Tag Archives: Westhaven Ventures

Interview: Gren Thomas, the man with the golden hand

by James Kwantes
Editor, Resource Opportunities

October 26, 2018
It’s 1:15 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon in Vancouver and I arrive a little early for a downtown meeting with Westhaven Ventures (WHN-V) chairman Gren Thomas. A short elevator ride at Granville and West Hastings takes me to Westhaven’s modest offices on the 10th floor, where I let myself in and drop by CFO Shaun Pollard’s office.

Inside, Pollard and veteran geologist Ed Balon — Westhaven’s technical director — are talking rocks and stocks. Westhaven shares rose 36% on the day to an all-time high close of 94 cents. Teamwork: Balon was key to identifying the Spences Bridge epithermal gold belt, which hosts Shovelnose, outside of Merritt, and Westhaven’s other projects: Prospect Valley, Skoonka and Skoonka North. Pollard runs a tight treasury ship in a sector with its share of (adrift) lifestyle companies.

And it’s at Shovelnose where a high-grade intercept of 17.77 metres of 24.50 g/t gold in hole 14 sent Westhaven shares — which traded between one and three nickels for years until this spring — rocketing from 37 cents to 81 cents on Oct. 16. This is a junior mining market where momentum flows to companies that can hit rich intercepts of high-grade gold. Westhaven has become one of them.

Visible gold in hole 14, from the South Zone at Westhaven’s Shovelnose project

Gren arrives at the office. The soft-spoken mine finder made his reputation and fortune when his Aber Resources discovered Diavik, Canada’s second diamond mine. But these days, it’s mostly gold on his mind.

He comments with a chuckle that he’d had a nap earlier in the day and been surprised when he awoke to see the large stock increase. Making a few million dollars while he slumbers … that’s the new normal for Thomas, who owns (directly and indirectly) almost 30% of Westhaven’s shares. But it’s not like he’s sitting around counting his winnings — the veteran prospector was uncertain and low-balled his stake in the company when asked about it.

Take Resource Opportunities for a test drive and profit from under-the-radar investment ideas before they go mainstream. Use coupon code “CEO” to collect US$100 in savings and subscribe for one year at US$199 (regular $299) or for two years at US$349 (regular $449). Subscribe today!

The Westhaven surge is a reversal of fortune for Thomas, who got his share position by bankrolling the company, keeping it afloat through years of struggle and shoestring budgets. Thomas is Westhaven’s chairman and his son Gareth runs the company as president and CEO. Gareth, who was out of the office for interviews, owns 3.3 million shares, a 4.2% stake.

“What are we going to do with all this paper, paper the walls?” Gren says, recalling earlier days of backstopping the operation.

He fills me in on the small, persistent band of believers who were convinced there was high-grade gold at Shovelnose. Central to early-stage exploration was Balon, who discovered Skoonka and found a boulder at Shovelnose in the mid-2000s that ran 100 g/t gold. That was while both projects were still in Strongbow Exploration (SBW-V), where Thomas is also chairman. A 50-metre intercept of 0.5 g/t gold provided further encouragement.

Shaun Pollard, Westhaven CFO (left to right), technical director Ed Balon and CEO Gareth Thomas, atop Shovelnose.

“There were a lot of small programs, but frustrating. We would go back every year thinking we would find more the next year. But we were basically prospecting with a drill. There is lots of cover there, right.”

“We were talking to major companies and they were not remotely interested.”

Westhaven chairman Gren Thomas

The majors are interested now, and so are plenty of others. Gren’s cellphone rings in the pocket of his jacket, which is draped over a chair. He apologizes for pausing the interview and walks over to take the call. It’s Peter Brown, the Canaccord cofounder and Howe Street legend — and Westhaven shareholder. Brown, too, is eager to know when assays for hole 15 will arrive (anytime) and when the next drilling starts (early November).

