...understood it all and used it to go and do the London Mining deal.”
It is not unusual to use due diligence to scout out rivals, insiders in the royalty industry say. “We do that all the time.” Anglo Pacific's portfolio of investments meant BlackRock's nosey around would have generated data on several other companies at once.
Investment trusts meanwhile look to merge all the time. Mining trust Baker Steel, for example, was also in talks with hedge fund CQS, in another deal that never materialised. “These guys talk all the time.”
If Hambro was stealthy then, he is now more nimble as well. As money has flowed out of BlackRock's mining funds and as mining equities have tanked, Hambro has honed “a more focused strategy”, brokers who advise him say.
Some of his highest conviction positions are off the beaten track, including Swedish group Boliden and Canadian diamond play Mountain Province. Via a private placement in 2014, BlackRock has also pumped cash into copper explorer Reservoir Minerals, stopping the company from being muscled around by copper giant Freeport, its joint-venture partner in Serbia.
“Reservoir's one of the best run companies and one of the best discoveries,” a broker close to Hambro says. “Don't tell me he doesn't make interesting investments.”
Hambro, who refuses to publicly discuss individual stocks, is careful in controlling what information passes to whom, associates say. Some companies, for example, are unaware of discussions he has held with their rivals. But recent deals suggest Hambro is acting more like a financier in the current market, proactively influencing companies and takeover dynamics, rather than being an aloof, hands-off investor, or doling-out money across the market.
Behind closed doors, Hambro has lobbied for years for Barrick Gold and Newmont Mining to increase their dividends. He has also pushed Australian gold miners to merge, stressing that not every mine should be encumbered with its own board and stock market listing. In 2013, the two issues collided.
Northern Star was a gold miner in Western Australia, with a coal discovery on the side. Its
managing director, Bill Beament, a former underground mine contractor, was tight on costs and Northern Star was paying dividends, but the company was one of Australia's smallest gold producers and was almost unheard of in London.
Then the gold price tumbled, big gold groups retrenched and Beament pulled the trigger, bidding for Barrick's Plutonic underground mine in Australia. He found himself the only bidder. One month later, Northern Star announced a A$100m equity deal, buying four more mines from Barrick and Newmont in Western Australia.
It was a truly bold move: resources tripled, production grew sixfold and Northern Star became Australia's second largest gold group, recouping the deal costs of A$200m in under a year. Beament had gone into the downturn with cash and was plugged into Western Australia, but sources credit Hambro with playing a key role.
BlackRock was the biggest contributor to Northern Star's equity placing and Hambro had upped his stake from 4m to 31m shares. Other investors were there to support the financing, one geologist turned banker says, but Hambro was able to “force consolidation.” He had backed Northern Star at its key juncture, upscaling a well-timed acquisition into a deal bonanza. Within the narrow risk limits of BlackRock, it was the closest he could come to showing the stocks, deals and mining bosses he rated highly.
Barrick had meanwhile rebuffed Hambro's pressure and now assets were changing hands, in deals facilitated by financing from BlackRock. Northern Star has quadrupled and Hambro's funds have held onto 21m shares.
Hambro still has eyes for the royalty business. “He thinks there's a good fit with the World Mining Trust and Anglo Pacific,” the sharehold-ers are “very similar”, dominated by generalist investors who want a “toehold” in mining.
It is “correct” that BlackRock considered “swallowing up” Anglo Pacific, an associate of Hambro's says, but a deal is off the cards. The company has a new chief executive, former hedge fund manager Julian Treger, a ruthless dealmaker of his own, thought to be happy in the role. Treger has sold off Anglo Pacific's
equity holdings. He also has a track record of impeccably making “the big cyclical calls.”
BlackRock's mining funds currently have large positions in several other royalty groups, including Franco-Nevada and Osisko Gold. Royalty firms other than Anglo Pacific say they have an “ongoing” dialogue with Hambro on partnering-up on royalty deals and expect it to happen in the future.
Hambro's not a “visionary” and has never changed the industry's “orthodoxy”, banking sources say, unlike Graham Birch's predecessor, Julian Baring. But he is willing to push the button on funding, when companies come to him with good deals. “The right deal's got to happen at the right time,” says one company insider, who has dealt with Hambro for several years. “You've gotta come up with the right deal.”
Evy Hambro's career may be defined by what he does after BlackRock, whether he goes through the revolving door onto mining company boards, or launches something more specialist and boutique, with higher conviction positions. Still in his early 40s, he is too young to count out.
“Evy is self-confessed ambitious,” one source says. “He wants to succeed, he wants to make real money, absolute money. He has made some shocking investments. But that is all last year.”
Based on conversations with current & former insiders at BlackRock, analysts, bankers, brokers and company executives in London, Canada and Australia