Lead is not supposed to be an exciting metal, but try telling that to investors in Red Metal.

The small explorer copped a “speeding” ticket from ASX regulators last week when its shares hit a 12-month high – at the same time the price of lead hit a five-year high.

The company’s reply to questions from exchange regulators about Red Metal’s (ASX:RDM) 57 per cent price rise from 14c to 22c over five trading days was the standard “know no reason”, to which might have been added a question: “is anyone at the ASX looking at metal prices?”

It’s a fair guess that no-one at the exchange has been looking at the lead price which is defying the metal’s reputation as heavy, dull, boring, and very much a “throwback” to a time when it was popular 2000 years ago in Roman plumbing.

Because it fell so heavily out of favour, with a reputation for poisoning people who handle it, or drink water from lead-lined pipes, there has not been an urgency in finding fresh supplies of the metal which is generally produced in association with its close relation, zinc.

By now an astute investor might see what’s coming; if the zinc price is soaring because of declining supply then perhaps supplies of lead are also declining, which they are, with a corresponding increase in the price from US85 cents a pound at this time last year to $US1.13/lb last week.

That 33 per cent rise in the lead price has revitalizsed interest in a metal which still has widespread industrial uses, ranging from traditional car batteries to sheathing high-voltage power cables, not to mention radiation protection and ammunition.

But, over the past few months two significant events have occurred in the lead market: stockpiles have fallen sharply and consumption has been outstripping production — a recipe made for an even higher price to come, perhaps challenging the all-time peak of $US1.60/lb in 2007.

For Red Metal, a low-key explorer with impeccable management, the scene has been set for an overdue revival, perhaps including a challenge to its share-price high of 50c which was also set in 2007.

The twin keys to the stock are its extensive exposure to a region of north Queensland known as the Carpentaria Zinc Province, and a group of executives with a track record of discovering commercially-valuable orebodies.

Top of Red Metal’s exploration targets is Maronan, a lead-rich mineral system about halfway between the regional centre of copper-mining centre Mt Isa and the Cannington silver and lead mine.

A first-pass commercial study completed in March suggested that Maronan could be successfully developed based on a resource of 30.7 million tonnes of ore assaying 6.5 per cent lead and 106 grams per tonne of silver – with the bonus of another 11m/t of ore containing 1.6 per cent copper and 0.8g/t of gold.

Funding development of a mine would be a heavy lift for Red Metal which is why it is looking for a big mining company to joint venture the discovery with a first step being the injection of $15 million to take Maronan to the pre-feasibility level, a move which could also see the size of the discovery expanded.

Finding a partner with deep pockets is never easy for a small company. But in Red Metal’s case a market value of $39 million can be overcome by a management team which is led by Russell Barwick, a former chief executive of Australia’s biggest goldminer, Newcrest, and includes Rob Rutherford, a former exploration manager for the big U.S. miner, Phelps Dodge, and Josh Pitt, a WA-based geologist responsible for a series of significant discoveries with his first being the Golden Grove copper, zinc and gold mine in the early 1970s.

It’s the combination of asset location in a region with some of the best geology in the world for metal discoveries, high-powered management, and rising prices for target commodities which is driving interest in Red Metal.

Can it continue?

That’s not an easy question to answer because so much depends on commodity prices and the ability of management to find a project development partner for Maronan as the next step to being seen as more than just another explorer.

But, if the company can get a start on its first mine the rest of its extensive tenement position in the Carpentaria Zinc Province comes into play, including the Lawn Hill zinc, lead and silver discovery, and Emu Creek where drilling started two weeks ago and from which results should soon start being reported.