Eric Coffin: Winter White Sale in the Yukon
What do tigers, fancy coffee drinks and an Egyptian god have in common? According to Eric Coffin, coeditor of the Hard Rock Analyst (HRA) family of publications, they all are individual opportunities in the larger area play he sees opening up in the Yukon.
The Gold Report: You and your brother David will be making online presentations for The Yukon Room, an online investment conference focusing on the Yukon—perhaps the hottest area for gold exploration. What do you plan to discuss?
Eric Coffin: Part of what we want to cover is why we consider the Yukon an area play. Area plays are different from your average speculation because you're not speculating on just a given company, you're speculating on how the play as a whole will progress. You're speculating on the success of the lead companies in that play, regardless of whether you're actually trading those companies. This is the first time in 15 years that we've called something an area play.
The Yukon is not a digital-staking jurisdiction. That means someone has to go up there and put posts and lines in the ground. That means a major is less likely to come in and blanket stake the whole place. I would guess there are about 100 companies involved here right now. That gives you the critical mass, the promotional activity and news from a lot of companies to help drive the play.
You also have three geographically and geologically diverse discovery areas. The White Gold discovery was a different type of gold discovery than anybody had previously made in the Yukon, at least in terms of its size and average grade. That opens up a whole bunch of real estate that people either haven't looked at before, or they haven't looked in that way before. It allows a large number of companies to argue they might have something—that drives the promotional activity.
TGR: White Gold was discovered by Underworld on a property that was vended from Sean Ryan, correct?
EC: Yes. My brother Dave was up there in the last rush, which was really a base metal rush 30 years ago. So, from what Dave says, Sean went back to deep-auger soil sampling. Instead of taking a sample from a few inches down, you go in with a hand auger and try to get down just above the solid rock below the soil. By doing that, Sean generated some nice, strong soil anomalies and he vended that to Underworld. Underworld went in, drilled it and made a discovery. It did a resource calculation of about a million and a half ounces. Then in March, Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K; NYSE:KGC) took Underworld out.
Almost on the heels of that, another company we were following, Kaminak Gold Corporation (TSX.V:KAM), followed up on a set of projects where Sean's work had generated really nice-looking soil anomalies. Kaminak extended the soil grids and added several others, generating yet more targets. The company started drilling this summer and has made several discoveries on its property. Kaminak will have a fair number of ounces on that project, and it's got the market cap to back it up.
ATAC Resources Ltd. (TSX.V:ATC) is another company making some strong discoveries. It's run by the principals of geological consulting firm Archer Cathro & Associates, which is probably the longest standing and certainly the biggest consulting group in the Yukon. It has a very large proprietary database due to all the work done over the years. ATAC made the Tiger Zone discovery on the Rau Gold Project in central Yukon during the summer of 2009. It staked every bit of the favorable rock unit that was visible; then this summer, it found Osiris.
What got people excited about Osiris was that it looked very much like the classic Carlin model in Nevada. We've talked to several people with a lot of Yukon and Nevada experience who have looked at the core and everyone's pretty much in agreement: It looks like the Carlin model. That got a lot of people quite excited because Carlin has generated some of the world's biggest gold deposits.
In 2010, another company that we follow, Northern Tiger Resources Inc. (TSX.V:NTR) over in the southeastern corner of the Yukon, picked up a project called 3Ace. The company didn't have a lot of time to work on it, but it did a soil sampling and prospecting and got some very high-grade samples at surface. It put in some nice, strong drill holes. Northern Tiger got a second set of holes on another target that weren't so good; that knocked the stock back again. But we believe Northern Tiger has another legitimate discovery area.
So, you have these three areas all attracting property deals. Basically, this means the Yukon is going to be a really, really busy play this year.
TGR: Kaminak reached a high of about US$3.85 in September; it's US$2.70 now. ATAC reached US$9 in September and is US$5.45 now. Northern Tiger was in the high $0.60s; it's in the low $0.40s now. Those share-price drops are mostly because companies can't do exploration work in the winter, and the lack of news drives down the price. Does this mean Yukon gold stocks are effectively on sale?
