THE DEFINITIVE ‘2020 WAS KINDA LIKE, OK, LIKE, I GUESS’ BUNKER ESSAY

I love my job... Launching the first ever drone these guys had seen in Grand Bassa, Liberia (Origin Exploration, 2020)

By Liam Hardy

Other’s have written about the economics and market news this year and done much better research than I can spare time for so… Here are my personal thoughts from life at home and along the Spotlight Highway. It has been a surprisingly good year overall for me and for Spotlight. My natural existence setting is organised chaos so, 2020 has provided a stunning canvas for us to expand our team and develop together. While we’re still focused on communicating awesome projects and rocks through media, we now have a big selection of digital marketing tools and some very skilled and over-qualified minions in our office. It’s a big change in direction for us but has brought us and our partners a lot of joy. We adapt to survive.

Firstly, what did I throw money at myself this year and why? I recently described my investment thesis as ‘Tequila guided with a moderate grounding in geology and keen nose for sniffing into corporate comms subtext’. No, I am not entirely sure what I meant either.

Current Portfolio in size order with overall +-% since buy:

  1. Vangold Mining +55.4%
    Stock currently halted, but waiting for fireworks with the announcement of El Cubo mine complex purchase
  2. Mawson Gold -11.6%
    Projects on 3 continents, proven team, proven gold and nice people. Sold my original investment during summer lockdown as I was desperately short on cash, now bought back in and in for the long-haul.
  3. Excellon Resources -7.6%
    Could somebody tell me I’m not stupid for thinking a German silver project could be huge on the European market? I thought this would be a real boom story, but I am still waiting.
  4. EMX Royalty Corp +29.1%
    People’s choice winners, highly respected team and some great success.
  5. Amex Exploration +102%
    Bought while drunk in January at Round-Up in Vancouver, no regrets.
  6. Argonaut Gold -2.5%
    Gold, as good as any other gold miner really. Doesn’t hurt to hold a few.
  7. Solgold -14.4%
    Good projects and team overall. Somebody will take this on and make us a fortune one day.
  8. First Quantum Minerals +96.2%
    Yeah… 96% up on a major copper producer… I like FQM as they seem to have the highest ESG standards of any sizeable producer. I invested and started writing them up literally just in support of that… Nice to have also made some money!
  9. Riverside Resources +76.4%
    Good year following Capitan Mining spin-out, renewed copper exploration deal with BHP and drilling alongside Hochschild and Carlyle in Mexico. Also expansion into Ontario. A few teething issues with a blurry corporate structure, but still early days and I believe with some guidance RRI can become a significant North American force (with share price to boot).
  10. Regulus Resources +5.9%
    Gotta have some copper and Regulus’ team have spoken about it the most in front of me… I think they spend their money carefully, respect their region and know their rocks.
  11. Global clean energy (ETF) +88.9%
    So I can choff and waffle about investing into a new green world over cocktails in expensive bars. Mostly purchased to fan my own ego and offer a back-handed offset for all of my international air travel. I know, it doesn’t work like that… Let me bathe in ignorance for now.
  12. Anaconda Mining +335%
    Gold, gotta have lots of gold… My best investment of 2020. Sold 50% of position in Q3.
  13. Chakana Copper +215%
    Somewhat illegitimate child of Regulus, another reliable team, and the sexiest coppery looking rocks on display in the miningverse this year (from a geeky geological perspective, as well as in terms of grade and potential). My second-best investment of 2020. Sold 50% of position in Q3.
  14. Matsa Resources -8.6%
    Small Aussie gold producer, dipped a bit recently, but it’ll come back. Paul’s a nice bloke and owns a big chunk himself.
  15. Salazar Resources -5.1%
    The clearest ‘zero BS’ presentation I’ve ever been given at an E-conference. I haven’t actually read up much on the project, but I bought a little just based on the strength of a chat with Merlin at the Beaver Creek Precious Metals E-Conference.
  16. NuLegacy GoldCorp +7.5%
    It’s been kicking around a while, probably still going nowhere, too deep and illusive and Barrick shopping elsewhere but, so cheap that there’s not much to lose. A penny stock play.
  17. Avrupa Minerals -100%*
    *Currently consolidating shares so unsure on relative value. Not a great financial move for me. Good project and Paul Kuhn is a great bloke, I bought at the wrong time though. Will see where their drilling goes in Portugal. Could be a good long-term prospect and I’m still following.

