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Silver is on the rise in Australia, with new silver mines opening, production potential booming and the precious metal's valuation reaching new heights.

Analysts have been bullish on gold for the better part of the past decade, but now it's silver's time to shine. While the price of silver tends to rise and fall alongside that of gold, silver's valuation is generally more volatile — slower to move in either direction, but more prone to abrupt spikes and plunges.

Considering the market's longtime gold rush, silver is due for a major price hike. In 2020, silver hit a seven year high with 27 percent year-over-year growth, climbing faster than gold. Silver was on the rise again in February 2021, bolstered by WallStreetBets fervour. Though prices have stabilised since, they remain elevated compared to the past decade. Additionally, at only a fraction of gold's valuation, silver is a much more attainable buy.

Shrewd investors are looking to Australia for their silver picks. A country whose silver mines continued to flourish even when most of the world was in a precious metal slump, Australia has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic as a major player in the global silver market.


A look at Australia and silver mining

When you think of mining in Australia, you may not think of silver, especially since the country is a top global producer of several other metals, including gold and iron ore. Nevertheless, silver is on the rise in Australia, with new silver mines opening, production potential booming and the precious metal's valuation reaching new heights.

This may be surprising news, especially since 2020 was an erratic year for silver. Global silver-mining production plunged by 5.9 percent in 2020 — its biggest drop in over 10 years —⁠ following four years of steady decline.

Output from primary silver mines plummeted by 11.9 percent year-over-year, while silver by-product suffered a more modest drop, with production from gold and lead-⁠zinc mines falling by 5.7 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively. Note that silver is largely produced as a by-product of other metal-mining processes, with 72 percent of silver production taking place at non-silver mines.

This production downturn was the result of COVID-19 restrictions that forced mines to suspend operations temporarily. Silver mine closures hit certain places harder than others, with extended closures in top silver-producing countries such as Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia causing major production drops.

Australia, however, was an exception to this rule, with production increasing by 3 percent. The reason for Australia's success is that it remained relatively untouched by COVID-19 restrictions. While other countries were forced to shut down production facilities, Australia was able to avoid these closures, continuing — and even upgrading — regular operations.

Australia is now the fifth largest silver producer globally, with an annual output of 43.8 million ounces in 2020. While the output of silver-mining giants such as Mexico and Peru (178.1 million and 109.7 million ounces produced in 2020, respectively) continues to far exceed that of Australia, global demand for silver is on the rise, hitting 900 million ounces annually and making room for a new silver-mining powerhouse.

What should investors know about silver investing in Australia?

Silver remains a relatively untapped resource in Australia, which means that investors have plenty of major mining companies to choose from.

Australia's largest mine is the Cannington mine owned by South32 (ASX:S32,OTC Pink:SHTLF). It is ranked as the ninth largest silver-producing mine worldwide, with 11.6 million ounces produced in 2020.

The country's second biggest silver-producing mine is the Mount Isa zinc mine. It is owned by Mount Isa Mines, a subsidiary of Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF), and produced around 5.8 million ounces of silver in 2020. The Tritton copper mine, owned by Aeris Resources (ASX:AIS,OTC Pink:ARSRF), followed closely behind with nearly 4.5 million ounces produced in the same year.

Other notable Australian silver mines include the Golden Grove mine, which is owned by 29Metals (ASX:29M), and the Dugald River mine, which is owned by Metallic Minerals (ASX:MMG,TSXV:MMG,OTCQB:MMNGF). In 2020, these mines produced around 2.9 million and 2 million ounces of silver, respectively.

Australia's impressive silver-mining industry is well-positioned for further expansion, with Silver Mines (ASX:SVL,OTC Pink:SLVMF) planning to launch its Bowden silver project in 2023. This New South Wales-based silver mine is projected to produce around 6 million ounces of silver annually, which would make it the country's new second largest producer. The company hopes to capitalise on the promising solar panel market, which currently accounts for about 5.5 percent of all silver demand worldwide.

Moreover, Australian company Thomson Resources (ASX:TMZ,OTC Pink:TMZRF) bought the New South Wales-based Webb and Conrad silver projects from Silver Mines earlier this year in a transaction worth around US$8.6 million. The deal closed on March 31, and will enable Silver Mines to concentrate on its flagship Bowden project.

Investing in silver in Australia

There are many ways to invest in silver, including physical silver, stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, options and futures. Choosing which investment route to take is all about balancing risk and reward.

Investing in physical silver is the most straightforward option: you simply buy a tangible piece of the precious metal in the form of bullion, official coins or medallions. Bullion is a bar or 1 ounce coin of solid silver with at least 99.9 percent purity. Official silver coins are currency produced by a government mint, while silver medallions resemble coins, but lack monetary value, .