EC: They are on sale. And you're right, in most of these areas they can't work through the winter. But there are two problems with winter operations in the Yukon. One is that, unlike the Northwest Territories, which is very flat, much of the Yukon is fairly mountainous. When you get snow, it gets dangerous. The second problem—the biggest one in most areas—is water. If you're going to drill significant amounts, you use up a lot of water. There are parts of the Yukon where you simply cannot get running water January–March; it's frozen right down to the bottom of the creek. None of these things are insurmountable in a mining scenario, but it takes a lot of advance work and money to deal with at an exploration level.
But there are areas—probably including White Gold—where you could winterize and drill longer if you were willing to spend the time and effort. I think you're going to see Kaminak doing that because the White Gold area is near the Yukon and White rivers, which are fairly large. You can get running water out in the middle of the winter; it's not easy and it's not cheap, but it's doable.
The other issue in the Yukon is that, once the discoveries were made and the area got hot, these companies all had brokers chasing them around. They mostly did the smart thing, in our opinion, and raised a bunch of money in the fall. So you had the combination winter and all of its placement stock becoming free tradable. The last big financing ATAC did was at US$1.80 and the stock was US$8.
We expected a pullback in the market in January because a lot of guys were waiting for the tax year to end to take profits. As soon as the year clicked over, you could see the selling start. We're expecting roughly one to two months of consolidation. There's an assumption that it's just going to drift until April or May. I disagree. I don't think the bottom is too far away; it may come as early as February. I'm not saying they'll go zooming up, but I think we're probably pretty close to the ultimate winter sale prices.
TGR: You once called Kaminak a "discovery in waiting." Could you give us an update on the Coffee Gold Project status and Kaminak's coming spring exploration program?
EC: It's not a discovery in waiting anymore—it's a discovery. The company's drilled, I think, six different zones. Two or three sets of structures intersecting on the Coffee property, and Kaminak's gotten very strong results from Latte and Supremo. It concentrated on getting as much strike length drilled as possible on these different structures, rather than trying to put holes close enough together to do a resource estimate. I don't think we'll see a resource estimate before fall or winter 2011.
It's a pretty aggressive management group. I think if somebody connected the dots, it's passed 1 million ounces (Moz.) by now. This year, I think you'll see a very large drill program—probably 30,000–40,000 meters. Kaminak's cashed up for that already, so it doesn't need to go back to the market.
The company also generated a number of soil anomalies with this year's work that it didn't get a drill. It has two or three discovery zones, like Latte and Supremo, where it will go back for infill drilling to get holes close enough together to do a resource calculation. It's going to be an aggressive program. I think you'll see a lot of drill results out of Kaminak this year.
TGR: So, it could be a year before we see a resource estimate from Coffee?
EC: It'll be a year before you see a resource estimate, but a lot of guys know how to connect the dots and how to do the numbers on their own. I think traders worry far too much about NI 43-101 numbers. Contrary to what a lot of people think, most of the companies that are the ultimate buyers for a company like Kaminak don't really care what your 43-101 number is. Anyone spending US$300M, US$500M or $1B mining a project is going to run his or her own numbers internally. They're going to run their own economics. That will be the basis of their decision. It's nice for the market to have an NI 43-101 number, but I think people worry about it too much. If we can see there's a discovery and it's growing, we focus on that. We don't get too concerned about when, or if, a company will put out a 43-101 estimate.
I could point you to companies like Virginia, which was taken out at US$14; it never put out a 43-101 estimate and it wasn't accidental. The company didn't see any point in it. Virginia said, "We know who's looking at us. We know who's probably going to buy us and those guys are doing the numbers themselves. They don't care about a 43-101."
TGR: ATAC has outlined about a million ounces of gold at its Rau Project. One hole on the Tiger target hit 28 meters, running 24.07 g/t. That's not bad. What can we expect from Rau when winter ends?