Hole 14 was the intercept that lit a fire under Westhaven shares. Hole 15, 100 metres southeast of 14, hit a 20-metre quartz vein and contains visible gold. Assays are pending and could land at any time. The core for hole 14 contains ginguro bands, a distinctive black sulphide that is sprinkled with visible gold. The latest core looks very similar to the mineralization at Hishikari (Sumitomo), a Japanese gold mine with some of the world’s highest grades, at 40 g/t gold. Exploration manager Peter Fischl also sees parallels to Kupol (Kinross), a large high-grade mine in Russia’s Far East. Both Hishikari and Kupol are world-class epithermal gold deposits. Shovelnose is a speculative, earlier-stage project, but the potential is tantalizing.

A turning point, Gren relates, was when exploration manager Peter Fischl — attempting to zero in on the “heat zone” — targeted a valley with a creek that hosted heavy clay alteration. Hole SN17-06 intersected 85 metres of 0.52 g/t Au. Higher-grade intercepts followed earlier this year, including 17.7 metres of 3.9 g/t Au.

“We still couldn’t get any interest. We’ve got the boulders, we’ve got the showings, we’ve got these intersections — there’s a lot of gold here.”

“One company even went so far as to say, ‘There are no mines here. Why are there no mines?’ ”

“Well, because nobody has found one yet,” Gren says with a laugh.

Westhaven Ventures (WHN-V)
Price: 0.94
Shares outstanding: 85 million (92 fully diluted)
Market cap: $80 million

There are also new developments in the other two companies where Gren is chairman: Strongbow Exploration (SBW-V) and North Arrow Minerals (NAR-V). He is preparing to fly to the U.K. with Strongbow CEO Richard Williams to work on fundraising and an AIM listing for Strongbow, which is developing the high-grade South Crofty tin project in Cornwall. An Oct. 17 deal with Orion Mine Finance should help on that front — the well-known mining group agreed to finance Strongbow to the tune of US$3 million in conjunction with the AIM listing, which is expected before the end of the year. Thomas owns 5.133 million Strongbow shares, a nearly 6% stake.

There are large pools of capital in London for U.K. mining projects, which Williams and Thomas plan to tap into. There is also renewed interest in Cornwall and tin mining thanks to a popular British television series called Poldark. One participant in a recent tourist walking tour of Cornwall turned out to be a fund manager who was interested in Strongbow and South Crofty.

Strongbow is the “mother ship” of Gren’s three companies: diamond play North Arrow Minerals was spun out of Strongbow in 2007 and Westhaven optioned its Spences Bridge gold belt properties from the company. The deals for Shovelnose and Skoonka have left Strongbow with a 2% royalty on Shovelnose as well as 3.1 million Westhaven shares. Those shares are now worth almost $3 million — a not-insignificant total for a company with a market capitalization of about $14 million. “It’s funny how things morph,” Thomas remarks of Strongbow’s pivot from gold to tin.

Strongbow has a mining permit that is valid until 2017 and the company is currently building a dewatering plant to treat water from the old mine workings. The project was financed by the $7.17-million sale of a 1.5% NSR to major shareholder Osisko Gold Royalties, which owns a 27.5% stake.

Strongbow Exploration (SBW-V)
Price: 0.16
Shares outstanding: 86.6 million (127.4M fully diluted)
Market cap: $13.9 million

As for North Arrow Minerals, the diamond play is awaiting microdiamond and till sample results from Mel in Nunavut, where it discovered the diamondiferous ML-8 kimberlite last year. This season North Arrow drilled a new kimberlite (ML345), expanded on ML-8 and collected 224 kg of kimberlite for microdiamond analysis.

Cut and polished fancy yellow-orangey diamond from Naujaat.

One of the main focuses of North Arrow CEO Ken Armstrong is getting a road permitted from the town of Naujaat to the Q1-4 kimberlite, which hosts a population of valuable yellow-orangey diamonds.

Completion of a road would dramatically cut the costs of collecting a large bulk sample to get a better sense of diamond values at the 12.5-hectare kimberlite, which is near tidewater. A road to the community, which is very supportive of the idea, would also potentially allow the construction of a small test mill in Naujaat.

