Colombian Mining sector: Interview with Lobo Tiggre on challenges and opportunities for the industry
Published: 29 June 2018 01:57
Lobo Tiggre isn’t well known in the mining investment world. But his work is. He spent almost a decade and a half working for Casey Research, writing well-read analysis about the industry.
Now he has struck out on his own, forming a new company, Louis James, LLC, that is named for the pen name that Tiggre used as an analyst at Casey Research. Here, he plans to continue offering his unique brand of research and advice, specializing in the world of natural resources and commodities — now under his own name.
The future of mining has been a hot topic in Colombia in recent years as several local communities have voted to ban extractive operations in their area. AngloGold Ashanti suspended operations at its La Colosa goldmine last year in the wake of the highest-profile local referendum, and the issue was discussed regularly by the top candidates throughout their campaigns in the lead up to last week’s election that saw right-wing Iván Duque win the presidency.
To learn more about the Colombian mining sector’s long-term potential, Finance Colombia Executive Editor Loren Moss recently sat down for a conversation with Tiggre.
Finance Colombia: To start, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and about your practice?
Lobo Tiggre: Most people probably know me under the name of Louis James. I wrote under that pen name for almost 14 years for Doug Casey and Casey Research, where I was head of metals and mining. I managed the model portfolio of the flagship publication, the International Speculator at Casey Research, for more than 10 years.
That’s my background, and I’ve decided to go on my own this year. I truly believe that we are looking at a major commodities bull shaping up ahead and I want to participate in that. I don’t want to just write about it and analyze it. I want to be able to invest and make money in it. Under the structure of my former employers, I wasn’t allowed to invest in what I wrote about for them.
So I’ve gone out on my own, and that’s sort of the current concept of my new service. I make my own speculative investments, and I write about what I’m buying — where I am putting my own money at risk — and people can then follow or not. If they decide to make a similar investment themselves, they know that I have skin in the game.
“There are plenty of targets in Colombia that have never really seen modern exploration. That is clearly an advantage. – Lobo Tiggre
(Photo courtesy of Lobo Tiggre)
Finance Colombia: How did you get started in speculative investing?
Lobo Tiggre: By being the black sheep of my family really. To be honest, I’d say I had no qualifications for this at the beginning really at all. I’m a writer, and back in 2004 when Doug Casey and David Galland formed Casey Research, Doug had been writing the letter for 25 years and was kind of tired of it. So they hired me as a writer, and they figured that they could teach me about the rocks and the stocks.
I had never traded a stock at the time — I didn’t know what a warrant was. This surprises a lot of people who think I’m a geologist, but I hadn’t actually studied geology before either. I spent a couple of years sitting on Doug Casey’s lap, learning the business as If I were a little boy learning from the master.
But I really enjoyed it. I had a passion for it, it turned out, and pretty soon Doug was asking me for advice on what to do with certain companies, and even today we compare notes and it’s still a lot of fun to be able to provide valuable input to my old master. I really get a kick out of that.
Finance Colombia: There’s been a lot of change and uncertainty in Colombia when it comes to mining. How do you see things shaking out potentially? What are the risks and what’s the upside in the next, let’s say, 18 months in Colombia?
Lobo Tiggre: For Colombia, when it came out of the decades of devastating guerrilla war, there was sort of rejoicing in the mining sector. Because it was well known that the geology that makes up many of the world’s great deposits up and down the Andes goes right up into Colombia, and it wasn’t any question as to whether Colombia was prospective for all different sources of mineral wealth or not. It was just a place you couldn’t go and explore before.
So there was this big excitement for Colombia opening up again. A lot of companies rushed in and then that kind of faded away because it turned out it wasn’t so easy to work in Colombia after all. Yes, with the end of the war, people want jobs, people want to get to work. But that doesn’t mean that they have been hiding in caves for all these years — they have seen the changes in the world on environmental standards and things like that.