The price of physical silver rises and falls alongside the metal's market value. Physical silver is a relatively safe investment, since its value can't be affected by third-party interference or bad business practices (risks characteristic of mining stocks). However, if you plan to trade often, the added costs of buying, selling and storing physical silver may make the investment not worth your while.

Investments in physical silver rose by 8 percent last year, boosted by silver's status as a safe asset and market bullishness on gold. In Australia, coins and medals fabrication increased by 35 percent year-over-year, making physical silver a smart choice for any risk-averse investor.

Of course, low risk often means low reward. If you're looking for a bigger payday, consider investing in silver-mining stocks instead. After all, when silver's market price goes up, it is often the case that the value of a mining stock could spike far higher than that of the physical metal. The disadvantage is that mining stocks are always risky — even when the silver market is strong, a mining endeavour can fail to pan out.

ETFs offer investors the best of both worlds. ETFs are a basket of varied equities, including physical metals and shares in mining companies. Much like individual stocks, they are liable to rise or fall in price according to the market, though they tend to be less risky than stocks.

In 2020, ETF investments were at an all-time-high, though Australia only has one silver ETF that includes the physical precious metal. Stocks are a much more common means of investing in silver in Australia. The country boasts over a dozen silver-mining companies, including South32 and Silver Mines, as well as Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM,TSX:NCM,OTC Pink:NCMGF), Golden Deeps (ASX:GED) and Investigator Resources (ASX:IVR).

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time news updates.

Securities Disclosure: I, Isabel Armiento, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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map showing Victoria, Australia

The state of Victoria completed an inquiry on cannabis earlier this year. Will it actually change anything for the drug?

In August, the government of Victoria, Australia, released the results of its inquiry into the use of cannabis, taking into account 1,475 written submissions, dozens of expert witnesses and two minority reports.

A few months on, Australia-focused cannabis investors are wondering whether the document's findings will have an impact on cannabis use in the state, or even in the country as a whole.

The short answer? Probably not. But there's more to the story than that.


Why did Victoria conduct a cannabis inquiry?

Back in May 2019, Victoria's Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee agreed to complete an inquiry on cannabis in the state. Although it was initially due for completion in March 2020, the deadline was extended twice, first to March 2021 and then again to August 2021.

Chaired by Reason Party Member of Parliament Fiona Patten, whose party supports legalising cannabis, the committee broadly looked at two streams of cannabis policy reform. One, the legalisation of cannabis for adult personal use, and two, a legalised and regulated cannabis market.

The report puts forth 17 recommendations and 21 findings, but Patten said after its release that the Labor-heavy committee banded together to water down certain recommendations prior to the drafting of the report.

For example, according to reports from the Age, the first recommendation of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria became "Recommendation 1: That the Victorian Government investigates the impacts of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria."

Evidence from the inquiry suggests that legalising cannabis would keep young and vulnerable people out of the criminal justice system, with state parliament estimates suggesting Victoria would save AU$725 million over 10 years in police and justice costs.

Key highlights from Victoria's cannabis inquiry

Recommendations from the report broadly fall several categories: investigating a legalised and regulated market; health and safety; and education for minors.

Here's a wrap up of the main items the Victorian government was told to look at:

  • Investigate the impact of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria.
  • Consider referring an inquiry to Victorian Law Reform Commission to investigate state and Commonwealth laws inhibiting legislation and regulation of the cannabis market.
  • Provide ongoing funding to alcohol and drug sector organisations for drug diversion programs, and further funding to areas in regional and rural Victoria.
  • Implement a road safety campaign about the dangers of driving under the influence of cannabis.
  • Look at alternative testing methods for "drug driving," as current methods mean THC can be detected in a person's system long after being "affected by the drug," especially in the case of medicinal cannabis patients.
  • Advocate to the National Cabinet to remove unnecessary barriers for accessing medicinal cannabis.
  • Seek expert help on school drug education, avoid stigmatising users and promote help-seeking behaviour.

Minority reports included in Victoria's inquiry

Liberal Democrat David Limbrick, who participated in the inquiry, was "extremely disappointed" with the last-minute changes mentioned above and submitted a minority report in favour of legalisation.

It broadly supports the public policy Liberal Democrats have towards cannabis which is: "The Liberal Democrats support the legalisation of use, cultivation, processing, possession, transport and sale of cannabis, with protection of minors and penalties for driving while impaired."

A second minority report is also included — it comes from the Liberals and Nationals, both of which are firmly against legalising cannabis in order to protect public health and children. Signed by three members, it states that legalising cannabis only provides ready access and no deterrent to prevent cannabis use. They further wrote:

"The Liberals and Nationals support drug education programs warning of the harms of illicit substances, we support diversion programs that help get people off drugs, and we support other support services for those addicted to drugs. However, we do not support legalising cannabis."

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Glenn Weir told the inquiry in June that the use, cultivation and trafficking of marijuana causes "significant harm," and said he is firmly opposed to legalisation.

