/oz before noon.

Coals to Newcastle for the first time in half a century

The Independent reports the first coal to be mined in Newcastle upon Tyne for more than 50 years could be dug on the site of a 21st century science park ahead of construction. Up to 60,000 tonnes of coal lie below what was a brewery until recently. The area was mined extensively in the 18th century and the various workings underneath make present-day building work perilous.

Global markets in bear grip

US stocks were driven down at Tuesday's start as Europe's debt troubles and the US employment outlook continued to rattle investors' nerves. The the major indexes were down for a third session and the S&P 500 Index SPX entered bear market territory, off 20% from its April high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 200 points to 10,435. The S&P 500 dropped 1.7% to 1,080 and the Nasdaq Composite Index came off lightest, down 20 points. The resource-heavy TSX composite index fell more than 2% to hit a 20-month low of 11,006 shortly after the open. Unsurprisingly the carnage was greater in the Eurozone where the major indices in London, Frankfurt and Paris all lost more than 3%. The crude oil market declined further with US futures down 2% to under $76. Gold could not capitalize on the uncertainty and traded $10 lower at $1,647/oz.

Largest futures exchange will now accept $500 million in bullion as real money

CME Group, which operates the largest  US futures exchanges, will from today increase to $500 million the amount of physical gold its US clearing members can post as collateral for margin requirements, more than double the existing $200 million. The Chicago-based firm which first accepted bullion two years ago is the latest of a number of  exchanges including IntercontinentalExchange and other financial services companies like JP Morgan that accept the use of gold as collateral, which essentially places the precious metal in the top tier of asset classes alongside government bonds and currencies. The World Gold Council is also lobbying to have the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision  do the same, which could have widespread repercussions for bullion.

Mercator Minerals hits new low despite record output

Mercator Minerals was changing hands for $1.24, down 7.4% and a new year-low, at the opening of trade on Tuesday despite announcing record production at its Mineral Park Mine in Arizona. The counter has had a dismal year and so far is down 68% on the Toronto exchange in 2011 where it is worth $330 million. Production for the quarter totalled 10.5 million pounds of copper, 2.0 million pounds of molybdenum and 178,000 ounces of silver. Recoveries of copper and molybdenum also increased 7.3% and 3.2%, respectively to average 80.0% for copper and 77.8% for molybdenum.

Oil sands stocks decimated

After crashing through the $80/barrel level on Friday, the price of US crude oil fell further on Monday to trade just above $76/barrel, the lowest in a year, sending the shares of the biggest oil sands players into a tailspin. Suncor tumbled 5.5% and the oil sands bellwether has now lost a staggering $70 billion in market value since its pre-recession high set in May 2008. Canadian Natural Resources gave up 5.6%, Imperial Oil shed 6.5% while Cenovus lost 4.1%. Canadian heavy oil – exported only to the US due to a paucity of pipelines – sells for $10.50 less than US crude and trades at roughly $35 below the international benchmark, meaning oil sands developers have to deal with an effective oil price of $65 and change and now sell some of the cheapest fuel on the planet.

Why diamonds are nothing like gold

MarketWatch takes an in-depth look at the $72 billion global polished diamond trade and finds a distinct lack of pricing clarity and a deeply flawed system that have somehow endured for decades.