Call it the fall thaw.
Near the end of a tumultuous year, in which the materials sub-sector of the S&P/TSX Composite Index dropped 30 per cent and the S&P/TSX Venture Exchange plummeted 24 per cent, a trickle of junior mining financings is serving up a glimmer of hope.
On Thursday, zinc producer Trevali Mining launched a $40-million bought deal. Then on Monday, Copper Mountain Mining sold $30-million of new shares, while Atacama Pacific Gold launched a small $4-million deal.
These aren't earth-shatteringly huge offerings, but they're certainly welcome signs in what has been an extremely tough market for miners – particularly juniors. In March, Romarco Minerals tried to raise equity, but had to pull its deal because investors were far too skittish. "When Romarco goes out and is unable to complete a financing, it's a wake-up call to the market," said chief executive officer Diane Garrett in an interview at the time.
In the first quarters of 2013, miners on the TSX Venture sold just $81-million of new equity to public investors, according to TSX figures. That means the sum raised in the three new deals announced in the past week nearly matched the total raised in the first nine months of the year.
The broad stats aren't much better. Across both the TSX and the TSX Venture exchanges, miners raised $2.9-billion in the first three quarters – the majority of it coming from private placements, particularly for juniors. Compare that to the equivalent time frame in 2012, when miners raised $7.3-billion.
On Bay Street, there are inklings that we're starting to turn the corner. (That, or there's a lot of wishful thinking going on.) "There is a feeling that things have picked up since the summer and we are off the bottom," said Jay Kellerman, managing partner at Stikeman Elliott LLP.
The miners themselves aren't incredibly optimistic yet. Rod Shier, Copper Mountain's chief financial officer, said the company wasn't really waiting around for the perfect time to launch an equity deal. Management planned to install a secondary crusher, and had been putting the necessary debt financing in place. But when National Bank Financial came along and put in a bought deal bid, Copper Mountain figured, why not?
"We're not waiting anymore. The opportunity is here, let's pull the trigger and take it," Mr. Shier said, recounting the board and management's thinking. He added that the timing was key because Copper Mountain wants to start work on the crusher before the winter.
Trevali was in a similar boat. The company sold very small amounts of shares in two different offerings earier this year, and was in the process of turning to debt to help finance its New Brunswick project. Then Dundee Capital Markets came along and suggested they could raise over half of the $60-million they were lining up by issuing equity – all at a cheaper cost of capital than the debt.
The deal sold, but Steve Stakiw, Trevali's vice-president of investor relations, doesn't think every miner can go that route. "I think it really depends on the company," he said. "The markets are still soft to some degree."