Now that’s the boring money bit… Here’s the more interesting stories of the year… A sort of ‘idiot’s diary’ if you will… Have fun.

January - Blind drunk friends:

I took a €550 super-saver economy ticket from Nuremburg via London and Toronto, crammed into the back of a Ryanair 737 and then a Air Canada A330s with inedible salty slop and individual beverages for the long-haul to Vancouver. I travelled to drink with friends and pace buzzing conference halls at the VRIC and AME Round-Up shows. Many late nights were spent with the teams from AMEX and Mines & Money, many early mornings were suffered, filming with friends at Mawson Gold and Auramex Resources (Here’s a quick chat with Kelly from AMEX: https://youtu.be/nZKoQLzOs10 and some geeky geology with Lucia from Mountain Boy: https://youtu.be/sMFiWfyy55w).

At the time Spotlight Mining were working alongside our friend Andrew O’Donnell at Supercharged Stocks to rebrand and develop his newsletter and media service, Spotlight had signed a few small new production deals and things were looking somewhat positive. Standing tweeting about EMX Royalty corp. at their VRIC booth as Rick Rule led his tour of investors around the convention, I thought… ‘As long as this pace and ‘normal’ continues, we have a great model for growth. Maybe next year I’ll be able to afford a half decent flight and a slightly nicer AirBnB, at least within a 30 minute walk of the event’.

My return flight was to Vienna not Nuremburg, where (while I was away partying) my girlfriend had successfully relocated most of our belongings (by train!) to begin her MSc in Austria, where we now reside together. (Our remaining belongings are still boxed up and crowding a friend’s girlfriend’s garage, we’ve been unable to return to Germany for them yet… Sorry & thanks Teejo & Susy!)

February - Sunshine Islands:

Our first site visit of the year followed shortly after, alongside the eccentric Bobby Stewart from GeophysX Jamaica. We’d met and interviewed Bobby at Round-Up and stayed in touch, his energy for Jamaica, ability to pick up complex technical knowledge quickly and passion for sustainable development really fascinated me. Alongside our production manager Chris, I stepped into the baking sunshine in Kingston and we cracked open a Red Stripe. This adventurous week in Jamaica was to be our last taste of site-visit ‘normality’. I got some 84 tick bites during this trip. (See our project video (tick free) here: https://youtu.be/tGTRCERpPj4).

Chris slipping down a perilous hill with the GeophysX soil sampling crew and several million bloodthirsty insects in Jamaica.

March - Blind drunken idiots: with just enough time at home to do laundry and flamethrower the remaining bloodsucking beasts from my ‘softer areas’, it was PDAC O’clock in Toronto. Somebody had mentioned a ‘zombie virus’ emerging in China, but it was a distant novelty. We drank as normal, suffered morning meetings as normal and networked as normal, the junior mining market was bouncy, I think I lost 3% of my portfolio in 30 minutes on one market open. We made more videos, signed a few more deals and wobbled home to Europe (Rock of the Day with Erika from Riverside: https://youtu.be/mjXEy2x34KU)

Looking back, we should all have caught Covid. We behaved poorly, but not intentionally. We were ignorant to the risks at the time. For the most part, we escaped catastrophe by sheer luck without any deaths among our ageing cohort.

Blind sobering panic: I landed into Vienna and heard borders were being closed, shops boarded up and toilet-paper shortages were spreading. My girlfriend and I fled Vienna to relative safety (and significantly lower rent prices) in Bratislava, on the last train as the drawbridge was raised. Essentially, we couldn’t afford to pay Vienna rates without work. Spotlight’s planned trips to Peru, Mexico, Australia, and Iberia were all cancelled in quick succession and the calendar was empty. I’ve never taken much of a salary from Spotlight so after moving apartments and flying to PDAC, we had no notable savings. I spent a very bleak few days locked into our soulless new AirBnB before I realised the cessation of global travel was potentially a golden ticket for an innovative online media company.