“A major should take this on, because they take a longer-term view of it,” Gren says of Naujaat. “It’s the perfect place for a mine, near the coast.” He owns more than 10.5 million North Arrow shares, an 11.5% stake.

North Arrow Minerals (NAR-V)
Price: 0.14
Shares outstanding: 92.8 million (128.9M fully diluted)
Market cap: $13 million

“We’re quite confident that we’re doing the right things,” Thomas says of progress at Strongbow and North Arrow. “We just wish the markets would show more interest.”

That’s no longer a problem at Westhaven, with shares sitting just shy of a dollar as investors anticipate assays for hole 15. Warrant exercises have topped up the treasury, which sits north of $1.5 million. That’s enough for the next drill program, which is imminent, and it removes the need to finance under a dollar — something Gren is loathe to do.

While Westhaven’s fortunes have changed, its corporate culture will not, Gren pledges. “Gareth and I were talking about it, and I told him – ‘We under-promise and over-deliver.’ So no bullshit. It’s funner and you get a lot fewer phone calls from angry shareholders.”

There aren’t many of those these days, and Westhaven’s share structure all but ensures higher prices IF the company can keep hitting high-grade gold. Management own about 40% of shares, the Plethora Precious Metals Fund owns 16% and friends and family (including Gren’s daughter Eira Thomas) own another 10-15%. Those high ownership levels keep the supply of shares low during a period of rising demand for the stock.

Related reading: West Vancouver diamond pioneer Gren Thomas still in hunt for gems, Vancouver Sun

Disclosure: James Kwantes owns shares of Westhaven Ventures, Strongbow Exploration and North Arrow Minerals and covers each company in his newsletter, Resource Opportunities. North Arrow is a sponsor of the newsletter. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered financial advice. All investors need to do their own due diligence.

Investor Ian Cassel on strategies & the gold miner that got away

“Investing is hard.”

It was a theme microcap investor Ian Cassel returned to again and again during his October 18 talk at the Small-cap Discoveries conference in Vancouver, run by Vancouver-based newsletter writer Paul Andreola.

Successful investing is counterintuitive to human nature, Cassel told the group of about 75 investors, most of them subscribers to Smallcap Discoveries, the investment newsletter run by Andreola and his business partner Brandon Mackie. “Retraining your brain is a lifelong process.”

Ian Cassel, full-time microcap investor

One common mistake investors make is to sell more of their winners and buy more of their losers. Cutting losses quickly and averaging up when management executes is a more rewarding strategy, Cassel said.

Another interesting point for investors: in baseball terms, slugging percentage is more important than batting average. It’s those extra-base hits that really start to grow wealth over time, as opposed to the singles.

Cassel has been a full-time microcap investor for 10 years and is the co-author of two books about Intelligent Fanatics, the great corporate leaders who build sustainable businesses. In 2011, he founded MicroCapClub, a community where experienced microcap investors share ideas and discuss trading.

Cassel said his strategy on position sizing has changed. He used to immediately take on a large position in a company that passed his investment litmus test — as well as the risks associated with going “all-in.”

Now, he takes a one-third position size after extensive due diligence and talking to management. Cassel takes his second third when he has travelled to and met management at their head office, and gotten a sense of company culture and other details. The final third is purchased when management executes on their promises and vision.

Most management teams over-promise and under-deliver, Cassel noted — a reality familiar to junior mining speculators. A key to successful investing is finding management teams that under-promise and over-deliver, he said. An investor’s willingness to perform deep-dive due diligence will give him or her a significant edge over the majority of investors, who do their research with bums planted to a chair, eyes glued to a computer.

________________________________________

Join Resource Opportunities now and profit by getting in early on under-the-radar investments in the junior resource sector! Use coupon code “CEO” at Resource Opportunities to save US$100 off regular prices of US$299 for a 1-year subscription and US$449 for a 2-year subscription.

          ____________________________________

Cassel illustrated the “investing is hard” mantra with some real-life examples, featuring both sad and happy endings.

