2020 was a great year to invest in small cap resources stocks.

Gold and palladium prices broke records.

Iron ore and industrial metals like nickel, copper, lead and zinc hit multi-year highs.

Uranium stirred, poised for a breakout.

Battery metals like lithium showed signs of recovery as the post-COVID-19 electric vehicle buildout begins in earnest.

Most importantly, it was a year defined by numerous high profile company making discoveries; the kind that make investors very rich.

In 2018, there were just 11 resources stocks finishing with gains of 100 per cent or above. In 2019, it was 44.

In 2020 we have 201.

Six of those have enjoyed gains of 1000 per cent or higher.

There were winners everywhere, but the standout sector in 2020 has been gold, despite the precious metal losing its lustre over the past few months as market volatility subsides:

>>Here’s our Top 50 resources performers of 2020 (as of Monday, Dec 14)

DEG De Grey Mining 1.04 $1.3B 2500
SRN Surefire Resources 0.045 $32.9M 2150
CHN Chalice Mining 3.93 $1.5B 2146
VUL Vulcan Energy 2.72 $22.7M 1600
ESR Estrella Resources 0.115 $106.1M 1338
AUT Auteco Minerals 0.1 $156.7M 1150
E25 Element 25 1.54 $209.8M 859
PDI Predictive Discovery 0.057 $55.3M 726
LCY Legacy Iron Ore 0.016 $50.0M 700
WWI West Wits Mining 0.056 $68.1M 700
AZS Azure Minerals 0.76 $235.4M 591
TSO Tesoro Resources 0.275 $115.7M 576
CAD Caeneus Minerals 0.01 $39.2M 567
SCN Scorpion Minerals 0.065 $14.7M 550
ARV Artemis Resources 0.14 $153.5M 536
SI6 SI6 Metals 0.025 $35.9M 525
MAN Mandrake Resources 0.087 $28.9M 521
WCN White Cliff Minerals 0.031 $16.5M 520
AUR Auris Minerals 0.086 $38.3M 514
MTC Metalstech 0.21 $30.8M 483
ANX Anax Metals 0.056 $16.9M 460
ADN Andromeda Metals 0.265 $572.8M 452
FEX Fenix Resources 0.245 $110.3M 444
MCT Metalicity 0.018 $31.3M 419
ACP Audalia Resources 0.03 $19.4M 400
CAV Carnavale Resources 0.01 $18.4M 400
CNB Carnaby Resources 0.36 $48.3M 393
FHS Freehill Mining 0.063 $106.5M 385
TMZ Thomson Resources 0.115 $35.9M 366
KIN KIN Mining 0.175 $126.1M 365
ABR American Pacific 1.25 $362.8M 361
RDN Raiden Resources 0.032 $17.4M 357
NME Nex Metals Exploration 0.05 $14.4M 355
AZY Antipa Minerals 0.045 $111.6M 350
CY5 Cygnus Gold 0.18 $19.5M 350
ZEO Zeotech 0.054 $75.5M 350
RIM Rimfire Pacific 0.009 $16.3M 350
NVA Nova Minerals 0.16 $267.2M 344
KGM Kalnorth Gold 0.013 $11.6M 333
LTR Liontown Resources 0.35 $584.4M 332
SLZ Sultan Resources 0.245 $16.3M 330
MGV Musgrave Minerals 0.375 $203.0M 326
ADV Ardiden 0.017 $36.1M 325
AVW Avira Resources 0.0085 $12.4M 325
LSA Lachlan Star 0.017 $15.0M 325
AXE Archer Materials 0.545 $122.5M 319
FFR Firefly Resources 0.165 $49.5M 313
PUR Pursuit Minerals 0.023 $16.9M 311
KAI Kairos Minerals 0.038 $62.0M 307
LRS Latin Resources 0.032 $30.8M 306
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TOP 10 for 2020

#10 West Wits Mining (ASX:WWI) +700%

Market Cap: $68 million

It was a breakout year for the +4.3 million ounce South African mine developer, which aims to generate between 50-60,000oz of gold a year from its long-life Witwatersrand Basin project.

Production is due to start in the third quarter of next year.

West Wits briefly hit 10-bag (+1000 per cent) status in October, but delayed mining approvals (and a declining gold price) means investors have to be content with a 700 per cent gain.


#9 Legacy Iron Ore (ASX:LCY) +700%

Market Cap: ~$50 million

There’s no good reason the early stage gold explorer caught a rocket on December 14, which is the main reason Legacy makes the top 10.

Legacy used the subsequent speeding ticket from the ASX as an excuse to rattle off some  recent accomplishments at its Mt Celia gold project.

“The company notes that additional metallurgical test work and a resource upgrade are to be announced and have previously been advised to the market on 17 November 2020,” it says.

“The company expects to announce the resource upgrade in late December 2020 or by mid January 2021.”


