Most mining companies are headquartered in Perth, London, Vancouver or Toronto, but Altius is based in St John's, on Canada's easternmost tip. Icebergs drift into the mouth of the harbour, towering over a lighthouse and the city's quays. Dalton rarely gives interviews and few analysts cover the stock.
“Working from St John's is fantastic,” he says. “We don't get that manic-depressive day-to-day kind of, everything coming at us. It's a nice steady pace and we go about achieving more reasonable timeframe goals.”
Dalton regularly pops through London and Toronto, to see investors and look at deals, but spends the bulk of his time in Newfoundland, more than 2,000 km from the nearest stock exchange, far away from the market noise.
“We get our taste of the markets and what opportunities are out there, going in and out of those markets as much as we need to,” Dalton says, but the market's mood can swing “from exuberant to depressed from breakfast to lunch. It's not conducive to anything. You don't want to be caught up in that.”
The trade-off: Dalton looks permanently unfashionable, sitting on cash when others are bullish and driving through deals when investors have lost all appetite for risk.
He doesn't seem too bothered. When mining markets peaked in 2011, Altius was under pressure to spend cash at the top. “Deploy, deploy, do something with the cash”, was the message Dalton was getting from the market. But Altius held off, waiting for prices to tumble, allowing it to hoover-up more than a dozen mining royalties in everything from copper in Brazil to potash in Saskatchewan.
Altius has also bought-up land-banks on the cheap in recent years in Michigan, Ireland, Alberta, Finland and Chile, lifting its total land position more than tenfold. With curly hair and a beard, Dalton looks so much like a huntsman, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether he is talking
about mining or ducks. “It has been a lot of fun. We did a lot of hunting and got the freezer full.”
Some of the industry's most oblique thinkers are also quietly sitting on some solitary habits.
Andre Gaumond, one of Canada's most prolific geologists, spends much of his time hunting moose on his private estate in Quebec, having sold his company, Virginia Mines, in a $1.3bn deal in 2014. British prospector Mark Creasy, who found the Jundee gold deposit in Australia, has meanwhile spent several decades driving a jeep around the outback, looking for space debris, filling his garden in Perth with parts that have fallen from satellites. Creasy is thought to be worth $700m or $800m.
Dalton, Creasy and Gaumond have all arguably put more thought into the juncture between mining and finance than anyone else in the industry, pioneering new financing models, leading to huge discoveries. They have all used a combination of royalties and joint-ventures to fund exploration over a dizzying number of properties; freed from the short-term pressures of the market, they have been able to profit from volatility, rather than getting whacked by it.
“Our job is not to be predictive of where the markets are going,” Brian Dalton says. “Our job is to recognise where they are. And act accordingly.” With zinc going through the roof, Altius is now planning to hive-off a number of zinc projects in Ireland.
“We've got a lot of growing to do. We study what we did before, what we did good and did bad, and all the peers around us that did the opposite. We stuck with the sector in the ugly times, when everybody else jumped ship and became tech stories. Then tech went bust and they became mining stocks again.”
It is simply a case, he says, of “observation and experience and just conviction. I don't know why everyone doesn't do it.”