After a quick whip-around to existing friends and partners at Mountain Boy, Mundoro Capital, Vangold Mining and Riverside Resources for a little start-up funding, I started work on ‘Tales from the Covid Bunker’ a daily junior mining and real-life blog, written to bring people together in dark times and poke fun at some god-awful projects. With awesome (kind & voluntary!) help from super friend and Online Developer Sam Pettit, the blog ran for 54 days with >84,000 emails being sent out to our subscribers around the world and thousands of reads per day on our website. (Teo Dechev from Mundoro Capital was the first victim of our semi-alien new format of remote interview: https://youtu.be/06R2_ptx5iw)

I received daily complaints and criticism for airing my political/personal/industry views, I received daily compliments and thanks for airing my political/personal/industry views. We gained 30% more followers on our social media channels from all sides of most arguments and readership went up 20% for our emails… You all seemed to respect me/us for braving to air the debates at all, whether you liked my bias angle or not.

The most stunning thing was the rich and diverse community that flourished around the project, that’s you guys!

Every day while the blog was running, I would chat on the phone or by email/whatsapp to others in the same situation and I did my absolute best 16-18 hours a day to engage decent people in all time zones who were also struggling, to develop us as an online community of new writers, small venture listings, new academic researchers and to encourage more stories from diverse backgrounds. We fought really hard in those months. We made partnerships with fellow small publishers, made long-term deals for shares with companies who were account-barren and unable to work in the field, we battled and built a lot of solid bridges.

Our community: At the darkest point of the first lockdown things got so tough financially that I waved a hat around on our digital street… We had 1 week left in the apartment in Bratislava, no foreseeable income and nowhere to go to. I sucked in my pride and launched a Patreon account. I still can’t believe the kindness and support that flooded in for us, there were genuine tears of gratitude.

We may all have different political and social beliefs, but we’re not bad people. I think as a mining community, from geologists to managers to marketeers, we’ve shown a strength that other industries failed to. We should be proud of how we mostly came together to keep people in jobs, to keep companies afloat with datamining and keeping mining moving, without physically moving anywhere.

Ironically (because of all the grumpiness I attract as a lunatic greeny leftist arguing for a global and progressive society) what we did in our time of need was shake off capitalism and conservatism and act as a socially caring, progressive and global unit to protect each other facing government and economic failures… Proving that even the roughest, angriest Trumpers and Tories among us can be caring and considerate humans at heart, when the chips are down. Many of those who expressed significant public dislike for my views, still dropped a few coins into the Patreon fundraiser and bailed me and Spotlight out, to keep writing. Thank you, every one of you.

June - End Lockdown: Slovakia relaxed its first military home lockdown with only 28 Covid related deaths and we broke free from the city. Unable to legally leave the country (although I think I did cycle over the border a few times by accident!) or ‘import’ our regular team from the UK, but desperate to work… I collared videographer Andres Cruz in Bratislava and we set off into the Slovakian hills of Banska Stiavnica to meet Prospech Limited (now listed as ASX:PRS). The feeling of being back in the greenery and flying the drone was superb and I embraced it fully by crashing the drone into the core shed wall and spending the whole trip glued to my phone arguing with investors. (See our Prospech project video here: https://youtu.be/51MjggsTkBo).

Andres comes in close in the Prospech core shack near Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia

July - Opening of Borders: Travel sluggishly resumed. My girlfriend and I returned to Vienna and found a wonderful long-term-downtown apartment (our first together above ground, after 4 years in a cramped basement in Germany, while she studied for her BSc!), rent was reduced due to the lower demand and we were chuffed paying our deposit (normally a soul-wrenching moment, exchanging months of hard work for zero long-term return on a rental agreement!).