EC: That is an absurdly big property—130 kilometers long. Last year, 90% of the drilling was focused on the Tiger zone. This year, I think the focus will be on Osiris. ATAC made the Osiris discovery on the surface in August 2010. By the time the company got a drill on it in September, it was already starting to snow. ATAC's barely scratched the surface. So, it's probably got 1 Moz. at Tiger; I think the real focus will be Osiris and the area surrounding it. Keep in mind that Osiris is 100 km. from Tiger. There's a lot of stuff in that area to chase down. The company's got color and pathfinder anomalies; pathfinder elements are generally found in a Carlin-model deposit. It's also going to do a big budget. I think you'll see a US$15M–US$20M budget from ATAC this year.
TGR: It's a little easier to do that when your share price is as high as ATAC's. What do you think of that share price at US$5.50 or higher? Is that reasonable?
EC: It's probably reasonable given ATAC's potential. I wouldn't say there's enough there right now to justify US$5.50, but I can understand why people are buying it. These guys staked the whole geological unit; they covered everything. That gives the company a district play. The best example I can give you is a company like Andean Resources, which is a discovery in Argentina. When Goldcorp Inc. (NYSE:GG; TSX:G) took it over, people said, "These guys are nuts," because Goldcorp paid something like US$400/oz. It paid that much, not just because of the ounces it knew about, but because Andean had tied up the whole district.
I think ATAC has tried to build the same thing at Rau. It staked the entire unit. It has Osiris, which is very early with only a few holes, plus targets it knows nothing about yet. If and when a company takes out ATAC, it won't just have Tiger and Rau, it'll have the entire set of rocks to play with.
TGR: A lot of our readers are real bargain hunters. They want the names that are cheaper and perhaps under the radar. What are some names you're keeping an eye on that fit those characteristics?
EC: We're still following Northern Tiger, which is a bargain again. We think it has a discovery there. We understand why it got sold down; the last set of drill holes wasn't that great. But that was on a separate and distinct trend from the first set of drill holes. It's important to point out that the company has two or three other trends where it got very nice samples from prospecting; the soil anomalies look better—and larger—than the ones it drilled. So, there's a lot of follow-up work to be done. It also optioned a property called SPROG-EE from Alexco Resource Corp. (TSX:AXR; NYSE.A:AXU), which is north of the 3Ace project. Alexco's predecessor generated another pretty good soil anomaly and, much like 3Ace, got in right at the end of the year when it was starting to snow and popped in some holes where possible. It may or may not have really hit the target, but it pulled a couple of good holes and there are a couple of really strong trench results.
TGR: Could you see that stock getting back to the high US$0.80 range again?
EC: Definitely. Northern Tiger has a target called the Green Zone, which is close to the other two zones on 3Ace. It is a stronger soil anomaly than the ones the company drilled and it's quite a bit larger. It looks like a lot of the gold is coarse or native gold. That's good and bad. It's good because you can get really, really high-grade numbers with surface samples up to 5,000 grams; but it's bad in the sense that it's going to be very nuggety. So, it will take a lot of drill holes to know what the company's really got. It's quite possible that it will be one of those properties where you drill 5 meters of 100 grams and 20 meters the way you drill 5 meters of 1 gram, and 20 meters the way you drill 5 meters of 50 grams. You get high-grade variability in nugget gold systems, so people should be prepared for that when the drill results start arriving again.
TGR: What are some other smallish names?
EC: There are tons of them. There are two types of exploration being done in the Yukon; some companies are working on new stuff, which would be ATAC, Kaminak and Northern Tiger. Then there's a bunch of companies that went in and picked up preexisting things. Golden Predator Corp. (TSX:GPD) is a company that picked up a lot of well-known projects and is acquiring new ones, too. It put out some pretty good holes from a property called Grew Creek in the south-central Yukon. Grew Creek, like 3Ace, has the advantage of having pretty good logistics. It's right off a main road and the power grid runs right through it. The company is talking about starting to drill in February. At the end of the season last year, it pulled a couple of pretty good holes and seems to have drilled some higher-grade stuff.
The other company that's working on an existing site is Victoria Gold Corp. (TSX.V:VIT). It just spent US$7M winterizing its camp and will be drilling through the winter on a project called Dublin Gulch, with which my brother David is intimately familiar. David actually took the first hard rock gold samples there around 35 years ago. When gold was US$350, this project didn't make sense; but with gold at US$1,300, it probably does make sense. Victoria is going to be drilling very aggressively.
