Undies for Xmas again? Stuff our experts’ small cap picks in your stocking instead
Tis the season for gazing in the crystal ball. We asked five noted fundies and analysts which metals and stocks they’re bullish on going into the New Year.
We’ve put the call out to some of Australia’s foremost resources experts to get their take on the market in 2024.
2023 was a year in which bull commodities like lithium, rare earths and nickel fell in a heap, and seemingly dead-in-the-water metals like uranium, iron ore and coking coal boomed. What’s next?
We’ve put the call out to some of Australia’s foremost resources experts to get their take on the market in 2024, and the small cap mining stocks they are keeping a close eye on going into the Year of the Dragon.
As you may recall, our Ten Bagger expert John Forwood and his Lowell Resources Fund (ASX:LRT) spanked the ASX 200 this year largely thanks to a spectacularly well-timed bet on lithium boom stock Azure Minerals (ASX:AZS).
After getting $1 million in at 27.2c, Lowell sold out the bulk of its position 3.3 million out of 4 million shares at an average price of $3.58 — equivalent to almost $12 million.
Its final holding looks set to net another healthy profit — with Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting and Chile’s SQM odds on to complete a joint takeover next year at $3.70 or $3.65 a share. Like in sports though you’re only as good as your last pick. So what does the respected fundie, geologist and lawyer like for 2024?
“Platinum – structurally 35% of PGM mines (dominated by South Africa) are loss making at the moment and shafts are closing on the Eastern Bushveld,” Forwood says.
“But the World Platinum Investment Council forecast a deficit of 353,000oz for 2024, after a 2023 deficit of 1Moz. The WPIC says automotive demand continues to strengthen, up 14% this year, with a further 2% increase expected next year.
“2023 will see the highest industrial demand on record, with 2024 forecast to be the third-highest.”
“Cobalt. It is mainly produced as a by-product at copper and nickel mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia, meaning production continues even when cobalt prices fall (but copper prices for example remain steady, as has happened),”Forwood says.
“China’s CMOC was banned from exporting copper and cobalt from the Tenke-Fungurume mine in the DRC for 10 months until April this year.
“That created a big stockpile of cobalt which is slowly being pushed into the market, while its KFM mine began producing this year.
“‘Cobalt is one of the worst markets I’ve ever seen. I can’t remember a similar level of oversupply,’ according to Jim Lennon, nickel market guru at Macquarie. ‘For the next three or four years, the projected supply increase is almost double the market size.'”
Cooper Metals (ASX:CPM): “It has a market cap $20m with an exciting looking discovery at its Mt Isa East project in Queensland,” Forwood says.
“Cooper reported a standout first pass RC drill result of 71m at 2.8% Cu, with follow-up drilling once the wet season is over in March next year.”
Rugby Resources (TSX-V:RUG): “Rugby has a market cap of C$14m with a big porphyry copper discovered in Colombia, adjacent to a rumoured Rio Tinto discovery,” Forwood says.
“We are looking for an announcement of a favourable JV with a major in H1 2024.”
CAA Mining (Unlisted): “LRT is a substantial holder of CAA Mining, an unlisted lithium explorer with an £8m market cap,” Forwood says.
“CAA has 5 licences just granted adjacent to Atlantic Lithium’s (ASX:A11) Ewoyaa project in Ghana (35Mt at 1.25% Li2O).
“CAA is carrying out the first ever RC drilling on nine targets (never before drilled) and has intersected pegmatite over 100m thickness. Assay results are expected early 2024.”
A geologist for over 20 years, Hedley Widdup is renowned for his mining investment clock, with his calls on when the mining cycle has hit its peak known for their perspicacity.
After selling out of a gold project in Indonesia, Lion (ASX:LSX) is investing in early stage exploration plays in Australia and keeping its powder dry.
It has $70m in cash ready to deploy, Widdup told Stockhead in pre-development mining plays after the market has hit the floor in preparation for the next upswing.
LSX has also recently made a big investment in an unlisted explorer called Plutonic, which is exploring in virtually uncharted territory in the NT.
“The best investing theme will be bargains,” Widdup says.
“We’ve had a flurry of equity market hopefulness in the last few weeks revolving around peaking inflation and interest rates, which already looks to be wearing off.
“I am sure there will be resurgences to this through 2024 and doubt that it’s the macro picture that many people or investors are hoping for.
“If it’s good for a commodity it would be gold, but that might mean it is reasonably robust where others weaken. Sorry not to be more optimistic.
