Opinion

Translating the Mindset of Peak Oil to Peak Gold


The Mercenary Geologist Mickey Fulp discusses with Maurice Jackson of Proven and Probable how peak oil could inform investment in gold miners.

Peak Gold

Maurice Jackson: Joining us for a conversation is the Mercenary Geologist, Mickey Fulp. Pleasure to speak with you.

Mickey Fulp: Thank you, sir.

Maurice Jackson: Mickey, one of the concerns that I think speculators are having in the natural resource space is this concept of peak gold. What can you share with us?

Mickey Fulp: Well, there's this idea now of peak gold. And it's really morphed out of the concept of peak oil, which was promulgated by a famous geologist/geophysicist in the late 1950s on the idea that U.S. oil production would peak in 1970 and never reach that level again. His premise was based on the natural depletion of giant oil fields discovered in the United States, and he was right. But people have sort of bastardized that concept now into gold.

They took the tack that the world was running out of oil when we had reached peak production, and we would never achieve this sort of oil production in the U.S., for example, ever again. Well, lo and behold, it took 47 years for us to recover. But now we're producing more oil than we ever have. So this idea that the world is going to run out of a natural resource or reach peak production is fraught with difficulty.

We produce more oil in the world right now than we ever have. And next year, we'll produce even more because demand continues to rise, at about 1.5% a year. So in the oil business, we're now using 100 million barrels of oil a day. Five years ago, we were using about 92–93 million barrels a day. And where's that production come? Well, it's come from peak, or from shale oil, and technology catches up. If the demand is there, my opinion is that the supply will be found—70% of the oil in the world is still left in the ground. I've taken that concept and applied it to the gold business.

Maurice Jackson: And what do we see as far as peak gold?

Mickey Fulp: Well, starting in 1900, the world produced 393 tons of gold. That would be something on the order of 10 to 12 million ounces a year, more or less. Now we produce 3,150 tons per gold in 2017, an all-time high. That's 98 million ounces per year. So more than an eight times increase. And that's been driven in cycles of exploration, so things like economics, world economics, wars, prices of gold, all effect that production.

But the real key to increases in production, at least since gold was floated by Nixon in 1971, is the exploration cycle. Generally, what we've seen over the years is gold increasing, but kind of in a two steps forward, one step back way. It's a somewhat jagged line, but with these long runs of increased production. And then we'll have a war, we'll have a depression, and gold protection with the war will go down; with the depression, it goes up.

And so we keep going and going and going. Since 2008, we've been on a steep curve of increasing gold production. The CEO of Goldcorp Inc. (G:TSX; GG:NYSE) came out in the early part of the year and said all the good gold deposits have been found. There's no giant deposits that are going to be found anymore. And the world's going to never produces much gold. Well, I think he's talking his own book and if you look at Goldcorp, of course production over the last three years, it's going down.

It's gone down 25% from 2015 to 2017. You look at the other major miners, such as Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX:TSX; ABX:NYSE), which is down 40% off its peak around 2005. Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM:NYSE) is about the same amount off its peak production in 2006. So I would take the tack that the major gold miners have reached peak production, peak gold. But that's been filled.

Where's all this additional production coming from? It's coming from the new companies, the new mid-tiers that have been built since the year 2005. As a whole, you know, there's about nine mid-tiers now. And then it's also been filed by a number of small miners in all parts of the world. The majors are down something like, all told, 50% of their gold production since mid-2000s. Meanwhile, production is up about the same amount, it's up 37% since 2008. It's filled by new companies.

Maurice Jackson: So would you say then that the majors have a flawed business plan?

Mickey Fulp: Absolutely.

Maurice Jackson: And in what regard?

Mickey Fulp: The biggest flaw in the industry amongst the majors—and it applies to other companies too—is they're focused on growth. And mining is not a growth industry. Mining is the value industry. So when prices were high, they lost a view of what they should be doing, which was producing high margin ounces. It's about the margin, the cost of production, versus the amount you sell, and that's your profitability. So they've had this grow, grow, grow mentality—what I would call a New York style of capitalism. It does not work in the mining industry. And it certainly has not worked for the major gold mining companies.

Maurice Jackson: So what do you share with your subscribers? Are you more focused on juniors or mid-tiers?

Mickey Fulp: Always juniors. I don't want to own miners, to tell you the truth. I've focused on exploration companies. I wrote a piece a couple of months ago called Why I Don't Want to Own Any Miners. Now I do own a few miners, but they've become miners from exploration companies that I own or they've been taken out by miners exploration. But the real value in these businesses is in the juniors. And my particular sweet spot would be the advanced explorers because I think that's where you have the lowest risks for the potential highest rates

Maurice Jackson: Mickey, if someone wants to get more information regarding your work, please share the contact details.

Mickey Fulp: MercenaryGeologist.com. I run a free subscription service as you well know, Maurice. And to get my stock picks you need to be a free email subscriber. We have a very active Twitter feed, @mercenarygeo, 55,546 Twitter followers as of today, and we're quite active in that venue.

Maurice Jackson: And also, please visit our website which is ProvenandProbable.com. Mickey Fulp, the Mercenary Geologist, thank you for joining us today on Proven and Probable.

Mickey Fulp: Thank you, Maurice.

Maurice Jackson: Thank you for joining us today on Proven and Probable. Remember to like and subscribe for more conversations with the most respected names in the natural resource space. Check out our website at www.provenandprobable.com.

Maurice Jackson is the founder of Proven and Probable, a site that aims to enrich its subscribers through education in precious metals and junior mining companies that will enrich the world.


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