Small Talk: Gold veteran spies new opportunity in Latin America

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The spike in the gold price, which has driven prices north of the $1,500 per ounce mark, has been aided by the billions of dollars let loose by the easy monetary policy both here and on the other side of the Atlantic, where the Federal Reserve unleashed an additional $600bn (£371.3 bn) in quantitative easing last year.

But that support is about to end. Although another round of easing remains possible later in the year, for now the markets are nervously waiting to see what happens when the programme ends in the coming weeks.

Some fear that the end of easy money spells the end of the gold price rally. Bob Buchan, the chairman of Colombia-focused Touchstone Gold which listed on the Alternative Investment Market (Aim) earlier this month, is not one of their number.

On the contrary, he remains bullish. If his name sounds familiar, it is because he has form when it comes to gold mining. He was the founder and former chief executive Kinross Gold, and has also been involved in the wider resources sector, including founding and formerly chairing Katanga Mining, the Africancopper and cobalt business.

Given the worries about the gold price, we asked him whether now was the right time to list. After telling us that, in the end, "one just gets a property of merit and runs with it", instead of worrying about the right or wrong time to list, Mr Buchan tackled the gold price head-on.

Easing or no easing, he pointed to the mountains of debt, and the accompanying fiscal stress, on both sides of the Atlantic. "[I find it] inconceivable that the financial stresses in Europe and North America are magically going to away," he said. "[The] only resolution is the debt has to be written off. This issue is deep-set."

But as that is not going to happen, Mr Buchan sees "no resolution to the fundamental problems that exist". This, then, suggests that the dollar will weaken and "gold has to go higher". He argues: "The fundamental problems that created $1,500 gold will create higher gold."

After leaving Kinross, Mr Buchan maintained an interest in two parts of the world: southern Argentina and Columbia. When he was pitched on Touchstone last year and liked what he heard, he sent down a consultant geologist to confirm his assessment.

Fast forward to June this year, and the company, which is active in the Segovia Gold belt in Northern Colombia, has raised £10m. It owns the Rio Pescado Project, which comprises four concessions in the highly prospective belt. Thus far, exploration and drilling has focused on less than 10 per cent of the Project, giving the directors reason to think there is scope for further discoveries.

The money will help in pushing ahead with the exploration programme. "Now it's all about the truth-machine," Mr Buchan said, when asked about the main staging posts for the company in the months ahead. The "truth machine", he explained, is the drill. And with the listing in place, the company plans to "drill, drill, drill" to unlock the gold hidden away in the belt.

Small business's data failure

Small companies don't seem that concerned about the prospect of the loss or theft of data from their organisation, according to an Ipsos poll.

The survey of 1,000 businesses, commissioned by the data destruction firm Shred-It, shows nearly a third never train employees on data security procedures, while almost 40 per cent do so only rarely.

The figures are worrying, not least in light of the new powers given last year to the Information Commissioner's Office, which can impose fines of up to £500,00 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act. In fact, the survey revealed that only 4 per cent of companies have changed the way they handle data in response to the tougher rules, while 60 per cent weren't even aware of the new powers.

Phil Orford, the chief executive of the not-for-profit Forum of Private Business, thinks small firms needed to wake up.

"It is time companies got wise to the seriousness of data theft and the importance of protecting their information," he said.

"Quite apart from the implications for the commercial viability of a business, failing to secure data properly could lead to a potentially huge fine."