How To Choose A Uranium Stock

Now that the uranium bull market has gone to a new level, a number of exploration stocks made spectacular percentage gains after the International Investment Conference held in San Francisco in late November 2005. We turned to Kevin Bambrough, Market Strategist, and Jean-Francoise Tardif, Portfolio Manager, at Sprott Asset Management for their advice on how to navigate through the more than 250 uranium exploration, development and producing companies available across the global investment landscape. Who better to ask than a fund that has invested around $175 million in uranium stocks the past few years, about 6.7 percent of more than $2.5 billion managed by Sprott Asset Management? The Sprott team has bet heavily on a nuclear energy renaissance, and early indications confirm very strong returns in their investments.

Before our taped telephone interview, Kevin Bambrough emailed a few comments, “We would like to make the point about some incredible gains that have been had in the uranium sector. The list is growing but not the quality so investors should use extreme caution. As the uranium price rises, and money pours into exploration, we can expect to see some sizeable discoveries coming down the road. It should be exciting times.”

Prior to’s interviews with Mr. Bambrough and Mr. Tardif, they compiled a list of ten tips for investors studying uranium companies. The tips are listed below, followed by an extensive interview, first with Mr. Bambrough (in this installment) and a second installment with Mr. Bambrough and Mr. Tardif.

The Ten Tips Investors Should Know

1. One of the best indicators of a project’s potential success could be past ownership. It’s best to try to buy any mining stock early in the cycle. Try to pick up properties that were worked by majors during the last bull market but which eventually dropped during the lows of the bear market. During the last uranium boom of the 1970’s, many majors decided to completely exit the uranium sector.

2. Study the value of ore body with regards to its value per tonne, or its recoverable metal. Estimate the “all in” costs and feel comfortable with what you are paying. Risks-to-reward doesn’t favor pure exploration. Typically, we avoid pure exploration plays unless management is excellent, they have a large prospective land package, and the company is well financed.

3. Look for good, proven management, which has been successful in the past.

4. Look for solid shareholders. It is always nice to see that management has a large stake in the company. Often, this makes them value their paper more, and they will be less likely to engage in reckless stock issuance. If not management, I get comfort seeing that successful fund managers have large holdings. It is even better to see that a major company in a related industry has taken an interest in the company.

5. Look at the property’s infrastructure. Find out about electricity and water costs required for exploration, development and production. Find out about roads, rail, trucking, access and proximity to a mill.

6. Look for hidden value in the company. We always consider the value of existing infrastructure. From time to time we have been able to buy companies where existing facilities, perhaps a mill or shafts more than justify the entire market cap of the company. Past drilling for uranium will save money. Some companies have properties with very expensive shafts and/or mills. There are also companies with large extensive databases like Energy Metals Corporation (TSX: EMC) and Strathmore Minerals (TSX: STM). These databases of past drilling on various properties can be used to continue to acquire good prospects as well as sold in pieces. I would expect that they will also be able to use the data to farm in on other properties or sell other property owners valuable drill-hole data.

7. Buy emerging stories. It is great to find a company before it has any analyst coverage or even covered by letter writers.

8. Find out if the property is in a pro-mining environment. Ultimately, you need to mine. It’s best to have a property in a location where government is pro-mining. We will still invest, though, as long as this factor is discounted in the stock. Some countries are so hungry for investment they will offer favorable tax rates and other incentives. Permitting can be costly and take a long time so this is very important.

9. Study the capital costs for the project and the currency in the country where the project is located. Typically, the lower the capital costs, the less risk in the project. The less a company risks, in time and money, to find out if the mine is economic, the greater its chance of success. Larger capital intensive projects usually take longer to bring on, and you could risk missing an important part of the cycle. I also like to consider currency moves and their possible impact. A strengthening local currency can drive up costs and destroy margins. A falling currency can dramatically improve the economics of the project

10. Funding can improve the story or outlook. Make your cash work. It’s not really an option for a small investor but as an institution we love to invest in companies when we think our cash is going to make a huge difference. Examples include when Aflease (now SXR Uranium One – TSE: SXR) had cash problems and was being deeply discounted, or our recent Tournigan (TSX: TVC) funding to pay for confirmation drilling and exploration on the Jahodna uranium deposit in Slovakia.