#8 Predictive Discovery (ASX:PDI) +726%

Market Cap: ~$55 million

Predictive Discovery (ASX:PDI) went from  sub-$5m battler to $60m market cap project developer on the back of a huge gold find in West Africa.

In April, the long-time West African prospect generator rocketed from 0.7c to 7c per share – a 900 per cent gain – on its discovery at the Bankan project in Guinea.

An initial drilling program returned numerous shallow, thick, and high-grade gold intercepts like 10m at 26.52 grams per tonne (g/t) gold.


#7 Element 25 (ASX:E25) +859%

Market Cap: ~$210 million

Tesla boss and all-round trailblazer Elon Musk recently unveiled an innovative new lithium-ion battery with a cathode that is 33 per cent manganese.

It threw the spotlight onto Element 25, an almost-miner which has done all the hard yards to develop its long-life Butcherbird manganese project near Newman, WA.

With funding and permitting in place, first production is pencilled in for Q1 next year.


#6 Auteco Minerals (ASX:AUT) +1150%

Market Cap: ~$156 million

Market darling Auteco Minerals flew high for much of the year after buying a historic Canadian gold project called Pickle Crow in February.

Pickle Crow was one of Canada’s highest-grade gold mines, producing 1.5 million ounces at 16 g/t until its closure in 1966.

By September, the former vanadium-titanium explorer  – spearheaded by the same team that made Bellevue Gold (ASX:BGL) such a success — had defined a 1moz resource grading 11.3g/t gold.

With a host of high grade drilling results yet to be included in the resource, mineralisation open in every direction and numerous regional targets to test, Auteco believes there is massive potential to keep adding ounces to Pickle Crow.


#5 Estrella Resources (ASX:ESR) +1338%

Market Cap: ~$106 million

A spectacular intersection at Estrella Resources’ flagship Carr Boyd project could see it “joining an elite list of recent Western Australian nickel discoveries” like Julimar, Golden Swan and Mawson.

The discovery hole at ‘T5’ announced October 8 – which was completely blind — sparked an immediate rerate in the explorer’s share price.

“We are moving fast to see what further mineralisation exists at T5 with two diamond rigs drilling 24/7,” says managing director Chris Daws.

“I am extremely pleased with what has thus far been achieved and I look forward in the days, weeks ahead as the drill bits keep turning on what has been a remarkable program to date.”


#4 Vulcan Energy (ASX:VUL) +1600%

Market Cap: ~$206 million

Vulcan listed in 2018 as Norway focused copper-zinc explorer Koppar Resources.

In 2019, the company rebranded and refocused after getting its hands on a large, lithium-rich geothermal brine project in Germany.

For the European battery sector, a local and sustainable raw materials supply chain is increasingly important.

This is Vulcan’s angle – the explorer reckons it can produce a “unique zero carbon lithium product” from this project, already the largest in Europe. It looks like investors agree.


#3 Chalice Mining (ASX:CHN) +2146%

Market Cap: ~$1.5 billion

Chalice completely transformed its fortunes when it made a high-grade nickel-copper-palladium discovery with the first-ever drill hole into the Julimar project, about 60km from Perth in WA.

It is interesting because Julimar was a so-called ‘generative’ project; an early stage greenfield (unexplored) opportunity largely designed to keep Chalice’s project pipeline full.

It was never intended to be a major focus in 2020.

Now the company’s sole focus, this growing discovery – located in an area which had never before been drilled for nickel — has been a rocket for the entire region.


#2 Surefire Resources (ASX:SRN) +2150%

Market Cap: ~$32.9 million

In November 2019, disappointing results from a promising drilling program at the flagship Victory Bore project sent Surefire Resources’ share price into a tailspin.

The explorer regrouped and, in August, announced the acquisition of a couple of historic WA gold projects.

In November this year – one year on from the flop at Victory Bore — the WA explorer announced thick, high grade gold in its first ever drill program at the newly acquired Yidby project.

Results, including 40m at 3g/t, sent the stock through the stratosphere. Beautiful recovery.


#1 De Grey Mining (ASX:DEG) +2500%

Market Cap: ~$1.3 billion

De Grey is the exploration success story of the year.

Over the past 12 months, De Grey’s near sole focus has been on extending and defining its mammoth Hemi gold discovery with an incredible ~250,000m of drilling.

As Hemi grew so did De Grey’s share price, from 3.9c in December 2019 to over $1.04 currently.

De Grey has now defined four main zones at Hemi over a large 3.5sqkm area to depths of up to 400m.

Highlight intercepts so far include 64m at 13.4g/t gold from 141m, including 19m at 42g/t.

That’s huge.

And yet after all this drilling, these zones remain ‘open’ along strike and at depth, which means De Grey doesn’t know where the gold ends yet.

Eight rigs are currently spinning to support maiden resource for Hemi in the first half of 2021.

At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While De Grey is a Stockhead advertiser, it did not sponsor this article.