Investors are holding their breath after a military mutiny and coup March 22 in Mali, one of West Africa's most established democracies. This Gold Report review delves behind the headlines to analyze the coup's impact on miners.
A faction within Mali's military declared on state television that they had seized power in protest over the government's failure to suppress a rebellion in northern Mali. They also said the country's constitution had been temporarily suspended.
Share prices of several miners with operations in Mali dropped heavily on the news. Avion Gold Corp. (AVR:TSX; AVGCF:OTCQX) and Randgold Resources Ltd. (GOLD:NASDAQ) each fell about 12% on March 22 and may fall further as the uncertainty persists.
Avion operates the Tabakoto and Kofi mining operations, both of which are about 220 miles northwest of the capital, Bamako. Avion also holds the promising Houndé gold project in Burkina Faso.
"All operations at Tabakoto and Kofi are running normally and are for the most part unaffected. Mali has had democratic rule for 20 years and we do not expect any change in the political orientation of the country or its peoples," said Avion president and CEO John Begeman in a statement.
Randgold operates the Morila joint venture and Loulu and Gounkoto gold mines in Mali, which account for roughly 60% of the company's gold production.
Randgold CEO Mark Bristow was touring the Loulo complex in Mali when the coup took place. "Malians respect laws and I don't believe this will come with a high-handed change in political direction. We don't expect any subsequent governments to disregard proper and due process," Bristow said in a statement on the company's website.
Mali is the third largest gold producer in Africa behind South Africa and West African neighbor, Ghana.
Mali had its first democratic election in 1992 and has been a relative model of peace and stability since.
Current President Amadou Toumani Toure, whose whereabouts are unknown, had said he would not run in the country's next election, which is slated to take place at the end of April.
The uprising the Malian soldiers are protesting is being staged by Touaregs living near the Taoudeni basin in the north of the country. The basin is thought to contain oil and the Touaregs are seeking sovereignty over the area.
The Touaregs are operating under the banner of the Azawad National Liberation Movement, better known by its French acronym MLNA. According to Bloomberg, the rebels are receiving a steady supply of weapons from fighters in Libya, which has made it difficult for Mali's military to quash the uprising.
On March 19, The Gold Report published an interview with Mark Lackey, chief investment strategist with Toronto-based Pope and Company, about investment opportunities in West Africa. Lackey stands by his statement that Mali is indeed one of Africa's safest jurisdictions.
"We saw a fairly significant selloff in some of the stocks yesterday but we're not changing our view that Mali is one West Africa's most stable countries," Lackey told The Gold Report Friday morning. "Our geologist was recently over there and he's made contact with some people in Bamako and their view is that things seem calm. There has been no loss of life. . .Things would have to change dramatically (in Mali) for me to change my view."
Does that mean investors should hold onto to their positions in companies operating in Mali?
"I would suggest that if you're an investor and you're in, then hold on. And if you're not an investor yet then you certainly should have these companies on your radar screen," Lackey said. "There is everything from gold to uranium to phosphate (in Mali). We principally talked about a couple of gold plays (in the March 19 interview) but we would suggest that people should be looking at these opportunities because nothing has fundamentally changed with these companies."
Lackey also believes that the uprising is unlikely to spread to neighboring countries such as Ghana and Burkina Faso.
Other mining companies with exposure to Mali include: AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. (AU:NYSE; ANG:JSE; AGG:ASX; AGD:LSE), African Gold Group Inc. (AGG:TSX.V), Avnel Gold Mining Ltd. (AVK:TSX), Cluff Gold Plc (CFG:TSX; CFG:LSE), Endeavour Mining Corp. (EDV:TSX; EVR:ASX), Etruscan Resources Inc. (EET:TSX), Gold Fields Ltd. (GFI:NYSE), Great Quest Metals Ltd. (GQ:TSX.V), Legend Gold Corp. (LGN:TSX.V), Papillon Resources Inc. (PIR:ASX), Resolute Mining Ltd. (RSG:ASX), Robex Resources Inc. (RBX:TSX.V) and Volta Resources Inc. (VTR:TSX).
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