Australia becomes a two-speed rare metals story

ANOTHER week, another three rare earths discoveries reported by Australian companies. One explorer saw its shares rise 170 per cent on Friday after declaring it had rare earths in Namibia.

But there’s also a fourth new play, but one that stands apart from the crowd – which have relatively basic exploration projects – and shows how the rare earths scene in this country has become a two-speed one. Most of the new players have very early exploration stories, but our fourth company has a distinct difference and advantage: its ground has been drilled and there’s a known resource.

The newcomer will be called RECo, and will list on the Australian Securities Exchange early 2011. It is being spun out of Navigator Resources (ASX:NAV) which has been focusing on its gold production. Navigator put its Cummins Range rare earth project in the state of Western Australia up for sale recently and apparently received a number of offers. After all, you can‘t miss in Australia these days by taking rare earths into the investment market.

However, despite what it calls “attractive” offers, Navigator decided to reward its shareholders, who will both receive a distribution of shares in the new company and the opportunity to subscribe for more. It is now looking for people with rare earths experience to sit on the RECo board.

Cummins Range was discovered in 1978 by the former CRA Exploration, part of what is now Rio Tinto. CRA drilled more than 90 holes over the following six years. Three years ago Navigator drilled the area and came up with a resource of 71,700 tonnes of rare earth oxide, along with phosphate, uranium and what it described as significant niobium and tantalum.

Given the existing hunger in Australia for rare earths story, this is an IPO that is destined to succeed.

Warwick Grigor of BGF Equities in Sydney – and one of Australia’s best known resources analysts – is managing the distribution of shares and capital raising. Grigor has long been telling his clients about the Cummins Range project. He calls it a credible resource with a suite of minerals similar to that at Mt Weld, in the same region of Western Australian. He says Cummins Range has some heavy rare earths but mostly light minerals.

RECo will, upon listing, be considered the No.4 player in Australia – after Lynas Corp (ASX:LYC) with Mt Weld, and two companies that have already done extensive metallurgical tests, Arafura Resources (ASX:ARU) and Alkane Resources (ASX:ALK).

Then there are the recent entrants.

Two of them came out of the Northern Territory. Korab Resources (ASX:KOR) saw its shares shoot from 15c to 52c on an announcement that contained scant information about the mineralisation. Then Territory Uranium (ASX:TUC) got a 60 per cent price lift on its news that a drill hole had intersected 5m of rock containing rare earths.

But the biggest one-day boost of the week belongs to Mount Burgess Mining (ASX:MTB) whose shares went from 1c to 2.7c after it was awarded ground in Namibia where it says previous drilling had intersected elevated lanthanum, cerium and neodymium values.

And there’s movement, too, on the scandium front.

Jervois Mining (ASX:JRV) has been working on scandium concepts in the state of New South Wales for over a decade. Finally, we are seeing some progress. Earlier this year Canadian company EMC Metals (TSX:EMC) was brought in as partner and manager for the scandium project located at Nyngan, in central NSW. In July, EMC reported that Nyngan would cost $US56 million to develop with annual production of 28,000 kilograms of Sc203. The latest development is that a Melbourne manufacturer of solid oxide fuel cells has asked Jervois to a meeting next month to discuss possible scandium off-take.

The other scandium player in Australia to watch is Metallica Minerals (ASX:MLM). This project stands out because it is a nickel-cobalt-scandium deposit and these ores have shown in tests to be suitable for simultaneous tri-metal mining and processing, so substantially reducing the production costs on those at a stand-alone scandium operation.

Metallica is also the biggest shareholder in Orion Metals (ASX:ORM) which recently announced a rare earths discovery.

Robin Bromby, Sydney

Disclaimer: The writer owns shares in Rio Tinto but not in any other company mentioned. Comments are speculative in nature and are not intended as, nor should they be taken as, investment advice. I am not a certified financial analyst, broker, or professional qualified to offer investment advice. Nothing in a report, commentary, interview, website, and other content constitutes or can be construed as investment advice or an offer or solicitation to buy or sell stock. Information is obtained from research of public documents and content available on company websites, regulatory filings and stock exchange websites. While the information is believed to be accurate and reliable, it is not guaranteed or implied to be so. The information may not be complete or correct; it is provided in good faith but without any legal responsibility or obligation to provide future updates. I accept no responsibility, or assume any liability, whatsoever, for any direct, indirect or consequential loss arising from the use of the information. The information contained in a report, commentary, interview, and other content is subject to change without notice, may become outdated, and will not be updated.