The story of Apple (AAPL) cofounder Ronald Wayne is relatively well-known, but that doesn’t make it any less dramatic: Wayne sold his 10% stake in Apple for $800 in 1976. A 10% stake in Apple at the current valuation is worth about $100 billion.

When asked about it decades later, Wayne said he had made the “best decision with the information that was available to me at the time.”

“Investing is hard, even when you’re close to a story,” Cassel said.

The narrative of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has a happier ending, albeit after more ups and downs than the wooden roller-coaster at the PNE.

Son was a child when his Korean parents moved to Japan, and he grew up poor. He began building up and selling businesses while at university in the U.S., netting millions. He invested early in Internet companies and built a dynamo with SoftBank, which at the peak of the Internet bubble owned an estimated 10-12% of the value of all Internet companies. When the bubble burst, Son lost 99% of his net worth.

However, one of the companies SoftBank bought a stake in was a fledgling Chinese Internet play called Alibaba. That investment worked out nicely and Son is now Japan’s wealthiest man, and SoftBank back on top.

Later in the day, I chatted with Cassel about investing and the resource market. Not only was he aware of the ferocity of the bear market, he had some direct experience with a gold company early in his investing career.

Before he was a full-time microcap investor, Cassel used to do some investor relations work for public companies that he liked and whose shares he owned. One of those was Gold Resource Corp. (GORO). Gold Resource had a gold mine in Mexico and was one of those rare producers that actually made money, with a management team dedicated to creating shareholder value and paying dividends. Cassel got in early, with a cost basis of just over a dollar a share, and rode the stock up before exiting north of $6 a share.

Gold Resource Corp. soon began paying dividends, and Cassel watched from the sidelines as the company built its annual dividend, paid monthly, to $1 a share on its way to a $30 stock price (GORO now trades for just under US$6/share). Painful, to be sure, but a rather charmed “miss” in a sector known to devour shareholder capital.

Follow Ian Cassel on Twitter for more investing insights: @IanCassel

I had my own “investing is hard” moment recently, involving Westhaven Ventures (TSXV-WHN). I initiated coverage on the stock back in April 2016 at 14 cents, describing it as a “speculation on a neglected gold district and a management team with a track record of discovery.” A visit to site with Gareth Thomas, now the CEO, and CFO Shaun Pollard demonstrated Shovelnose’s prospectivity, proximity to Vancouver, and exceptional infrastructure.

But I gave up and sold most of my shares a year later, frustrated with small drill programs and only sniffs of lower-grade mineralization. Westhaven was hunting for the high-grade feeder system and having difficulty finding it. It was a lack of patience, not a fatal flaw, that led me to drop coverage.

Fast-forward to Westhaven’s recent intercept of 17.77 metres of 24.5 g/t gold at Shovelnose, which sent the stock to 81 cents — up 118% on the day. It was an exceptional hit and Westhaven is still awaiting assays from a further three drill holes. The company is already planning a fully funded follow-up drill program, and can drill year-round at the property.

I sent out a Flash Alert to subscribers on the evening of that stellar intercept, resuming coverage on Westhaven and touching on Strongbow Exploration (SBW-V), which owns 3.1 million WHN shares and a royalty on Shovelnose. The next morning I added to my Westhaven position at the open. A visit to Westhaven’s office later that day confirmed my bullishness. It’s not my style to chase stocks, but I believe Westhaven could be onto a large gold system at Shovelnose. The company has a large land position and other highly prospective projects within the belt, as well. A very tight share structure should help propel this stock if subsequent results impress.

Westhaven shares traded above 90 cents on news of the intercept but have since dipped down to the 70-cent range.

Disclosure: James Kwantes is editor and publisher of Resource Opportunities, a subscriber-supported newsletter dedicated to finding under-the-radar resource stocks with high upside potential. He owns shares of Westhaven Ventures and Strongbow Exploration. This is not investment advice and all investors need to do their own due diligence. Use coupon code “CEO” at ResourceOpportunities.com to save US$100 off regular subscription prices of US$299 for one year or US$449 for two years.