“Gold equities, especially micro-capitalisation sized companies, have been one of the most contrarian themes in the market in 2023. If there are periods when gold rallies in 2024 to test levels like US$2100 and US$2200/oz, I think investors will be tempted to have a closer look at explorer/developer companies with gold.
“In the listed space, with the strong likelihood of ongoing market weakness and depressed share prices, I think there is a strong possibility of consolidation within the mining juniors.
“That is especially in sectors like gold where there is a fair population of companies with established projects and mineral inventories.”
“I think the areas of the mining equity market that are at most risk are those that have been headlines in 2023,” Widdup says.
“Two key themes come to mind. Firstly uranium – I am not a doubter that nuclear power has potential as a sustainable form of non-CO2 emitting energy, I just see a lot of challenges to overcome to broad proliferation of nuclear power.
“The price of uranium has rallied, but so much of this material is sold under long term contract to utilities that really don’t want to lock in 10 years of price based on a spot price spike, I don’t know that the commodity price performance we have seen is conducive to generating substantial growth in long term demand for uranium.
“The second theme is the market excitement around WA based lithium explorers – where there have been billionaires buying in at above takeover bid prices.
“This interest is against the grain of the lithium price and the equities of lithium producers and as much as the market seems happy to speculate that this amazing buying interest will lead somewhere (it has certainly enabled enhanced liquidity for these particular stocks), I suspect they get caught up in the overall lithium trend during 2024.”
Saturn Metals (ASX:STN): Saturn has a huge gold resource. It’s low grade so it’s overlooked but has metallurgy that favours heap leaching. So there is a pathway to the sort of asset that the Americans are familiar with but Aussies aren’t.
Warwick Grigor remains the prime mover at Far East Capital having established the firm with now WA iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest in the 1990s.
“I like gold,” Grigor says.
“Falling interest rates and geopolitical uncertainty, and there is continuing dissipation of electric vehicle inputs being a path to share market profits.
“Uranium has already got a fair bit of optimism built into it. I think that’ll get more political support from around the world, with the only caveat being that there’s a risk of a black swan with Putin doing something stupid with nuclear power plants in Ukraine.
“With interest rates expected to fall during the course of next year, thereby avoiding recessions and economic activity will pick up a bit, that’ll send us back to more traditional metal stocks.
“They’ll do better next year than they did the year we’re just closing but to say how something’s going to go for a full year, it’s pretty hard to see more than three months in advance in this market.”
“Lithium is likely to be the worst performer. There will be an exhaustion of punters and realisation that there is no shortage,” Grigor says.
“We’ve had all this money going into green things and EV input materials in the last couple of years and it’s all starting to come unstuck now.
“We’ve had rare earth prices collapse, lithium prices collapse. They’ve fallen so hard it’s natural to have a bounce, but they’re not going to come back with the same sort of enthusiasm as we had before.”
NexGen Energy (ASX:NXG): “NexGen is a high grade uranium discovery in Canada. That’s where the quality is, it’s already performed strongly but I think it’ll continue to do well,” Grigor says.
Aurora Energy (ASX:1AE): “That looks too cheap in the market,” he says.
“Aurora is progressing a scoping study on the Aurora uranium project, a deposit near Thacker Pass in the United States which also has lithium potential.
“They’re in Oregon and what they’re planning to do is mine it on one side of the border and transport it to Nevada where they can process it.”
Anteotech (ASX:ADO): “Anteotech is putting silicon anode batteries that’s made great technical success that will outperform pure graphite anodes,” Grigor says.
Celsius Resources (ASX:CLA): “Celsius are very cheap in the market. They’re down half because there was a corporate deal that fell over so it fell back to where it came from,” Grigor says.
“It’s a potentially very profitable, very large copper project in the Philippines. The numbers look very good, but the Canadian company (Silvercorp Metals) tried to get control and the deal fell over.”
Aurelia Metals (ASX:AMI): “They’ve developing the new Federation ore body. That’s a serious production company that’s turned the corner. That was sold down heavily during the year, but it’s on the mend now,” Grigor says.
Lucapa Diamond Company (ASX:LOM): “I think that’s got tremendous upside both from earnings from the diamond mines and exploration potential,” Grigor says.
“Lucapa’s capped at $50m but the money owed to Lucapa by it’s joint venture partners exceeds its market capitalisation.
“They’re getting a loan repayment of $15m over the next six months, which is about 30% of the market cap. And after they announced that there that they sold four very bid diamonds and their attributable share of that is $10m.
