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I wish I could tell you gold investing was easy. Of course, gaining access to bullion is straightforward enough, but the field of miners can be a minefield for investors.
But like any challenge worth tackling, well-selected gold miners offer the promise of gains well in excess of price advances in the underlying metal. To aid in that all-important process of distinguishing likely outperformers from the rest of the pack, let's dive right in to a discussion of seven vitally important topics for Foolish consideration.
1. Real Estate
Gold is dispersed throughout the Earth's crust, but as discerning gold investors, we're interested in those select regions where particularly favorable geology meets a friendly mining jurisdiction.
Fortunately, gold's rich history as a monetary metal means we don't need a PhD in geology to target regions that are likely to yield the next bonanza. One of the simplest means of reducing risk in the gold sector is by targeting miners that operate within either well-established or clearly emerging gold camps. Many Fools may already be familiar with coveted zones like the area around Red Lake, Ontario. Red Lake boasts some of the highest-grade gold ores ever discovered, and Goldcorp's (NYSE: GG ) substantial presence there accounts for a big part of that miner's promising outlook.
But not all legendary gold zones are friendly to investors today. South Africa dominated global gold production for decades with deposits that never seemed to quit. Today, however, many of the older megamines have reached depths that are both dangerous and costly to mine, and also face a persistent shortfall of electricity supply. Although I do consider major South African miner Gold Fields (NYSE: GFI ) an interesting value play for its world-class trove of some 225 million gold-equivalent ounces, the company continues to struggle with an elevated cost structure relative to its peers. Personally, I tend to avoid the region altogether.
I implore gold investors to maintain a vigilant eye upon relevant political landscapes. The South American continent holds its share of golden treasure, but a creeping threat of windfall tax regimes and even outright nationalization of assets presents some serious risks. Venezuela has been erased from this Fool's investment map, Bolivia warrants extreme caution, and Peru is not exactly for the faint of heart. Even Brazil is reportedly considering limits on foreign investment in mining assets.
Collectively, these jurisdictional issues form a primary component in the selection of superior gold mining investments. As gold prices continue to advance toward my conservative target of $2,000 per ounce, jurisdictional risks will only be heightened by the growing enticement of gold as a potential source of public revenue. Particularly in those nations facing acute currency distress, I believe nationalization of gold assets could become a real threat within jurisdictions presently deemed quite safe.
Given my unfortunate long-term outlook for the U.S. dollar, frankly, I have opted to keep my exposure to U.S. gold assets to a minimum. Instead, I have chosen to concentrate my gold exposure upon fruitful gold camps in Canada, most notably: Red Lake in Ontario, the Abitibi Greenstone Belt (encompassing Quebec's Val d'Or and Malartic trends, and Ontario's Destor-Porcupine fault zone), a cluster of new discoveries in the Yukon Territory, and select deposits in Nunavut, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. That may sound like an expansive swath, but geology is ultimately the path investors must follow to find their pot of gold. Among my recently compiled Top 10 Gold Stocks for New Money Now, six of those selections featured gold assets in or near the aforementioned areas, including top pick Brigus Gold (AMEX: BRD ) , with its exciting new discoveries along the Destor-Porcupine fault.
You don't have to be a professional geologist to excel at identifying superior gold deposits, but to the extent Fools can develop a strong understanding of some key features to watch for, they do have an opportunity to multiply their chances for success. With that in mind, I offer this brief primer on the basic mineral geology of gold.
Without diving too deep into the particulars of how gold deposits form, investors may wish to keep an eye out for the more prolific types of gold mineralization. High-sulfide epithermal deposits like Pueblo Viejo in the Dominican Republic -- presently under construction as a joint venture between Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) and Goldcorp -- host several of world's most significant lodes of gold. In Mexico, silver-rich epithermal vein systems like AuRico Gold's (NYSE: AUQ ) flagship Ocampo mine typify the high-grade deposits of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range.
Porphyry deposits, although typically containing low gold grades, routinely feature massive quantities of copper that render large-scale open pit mines robustly economical. Newmont Mining's (NYSE: NEM ) Boddington Mine in Western Australia and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold's (NYSE: FCX ) Grassberg mine in Indonesia offer two better-known examples of porphyry deposits.
In some of Canada's key gold camps, the geology tends to get complicated, with multiple types of mineralization often occurring within a single deposit. We've barely brushed the surface, but we'll leave it there for now. Click here for more information on epithermal deposits, and here for more on porphyry deposits.
Beyond the types of gold mineralization, investors will benefit from an ability to interpret key aspects of exploration results, proposed mining methods, etc. Developing an understanding of how gold grades (typically expressed as grams of gold per ton of ore), grade widths, and drilling depths all play into the potential economics of a developing gold deposit is crucial to the art of successful gold investing. Near-surface, bulk-mineable deposits tend to correlate with lower development and construction costs, while thick, high-grade veins can help even deep underground mines to yield lower-cost operations on an all-in basis.
I prefer to target high-grade gold deposits, which typically involve underground mining techniques, but I will pay attention to low-grade drilling results if the widths are outstanding. Beyond these considerations, Fools may wish to become familiar with the terms relevant to the mineral geology of gold and other metals, which will become the focus of a future article (stay tuned by bookmarking my article list).
In this first installment of seven secrets to profitable gold investing, we've scanned the globe for some of the most prospective golden real estate that coincides with a friendly geopolitical and regulatory setting, and outlined some key aspects of mineral geology. Click here for Part 2 of this discussion, where we learn how to decode economic studies of proposed gold mines and assess the likelihood of successful mine permitting.