For old stagers in the mining industry who remember the late Bob Young, the continuing rise of Beowulf Mining looks very much like the triumph of hope over experience.
For a while Bob was touted as the best geologist in London until wags pointed out that being a good geologist in the Smoke was of no use at all to shareholders. Where the good geos were actually wanted was out in the field.
Still, Bob was well-liked and Beowulf Mining became a fixture on the mining scene with its ramshackle collection of projects, its periodic dilutionary raises and its connections to another great stalwart of the old days, Bruce Rowan.
Could anyone have foreseen that it would actually become one of the great survivors where mightier challengers like Northland Resources fell by the wayside?
The answer, given Bob’s bumbling promotional efforts, would have been an emphatic no.
And yet as we speak, Beowulf Mining is now capitalised at a handsome £39mln. True, it has still yet to produce a single tonne of iron ore or ounce of gold and its major project in Sweden is still mired in permitting confusion.
But the salient point remains
With a £39mln market capitalisation Beowulf has confounded expectations and significantly outperformed peers.
Indeed, it’s worth two and half times as much as Condor Gold (LON:CNR), another company born in the same era, which has also continuously been funded by dilutionary raises.
Okay, it’s perhaps not that instructive to compare this old iron ore stager to junior gold or diamond miners, but the weird and wonderful truth is that none of its iron ore peers have survived to endure the comparison.
Gone are the likes of Northland, Bellzone, African Minerals, Afferro, West African Minerals, IMIC and London Mining.
Ferrum Crescent has moved out of iron ore to focus on Spanish zinc, and Ironveld (LON:IRON) isn’t actually involved in iron ore at all. By-the-by, Beowulf is worth more than six times the value of both of these companies put together.
True, Zanaga Iron Ore (LON:ZIOC) is still knocking around, but that was a relative latecomer to the party, having only listed in 2011.
And guess what? Although Zanaga raised £62mln on listing and was capitalised at over £430mln on its first day of dealings - yes, you’ve got it - with a market capitalisation of just £32mln, it is now worth less than Beowulf Mining.
What accounts for this strange anomaly?
It would be tempting to argue that Beowulf’s resilience and indeed renaissance is down to the remarkable bounce that iron ore prices have lately enjoyed following VALE’s catastrophes in Brazil and supply constraints out of Australia. That surely is part of the story.
After all, as virtually the last man standing in London’s once burgeoning iron ore sector, Beowulf has rather surprisingly become the go-to stock, even though it can’t get its project permitted. Zanaga is in the Congo, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
But another more serious factor is the long-standing participation of Swedish directors and investors.
Back in the early days Bob Young used to take to stages at promotional events with strange gnarly Swedes in tow who would go on to talk complex geology in obscure Nordic accents that no-one could understand.
But the message that came over was clear enough: if Bob was going to create an ad-hoc collection of assets of indeterminate value with very little medium or long-term upside, he was at least going to do it with local Swedish support.
Indeed, the most significant statistic on Beowulf’s well-laid out website is that more than 62% of its investors are Swedish.
There is a long and in-depth history of mining in Sweden, and it could be that the Swedes know something about the permitting scene in their own country that remains obscure to UK-based investors.
Or it could simply be that Bob Young is looking down, having been promoted to the status of best geologist in a higher place, and is still guiding the company forward in his own inimicable way.