Successful mining investors are Jacks (or Jills) of all trades. They moonlight as virtual amateur geologists, and they are well-versed in the macroeconomic trends impacting their price forecasts for the metals mined.
But they must also keep a close eye on geopolitics to avoid undue exposure to potential disruption or even loss of key projects or operations. In Cote d'Ivoire, for example, an acute political crisis has erupted into violence and chaos since President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing in a national election last year. After voting in support of United Nations sanctions against the former President, France's Ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, noted that "the situation is worsening by the hour". He also noted recently that the nation is now "very close to a civil war".
In addition to the tragic human consequences of the resulting unrest, the suitability of Cote d'Ivoire as a viable jurisdiction in which foreign corporations can safely conduct mining operations hangs in the balance. Australian gold major Newcrest Mining announced the closing of its Bonikro mine this week, and has left behind only a small security detail after evacuating all expatriate employees.
Randgold Resources (Nasdaq: GOLD ) affirmed earlier this month that its newly constructed Tongon mine in Cote d'Ivoire continues to operate on plan, and just Thursday the company touted a massive 70% production surge in the works for 2011 (including more than 260,000 ounces of gold from the Tongon mine). Of course, the threat of sustained upheaval further impacting that mine's operations continues to hang over the shares. While the stakes are high for Randgold, the company holds the majority of its production, gold reserves, and its development stage projects outside the troubled country. Investors, therefore, are advised to remain vigilant for buying opportunities if the market responds too harshly to any potential interruption. There is occasionally a point at which geopolitical risk gets priced into a stock, and that condition can alleviate some of the associated downside risk.
Meanwhile, clear across the Southern Atlantic, Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC ) has indicated it will invest $1.1 billion over the next five years to develop and construct its Fruta del Norte mine in Ecuador. Fools may recall that Ecuador revoked some 3,000 mining licenses in 2008 while the nation revamped its regulatory regime for mining projects. With a new mining law in place, President Correa's administration hopes to attract some $7 billion in mining investment over the next several years. Having lived in Ecuador for several years myself, and experienced first-hand the swiftness with which political environments can shift there, I might seek to keep my investment exposure there to within modest limits.
Assessing jurisdictions for mining investment purposes is by nature a qualitative and often subjective exercise, and there are multiple facets to the issue. Canada is about as stable as they come geopolitically, but the government's denial of Taseko Mines' (AMEX: TGB ) permit to construct a mine at Prosperity in British Columbia serves as a reminder that the permitting landscape forms another key aspect when assessing jurisdictions. In the case of Mexico, the key consideration appears to be safeguarding the physical security of project sites and product shipments from banditos.
These are complex issues, to be sure, but they nonetheless command the attention of every investor with exposure to mining stocks. For stocks with superior profiles as they relate to jurisdiction, I do enjoy focusing my exposure upon operations in Canada. Agnico-Eagle Mines (NYSE: AEM ) , Teck Resources (NYSE: TCK ) , and Osisko Mining (OTC: OSKFF.PK) each offer strong concentrations in Canadian operations, and likewise I consider them each terrific long-term investment vehicles.