WEARING ice cleats and an inflatable jacket, mining boss Brian Dalton jumps out of a boat onto an icy rock in the north Atlantic.
With a few pals, he stands around in the freezing cold, a shotgun over his arm. The cleats stop Dalton from sliding into the water, whilst the jacket buys him maybe a minute, if he falls in. After several hours of waiting, ducks begin to fly over, tumbling out of the sky.
Dalton runs one of the quirkiest companies in the mining industry. He founded Altius Minerals twenty years ago when he was 24, listing it in Toronto with a market cap of less than $1m. Since then, the stock has risen 6,470 per cent, from 20 cents to $13.14, easily making Altius one of the best performing mining stocks anywhere in the industry.
Dalton wanted to be a fisherman when he was growing up, but cod stocks collapsed in the 90s, a moratorium was slapped on the fishing industry and overnight, the industry “got yanked.
It disappeared. My career was made null and void. So I did geology.”
He began prospecting in Labrador, staking ground and selling it on. As a public company, Altius has honed the strategy, buying-up mining claims when others retrench, before vending-them off, whenever the mining buzz returns. Altius has also kept royalties on every asset that goes through its books, leaving it with exposure to an ever-growing package of assets, all funded by other groups.
In total, Altius' stock has risen at a compound annual rate of over 25 per cent, before dividends, which Dalton's board instated last year. It is a staggering return for any industry, but especially in mining, where companies bob up and down with the cycle, ending where they started out.
Deal flow in the mining sector swings with metal prices, with the bulk of all takeovers going through at the top of the market. But Dalton has always done the opposite, repeatedly achieving
the impossible: buying at the market bottom, selling at the top, and going into each downturn cashed-up.
One uranium project that Altius staked for thirty thousand dollars, it later sold, when uranium spiked, for $200m. A royalty Altius bought over the vast Voisey's Bay nickel mine in Labrador went through when nickel was trading at $3 per pound. Two years later, it had pinged through $20, paying off the deal in 18 months.
“Everything from then on was cream,” Dalton says. “I often think about, if we had made that purchase two years later, when the price was $20, we probably never would have gotten our money back.”
“From our standpoint, mining looks pretty much like a zero-sum game. That's the cyclical nature of the industry overall. The only way it is really interesting is because of the volatility, the difference in valuation that occurs from the bottom of the cycle to the top. Other than that, it's pretty much a horrible business.”