Many companies were still shy about site-visits with Covid in the air, but at least I could meet our new local team for strategy meetings and write in cafés and bars instead of stuck at my desk all day. Engaging with humans and failing laughably to adopt the Viennese bureaucratic culture. Vienna is a difficult and miserable city for me, I’ve yet to see the rest of Austria, but overall, the attitudes of people and services here are painfully overpriced and appalling. Many joke about Austria wanting to be ‘Little Germany’, well, I considered Germany to be complex and over-zealous with paperwork and formality, but still I legally registered and lived there for 4 years without a single issue, the people were welcoming the beer was decent. Austria is a bureaucratic exceptionalist novelty and not a sustainable place to run a business or function as an international human, the best beer is the imported Heineken. I will report back on the city once everything is back to normal and may see improvements, but for now, I would like to go back to Bayreuth please.

August/September - Back to the Arctic: With special government permission, Covid tests and some snazzy printed masks, Rupert Resources, Firefox Gold and Mawson Gold co-sponsored us in returning to the stunning Arctic of Northern Finland. Along with Pete, Chris and Daniela produced the industry’s first ever live site tour broadcast with Rupert Resources (summary video here: https://youtu.be/gB-woUeEBDI). The trip underground cost us our first 'MIA' of a drone, with Pete's Mavic 2 drifting into an inaccessible and unsafe stope and being lost forever to the darkness, only 30m away, but with perilous overhanging rock and unknown support below. One day, Rupert will get some very strange mill and metallurgy results from a bulk sample in that stope.

Underground in Pahtavaara with the Rupert team in Lapland

We then filmed 2 exciting days with Firefox Gold (Project video: https://youtu.be/rnH7PFwxa3k) and 3 wonderful days with our old friends at Mawson Gold learning about their resource expansion and environmental programs (Resource Upgrade Video: https://youtu.be/HVHoCzChTew, Responsible Exploration video: https://youtu.be/3JsiDnDebqk). There were a few well deserved follow up nights in Paha Kurki, Rovaniemi, one of my favourite bars in the world and highly recommended to anybody flying north.

Out in the field with the Mawson crew this Autumn.

October - Back to BC, sort of: Unable to travel Transat ourselves, we engaged a Vancouver based company ‘Moves Media’ to complete our planned site-visit with Kodiak Copper at the MPD copper-gold discovery. Kodiak have had a storming year and our teams in Vancouver and Europe were most pleased to connect and co-produce their official investor update video for 2020 with Claudia Tornquist and Chris Taylor: https://youtu.be/C2w8RjpR24k .

November - Viva Mexico: Finally, a destination with limited entry requirements and affordable mezcal! Andres and I had our covid tests, donned our masks and flew out to eat tacos and party film with Riverside Resources and learn about their new partnerships at Cuarentas and Cecilia (Site visit piece: https://youtu.be/qxkBrHMCqK8). We also spent time with James and the team at Vangold Mining producing content ready for their company making news that they were purchasing the El Cubo mine and mill complex nearby to their existing El Pinguico mine (eventually released on 21st December: https://youtu.be/KOjdsXZu7YY).

Liam and James Anderson (Vangold Mining) standing on top of the El Pinguico stockpile, looking down over Guanajuato

We also joined excellent film-make Rafaela Vargas in Guadalajara as well, to film interviews and presentations at the Discoveries Conference alongside Mexico Mining Center, with Spotlight's first ever 'super booth': https://youtu.be/8FXfGpSksY0.

December - A whole new job: Many of you may, or may not, know that this year myself, Andreas Åkesson and Tim Strong launched a new exploration company in West Africa, Origin Exploration; alongside technical advisers Mark Saxon, Charles Stephenson and Walter McCarthy. First conceived in Jue after several exceptionally long Zoom meetings and a 4-day board meeting in Marbella to strategise, we agreed our business model and picked up 2 brand new, highly prospective gold properties across 370km2 in underexplored regions of Liberia. My first ever internship was in Liberia back in 2013 with Hummingbird Resources as a fresh-faced geo out of uni and I loved it so, I may have strong-armed that decision...