So, it’s complicated. It’s not easy. There are, as I understand it, entrenched interests that go way back, and I don’t just mean political, but I also mean environmental. I understand that there are some very-very-well-funded NGOs in Colombia that are anti-mining.
I think what caught the attention of international investors around the world was the whole páramo thing. The banning on mining exploration in the páramo sector, which put a lot of high-altitude, prospective places to look out of reach. And did that really need to happen? Did it need to be a blanket ban? Is there no way anybody could function responsibly in the páramo? I don’t think so. And I think that really put a lot of investors around the world on alert that, just because the war was over in Colombia, that didn’t mean that everything would be easy.
So apart from what happened in the elections, you can’t assume that everything is going to be easy in Colombia — or really anywhere else in the world. Mining is unwelcome everywhere in the world, and even under the best circumstances you have to really mind your Ps and Qs and do everything right. And then you have a chance — but no guarantee — of being able to move forward.
For right now, I’d be quite cautious. But the other side is that there are projects that are already permitted, already in motion. We went on a trip together to go see Buriticá, Continental Gold’s major gold project, that is under construction now. They’re up and running. That’s a relatively safe place to be right now. If I was going to invest in Colombia, that would probably be the absolute first thing that I would look at because they are already in motion.
Finance Colombia: Are there any other projects or major developments in Colombia of interest?
Lobo Tiggre: There’s Red Eagle. That’s an underground gold mine, too, and I’ve been there on site. They’ve built a very efficient plant design, and there are a lot of things that I like about that. But the ore body turned out to be not exactly as modeled, and they ran into some troubles. They had to shut down after starting up, and I understand they have started up again. I haven’t revisited, so I can’t give you any current wisdom on that, but there is another new underground gold mine operation in Colombia that’s up and running now.
“Most governments realize that, yes, we need responsible mining. The path could be bumpy, torturous, but I suspect that is what we are going to see in Colombia going forward.” – Lobo Tiggre
Finance Colombia: Let’s talk about the long-term potential of Colombia. Gold mining has been taking place here since pre-Columbian times — before the Spanish came to the Americas. Is there still a lot of upside potential when we talk about the long term? How does Colombia compare to other regions in the world as far as how much gold is still left in the ground to be dug up or discovered over the long term?
Lobo Tiggre: Yes, well that is definitely Colombia’s strong card, right? In the game of jurisdictions out there, the strong suit for Colombia is absolutely the fact that these tragic decades held Colombia out of the market. It wasn’t safe to go and explore and get kidnapped and who knows what might happen to you. So it’s under-explored.
The low-hanging fruit has been picked up and down the Andean cordillera in most of the other countries. I am not saying that they are all picked over and that they are done with. But the easily identifiable anomalies sticking out of the ground that are really visible and ready to be explored have all been poked at up and down the cordillera. But there are plenty of targets in Colombia that have never really seen modern exploration. That is clearly an advantage.
That bring us back to the politics again, and that’s always a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of thing. I think — unless you are talking about a very wealthy country — every country understands that it needs to use whatever sources of wealth it can for advancement. Leftist governments, right-wing governments, populist governments — they all understand that they need tax revenue. And if weaving hats for tourists is not going to fund the government social programs, you’ve got to get the money from somewhere.
So, sooner or later, most governments realize that, yes, we need responsible mining. The path could be bumpy, torturous, but I suspect that is what we are going to see in Colombia going forward. There are going to be scary times, there are going to be better times. But the country needs the wealth that it has so visibly available to it, and it’s just not politically conceivable that it is just going to leave all that wealth in the ground.
Finance Colombia: How can readers find out more about your work?
Lobo Tiggre: Thank you very much for asking. They can come to IndependentSpeculator.com. We have a free blog and newsletter service where we comment on things like political risk in Colombia and other places in the world. There are all kinds of education materials available for free, and of course there is a paid subscription to the main monthly newsletter, the Independent Speculator. But they can find all of that and more at IndependentSpeculator.com.
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