Backfill: Poke About

A massive global search was initiated two years ago but it wasn't for minerals. Although Pokémon creatures were the target back then, in the real world the main exploration target remained gold. Unfortunately, few explorers have the flair of Niantic Inc.

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This 'Backfill' column was originally published in July 2016 by SNL Financial (now part of S&P Global Market Intelligence) and is reprinted with permission.

A world-wide search has been triggered in the past two weeks. The task is to explore the globe looking for 151 elusive targets. Modern technology and GPS are required, not to mention the appropriate exploration method, targeting technique and lots of patience.

Skills are enhanced by experience and distance covered, which is handy because the targets can be found almost anywhere, although they are mostly grouped in pre-determined clusters. Advice is free and plentiful, but expenditure helps identify the most prospective locations, and then improves your chance of isolating the target.

There are lots of mining companies in Vancouver and Perth that can identify with these attributes, but the search isn't for copper, gold or coal. The initial targets are Squirtle, Bulbasaur and Charmander, followed by the 148 other Pokémon.

Pokémon Go is a free-to-play, location-based, augmented-reality mobile game that was developed by Niantic Inc., a former Google subsidiary. It makes use of GPS and the camera of compatible devices to capture, battle and train virtual creatures, called Pokémon. These creatures (short for Pocket Monsters) appear on device screens as though in the real world. They are based on a video game, developed by Game Freak and Creatures Inc., which was first released in Japan by Nintendo Co. in 1996 for the Game Boy device.

The updated game was conceived in 2014 by Satoru Iwata of Nintendo and Tsunekazu Ishihara of The Pokémon Company as an April Fool's Day collaboration with Google. It caught on, and a full version was released in Australia, New Zealand and the US on July 6, and in another 34 countries over the following two weeks, with the game arriving in Japan today, July 21.

Players create an avatar by selecting hair, skin and eye color, plus a style and outfit. Location maps feature Poké Stops and Pokémon gyms. The former provide players with lures that attract Pokémon, while the gyms serve as battle locations.

Mining Targets

SNL Metals & Mining clients might wish to target Geodude, which is a dual-type Rock/Ground Pokémon. I am advised that Geodude can be most often found on mountain trails and fields, and that it evolves into Graveler (starting at level 25), which changes into Golem when traded. You might also seek out the 20 rarest Pokémon, which lists as Charizard, Ditto, Omastar, Charmeleon, Dragonair, Muk, Vaporeon, Machamp, Ivysaur, Venusaur, Blastoise, Nidoqueen, Nidoking, Vileplume, Poliwrath, Alakazam, Weepinbell, Victreebel, Slowbro and Marowak.

A review this week on chose the three favorite Pokémon based on their battle ability, style, vibe and "a certain je ne sais quoi". If you are interested, third was Pikachu, which "is the face of the franchise", second was Squirtle, "quite simply, a boss, and the chillest Pokémon" and in top spot was Charizard, "it just feels right that a dino-dragon creature would be top of the heap".

In the real world, the favorite search target remains gold. SNL Metals & Mining's recently published Industry Monitor reports that global drilling activity rose sharply in June after falling in May. Overall, the total number of distinct projects reporting drilling increased to 152, up from 114 in May. This increase was almost entirely due to gold, with the number of projects reporting gold assays jumping to 108 in June from 71 the previous month.

The number of initial resource announcements rose to six in June, from five in May, and the attributed value of US$15.9 billion for June represented a five-fold increase on the amount recorded the previous month. However, gold accounted for only the third most valuable new resource announced in June. This was the 2.6 Mt resource, grading 4.6 g/t, at the Moonlight Shear deposit on Blackham Resources Ltd.'s Matilda project in Western Australia.

The improved drilling activity and initial resources in June were reflected in SNL Metals & Mining's Pipeline Activity Index, which rose for the fourth consecutive month.

Finance raised last month by companies with annual revenue of less than US$500 million (broadly the explorers and junior miners) improved slightly to US$898 million, compared with US$849 million in May. Gold accounted for 130 of the 179 financings by this group of companies in June, representing 43% of the funds raised.

The estimate by Industry Monitor of the market value of the industry's listed companies (based on 2,548 firms) rose for the fourth time in five months, to US$1,070 billion. This is an encouraging trend, but the industry is still valued at barely two-thirds of the level prevailing two years ago. Talking of market valuations: despite owning only a 33% stake in the Pokémon franchise, Nintendo's valuation has doubled to over US$42 billion since the release of Pokémon Go. It is a shame there isn't a mining company with the development nous of Nintendo, or an explorer with the flair of Niantic.

Chris Hinde

Chief Commentator, Mining Beacon

Previously editorial director of Mining Journal, and more recently head of S&P Global Market Intelligence's metals and mining team, Chris is now Mining Beacon's editor-in-chief and lead commentator. He posts two blogs every week, one on Monday reviewing market conditions over the prior week, and a second on Thursday looking at issues on the global mining scene. There is also a quarterly blog on business opportunities in the sector.