I have just returned from our first fully-fledged 4 week campaign, manging field ops for a team of 37 explorers, soil sampling and geologically mapping our ‘Moores’ property. I’ll be following up with some short videos, results and a report soon.

As managing director, I favour the ‘on the ground’ approach. There are two common ways to manage exploration, one is to sit in an office, absorb a salary and take credit for all the work others have done… I prefer to get my arse on the ground and be part of the discovery trail.

We have promising early results in our greenfield areas from experienced Liberian geologist Varney Anthony and Kinross-seconded geologist Rowan Thorne who have been traversing and bushwhacking their way through thick second growth forest all month. Newly digitised aeromag/radiometric data and a new regional soil campaign are quickly enlightening us to the significant potential of this shear zone. With a pinch of luck from the geology gods, our aggressive and systematic exploration program should pay off early at Origin.

Our campaign resumes at Moores and expands to our ‘Behwan’ prospect in January 2021. I can’t wait. I was always more of a field exploration guy than a media guy and now I have been blessed with the opportunity to make real mineral discoveries and influence real developments in some of the world’s poorest communities. It is an absolute privilege to have this position so early on in my mining career. Stay tuned, if we hit gold, you’ll be the first to know about it!

2021, an easier year?

This week, we are saddened to be losing the wonderful Esme Whitehouse from Spotlight’s content team as she moves onwards and upwards into the real world of geology and exploration. I wish you all the luck Esme and, you’re welcome back anytime. Maria Dias, who supports our LATAM service, will also be taking on a new PhD position in Germany and leaving the Spotlight nest. Maria has been with us on and off since early 2019 and will be missed, but her academic prosperity awaits and I believe she’ll do great things along the journey. Thank you both for your hard work this year.

Spotlight will continue its nonchalant hurricanous path towards global domination. Having launched LATAM focused services in November, we’ll be speeding into Africa, Europe and Australia shortly, with new site-visits, partners and writers covering exciting developments in lesser known markets.

Alongside good friend Richard Williams, we’ll be launching ‘Spotlight Environment’ a new website and original news service which will follow on Spotlight Mining’s style of honest/no BS reporting, but focus on clean energy, environmental tech and investment opportunities. We expect this to kick off in mid-January and look forward to seeing you there, saving the planet has never been so much fun, or so potentially profitable for investors early to the table…!

Most importantly, thank you to all of the awesome people who’ve contributed to Spotlight’s adventures this year, in no particular order, Spotlight are now:

  • Daniela Fernandes (Marketing Manager)
  • Nathalie Ceron (Junior Researcher - LATAM Markets)
  • Sam Pettit (Online development Manager)
  • Richard Williams (Manager - Spotlight Environment)
  • Alex Comaniciu (Junior Researcher - Spotlight Environment)
  • Becca Young (Junior Researcher - Spotlight Environment)
  • Andres Cruz (Video Production)
  • Chris Conway (Media Production Manager)
  • Charlie Stephenson (The Mining Mongrel)
  • Tim Strong (Kangari African Reviews)
  • Teejo Renaud (Media Innovation)
  • Sharon Newton (Bookkeeping)
  • Mickey Flanagan (Researcher - Australian Markets)
  • Szilvia Kullai (Junior Researcher - Water Resources)
  • Laurita Rivera - (Graphic Designer)
  • Me (washing the dishes at the back of the party and ever in awe of the awesome innovative magic our team perform every day to drag mining companies into the future of corporate communication and keeping the labyrinth of industry change interesting for you, our lovely subscribers)

Merry Christmas and here’s a raised glass for a superb 2021 together.

Liam

Posted in Tales from the Covid Bunker

Liam Hardy View posts by Liam Hardy

With a family background in African mining exploration and a degree in geology, Liam brings a mix of technical ‘on-the-ground’ ore hunting and suit-booted office experience to the team. Liam worked in Liberia with Hummingbird Resources and spent 4 years as a geochemical analyst, before focusing on streamlining communications and development in exploration businesses, through the founding of ‘Spotlight Mining’.