The zinc price has been one of the surprise packages in the year to date. By now, most forecasters had the galvanising metal coming off its 2018 highs to be trading at $US1-$US1.10/lb.
But zinc has had other ideas. It was last quoted at a near 8-month high of $US1.29/lb, making it the second best performed metal of the year to date behind nickel.
The metal’s price strength is a response to stocks on the London Metal Exchange falling to the lowest levels since October 2007.
Demand also continues to outpace supply, with the International Lead and Zinc Group estimating a 28,000t supply deficit in January.
The North Queensland floods in February tightened things a bit further when producers in the region had trouble getting their output to export ports.
It’s why the same leading metal forecasters that had zinc back at $1.10/lb by now are now happy to put their names to $US1.35/lb price predictions for later this year.
Add in the revenue boosting benefits of the lower US exchange rate, and it is a case of happy days for producers of the metal.
Zinc’s year to date performance is also fuelling a healthy interest in explorers for the metal, a situation reflected in the number of capital raisings by explorers in recent times in an otherwise tough market for risk capital.
Copper prices have also been working their way back to $US3/lb after getting as low as $2.56/lb early in the new year, with the thematic that supplies could struggle to keep pace with demand growth in company years overcoming US-China trade war fears and a China slowdown.
Put zinc’s 17% price rise for the year to date together with copper’s handy 14% price recovery in the same period, and an exploration project involving both is bound to come to the attention of investors.
One explorer in that “polymetallic’’ category is Northern Territory base metals specialist Todd River Resources (ASX:TRT). It has been trading at 8c for a market value of $11.5 million.
After an entitlement issue and a strategic share placement to ASX-listed S2R Resources (ASX:S2R) late last year, Todd River entered the new year as one of the better funded junior explorers, with cash at the end of December $4.68 million.
The placement to the technically savvy S2R gave it a 19.9% stake in Todd River.
Apart from the stronger market for zinc and copper, it was Todd River’s breakthrough discovery last year at its 100% owned Mt Hardy copper-zinc project, 300km north-west of Alice Springs, that underpinned the support for its equity raisings.
Best results from drilling at the EM1 prospect at Mt Hardy included 9.15m grading 4.5% copper, 8.8% zinc, 7.6% lead and 182g/t silver in one hole, and 13.45m at 15.9% zinc, 0.9% copper, 5.75% lead and 83g/t silver in another hole.
The results were amongst the best reported in the base metals exploration space last year but questions remain about the scale of the discovery.
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That’s just what Todd River has set out to resolve with its 2019 drilling program kicking off earlier this month. About 5,000m of drilling is planned at the EM1 prospect to target strike extensions and infill the previously discovered mineralisation.
The program is expected to take about 11 weeks and the company expects the program will be extended “should results be in line with internal expectations”.
The company is also looking to expand its footprint in the region, with several new areas to be targeted with the drill bit in the current program.
The new targets include the nearby Browns prospect. Historic drilling there included a 13m hit grading 1.9% copper and 1.17% zinc in 2013 which was not followed up.
It will be drilled after defining targets using the latest whizz-bang remote sensing techniques.