It may be that companies like Victoria and Golden Predator will change the nature of the Yukon play a little bit. They don't generate as much immediate excitement. As I said earlier, with an area play, it's very important that the discovery be new. Neither of these things is new per se, but they are discoveries that people can get their arms around. They're known resources. You've got much better economics for bulk-tonnage gold deposits now. And because these companies are willing to winterize and drill through the winter, it could change things in the Yukon. People are so used to thinking of the Yukon as a highly seasonal play—they're not used to companies saying they will deliver results year-round. We're quite interested to see how these guys trade earlier in the year.
We did a Yukon Gold Rush report in the fall for subscribers. It gives a little bit of background and lists a couple of new names. Dave and I are keeping tabs on three or four private deals that we know will be public before the field season, whether that's next month or March or April.
We also follow Silver Quest Resources Ltd. (TSX.V:SQI). It has a number of projects in the White Gold area, some of which are White-Gold model, but others in the immediate area are actually high-grade projects. One is Prospector Mountain, just south of the White Gold area. It's a high-grade model that looks interesting. Silver Quest also has some tie on the ground to Kaminak. Whether the trends extend to Kaminak's ground, Silver Quest doesn't yet know.
TGR: You're talking about the Boulevard Project, right?
EC: Yes. On paper, the trends on the camp run onto Boulevard. Whether the gold does, who knows. Prospector Mountain has some high-grade numbers. In 2010, once the market caught on to area plays, it got to critical mass and things started moving fast in August and September. Everybody was running around trying to get work done. But there are only so many people with the Yukon experience to do it. That means a lot of guys haven't finished defining their targets yet. A lot of this is still sort of loosey-goosey, to be honest. There are properties that we like the look of just because of location, but the company in question didn't quite get enough work done for us to say, "yeah, there's a target there."
TGR: In an area-play scenario, at what point does consolidation start to creep into the mix?
EC: I think we're seeing consolidation now. There will probably be two or three periods of consolidation in the Yukon due to the seasonality. You'll get the first-stage guys and the second-stage guys that know the area who will get in there quickly. Guys like a Sean Ryan or companies like Strategic Resources or ATAC will be picking properties.
This area play has already reached the point where you're seeing companies pick up anything in the Yukon just so they can say they are there. They're picking up stuff in the Yukon because they think they can raise money on it; but those guys tend to come and go fairly quickly.
There were area plays in the Yukon in the past but, by and large, they weren't hard rock gold plays—they were actually base metal plays. Selwyn Basin was a really big area play in the '70s, but it was a base metal play. A lot of work was done in the past when they didn't even assay for gold because it wasn't what they were interested in. Now, people are going back to that work and those databases, looking for pathfinder elements.
TGR: You're always a voice of reason. So far this year, we've seen gold fall about 4%. Can you tell us what's behind that dip and what we should expect in the near term?
EC: It looks like the U.S. economy is accelerating a little. I think we could see 3% growth in the U.S. this year. That's not spectacular by any means, but I think that news and the higher level of confidence is actually doing the U.S. dollar some good. We've seen a move in the USD in the last two or three weeks. I think that move has a little more room to the upside. As much as anything, that has been knocking the gold price down. I think it's going to be sloppy here for a couple of months. If you take a look at the TSX Venture Exchange index chart, it has a pretty amazing upleg. It was close to 80% bottom-to-top from July to the end of December. Huge amounts of money were raised in September, October and November. A lot of those guys are sitting on paper that is up quite a bit.
Take ATAC, for example, that was a US$1.80 placement. The stock was US$8 when it became tradable. What do you think it's going to do? There are a couple of hundred companies that have positions right now where I think people are waiting for the calendar to be turned over into a new tax year, so they can take the money off the table. I expect gold to go sideways and maybe a little lower during that period. I'm not concerned about it longer term, but we do expect some consolidation. If I had to guess a number for gold in 2011, I'd say US$1,450. I'm not expecting it to go nuts; sideways at US$1,350 works for me. I'm not going to be crying into my beer over that.