Will the inquiry impact cannabis legalisation in Australia?

Any hopes of legalisation were quickly dashed after the report's release by Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, whose focus is on job creation and economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to reporters after it came out, he said he has "no intention" of legalising cannabis.

"If you want to know why, then have a look at the sections in the mental health royal commission that talk about dual diagnosis, drug-induced psychosis," he told reporters outside parliament.

"Others have a different view, they're entitled to have a different view, but as the leader of the government I've just made the government's position very clear."

The lack of support by major state parties for the Victorian inquiry may speak to a wider delay nationally for supporting decriminalising and legalising cannabis. Combined with the narrow defeat of the cannabis legalisation referendum in New Zealand, it does not look like legalisation is likely anytime soon.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Ronelle Richards, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

panoramic view of sydney with the business district

There are at least five companies mining silver in New South Wales right now. Learn more about silver stocks in this key Australian state, as well as its rich history with the precious metal.

New South Wales is where silver mining began in Australia, and where the modern company known as BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BHP) has roots dating back more than a century.

Silver was discovered at Broken Hill in the west of New South Wales in 1883. Two short years later, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company was floated, and from there the rest is history.

Broken Hill Proprietary, now known simply as BHP, rapidly became the largest mining company in Australia, and then the world, by diversifying, acquiring, merging and spreading its reach so that it had assets and interests on four continents — and it all began with the discovery of silver in New South Wales.


New South Wales' strong silver-mining history

BHP doesn't have silver operations in New South Wales today, but the legacy of silver continues in the state.

Australia has a reputation for being a desirable mining jurisdiction, but as an investment prospect, New South Wales is one of the country's less attractive areas, ranking fifth out of seven among its states and territories.

Globally, however, New South Wales is a safe bet, outranking Chile in mining investment attractiveness, according to the Fraser Institute's latest survey of mining companies.

There are at least five companies currently mining silver in the state, as per government data — though many of them are private. Publicly traded entities are accessible through the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

Overall, Australia is ranked among the top global producers of silver, sharing the title of fifth largest producer with Chile and Poland in 2020. It put out 1,300 tonnes of the precious metal that year.

It's worth noting that the amount of silver mined in Australia used to be much higher. Going back through US Geological Survey reports, the country enjoyed a spike in silver mining around the turn of the millennium, when annual production hovered around 2,000 tonnes per year. Since then, it's slowly fallen away to where it sits now.

For its part, New South Wales produced 128 tonnes of silver in the 2015/2016 financial year — a number that is fairly consistent year-on-year due to the number of operational mines located there. Within the region, silver is mined as a by-product at each operational mine, all of which are in the central part of the state.

ASX-listed silver stocks in New South Wales

As mentioned, quite a few of the companies mining silver in New South Wales are private, while others are public, but not listed on the ASX. Examples include China Molybdenum (OTC Pink:CMCLF,HKEX:3993) and Nonfemet.

Of course, public entities are busy in the state too. Read on for a look at some of the ASX-listed operators focused on silver in New South Wales. And if you're interested in jumping into the market, tools to learn how to invest on the ASX are freely available online through the ASX website — here's a little starter to make it even easier.

1. Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM)

Market cap: AU$20.23 billion; current share price: AU$24.73

True to form, silver is produced as a by-product by the top mining company with silver operations in New South Wales — Newcrest Mining's Cadia operation is actually mainly centered on copper and gold. Even so, for the 12 months ended June 30, 2021, Cadia put out 643,000 ounces of the white metal, accounting for the vast majority of the company's overall silver production globally (945,000 ounces overall in the latest annual period).

2. Aeris Resources (ASX:AIS)

Market cap: AU$461.58 million; current share price: AU$0.21

Another company with interests mainly in copper and gold, Aeris Resources is the owner and operator of the Tritton copper operation. Silver plays so little a role in the company's profile that it doesn't list its output of the metal, but it has been hitting some silver mineralization in exploration works at Tritton over the last few months, with holes drilled at the Constellation deposit yielding results as fancy as 28.6 grams per tonne silver.

The company has also reported silver mineralization at the nearby Avoca Tank exploration project.

3. Silver Mines (ASX:SVL)

Market cap: AU$261.49 million; current share price: AU$0.21

Silver Mines is the owner of the Bowdens silver project in Central New South Wales, and the company describes it as one of Australia's largest undeveloped silver resources. The company also has interests in another two silver projects in the state: Conrad and Webbs, both located in the north.

The company's goal is to become one of Australia's preeminent silver companies.

A feasibility study for Bowdens was completed in 2018, and envisions a maiden ore reserve of 29.9 million tonnes at 69 grams per tonne silver, 0.44 percent zinc and 0.32 percent lead for a 16 year mine life initially. Since 2018, the company has fine tuned the proposed mine, and recently began a scoping study on underground mining.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Scott Tibballs, currently hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.