“So it’s a company which is almost totally derisked, the financials look amazingly good but the market hasn’t woken up to it yet.”
Sydney-based mining analyst Gavin Wendt has followed the resources sector for decades. Among his recent successes have been Liontown Resources (ASX:LTR) and Capricorn Metals (ASX:CMM), whose share price gains have rallied 5700% and 996% respectively since his bulletin MineLife initiated coverage.
“2024 begins with much anticipation from a commodity demand perspective,” Wendt says.
“Many commodities struggled during 2023 due to the combination of China economic woes and high global interest rates, which together managed to strangle demand.
“However, China is taking tentative steps along the path to recovery, and global interest rates have almost certainly peaked, providing a supportive environment for most commodities.
“Given these two key themes, the commodity most likely to benefit from an easing interest rate environment is gold, whilst the commodity that’s set to benefit most from the China recovery story is copper.”
“Nickel could underperform the broader commodity sector during 2024, as market fundamentals in terms of demand and supply are the least supportive of the major commodities, with China and Indonesia’s growing relationship being a major contributor,” Wendt says.
“We have seen China finance a host of value-adding infrastructure within Indonesia, which is providing it with the low-cost nickel supply that it requires.
“Nickel has also suffered from a dramatic fall in investor confidence, not helped by short squeezes on the LME trading platform in recent years. Hence, heavyweight investors might look elsewhere in the commodity sphere.”
Barton Gold (ASX:BGD): “Our outlook for gold is robust, as we expect prices to reach new records (likely above US$2100 per ounce) – based on a weaker US currency, strong central bank buying, a recovery in gold ETF purchases, and escalating debt levels worldwide,” Wendt says. “Barton Gold, which owns the 1.38Moz Tunkillia project, is an emerging production play in South Australia.”
Spartan Resources (ASX:SPR): “Spartan owns the Dalgaranga project where it’s made the large, high grade Never Never discovery,” Wendt says. “It is currently a highly successful Western Australia exploration company that is looking to make the jump back into production in the near future.”
Astral Resources (ASX:AAR): “An attractive Western Australian Goldfields corporate play based on its sizeable Mandilla gold resource near Kalgoorlie.”
Revolver Resources (ASX:RRR): “Our outlook for copper in 2024 is also positive, with prices likely to recover as both end-user and investor demand returns, and supplies begin to drop,” Wendt says. “Revolver is an advanced exploration play that is importantly looking to transition to production at its Osprey Project near Mt Isa.”
Anax Metals (ASX:ANX): “An emerging producer with a focus on its Whim Creek project in Western Australia,” Wendt says. “After putting a $71m capex estimate in a DFS this year on restarting the copper and zinc project, Anax received mining approval from the WA government and is progressing funding discussions.”
Orion Minerals (ASX:ORN): “Has two advanced and sizeable copper projects in South Africa’s Northern Cape where it is targeting a return to production.”
Cottesloe-based fund manager Nero has had some wins this year, picking Lithium Power International (ASX:LPI) ahead of its expected takeover by Chile’s Codelco and leading a campaign to replace the management of ASX energy junior Carnarvon Energy (ASX:CVN).
That saw Nero’s Delroy take a board spot along Collins St Asset Management’s William Barker as non-executive director Debra Bakker and MD Adrian Cook stepped aside at the Dorado oil project participant.
“We expect to see more government assistance in the US and Europe focused around strategic metals (mostly EV related at this stage) as Chinese EVs are substantially out-competing European/US domestic producers,” Delroy says.
“At some stage this should translate to share price support for those companies with resource development assets in these jurisdictions – hopefully that’s next year. There is genuine asset scarcity so advanced assets will be at a premium at some point.”
“Uranium equities generally trade at implied uranium prices way beyond spot and the cost curve,” Delroy says.
“We are constructive uranium longer term but the equities have probably got ahead of things at this stage. Also iron ore trades way beyond the cost curve and is one of the few commodities with forecast investment growth next year so at some point the supply response will likely pull pricing back from current levels near US$140/t.”
BP (LON:BP): “We very much like the European big cap oil names,” Delroy says. “They trade at substantial discounts to US peers, have excellent balance sheets and diversified businesses (often including renewables businesses).
“Free cashflows support a combination of dividends and buybacks and we are also constructive in general on oil pricing. BP is probably the standout name.”
At Stockhead we tell it like it is. While Spartan Resources was a Stockhead advertiser at the time of writing, it did not sponsor this article.