Small Talk: 'Minor metals' firm aims to tap major growth
Monday 30 June 2008
For some weeks now this column has mildly mocked companies that are trumpeting their intention to list on the Alternative Investment Market and raise money. Due to the not-so-clever market conditions, and unwillingness of investors to seek sanctuary in anything beyond the big stocks, smaller groups have generally had a tough start to life on the markets. Fundraising has been largely out of the question.
Indeed, the only companies that have managed to catch the eye are oil and gas explorers and commodity miners, which have been buoyed by soaring prices of metals and oil, driven by the boom in emerging markets led by China and India.
That makes Emerging Metals' decision not to seek funds all the more surprising. The company, which digs around in slag stockpiles in Namibia for what it describes as "minor metals", such as magnesium and silicon, is set to list on AIM tomorrow. The firm says the metals it seeks are in high demand and used in products such as mobile phones and solar panels. This comes as China, the world's biggest producer of minor metals, is starting to restrict exports as domestic demand increases.
If any company could manage to squeeze some money out of AIM investors, surely it is something along the lines of this one.
The chief executive, Mitch Alland, said that the company doesn't need to raise funds, claiming that the group has decided to list because the time-consuming paperwork is better done now than when it has more projects up and running.
The company is clearly not desperate for money as it has $23m in cash, and its non-executive co-chairmen, who own 14.5 per cent of the group, certainly have a few bob to rub together. Stephen Dattels cashed in after selling UraMin, a uranium miner, to France's Areva for $2.5bn last year. Jim Mellon, who appeared at equal 117th in the latest Sunday Times rich list, is reportedly worth £700m.
Emerging Metal's biggest backer is a hedge fund, Everest Capital, which owns 30 per cent of its capital.
Elsewhere in the world of small cap metals and mining, Oxus Gold, a company with royal approval, had some good news last week.
The group has worked in Uzbekistan since 1999 and, unlike plenty of AIM-listed mining firms, has actually been in production from its near surface pit since 2006.
Last week, the group announced that a bankable feasibility study showed that a 1.2 metric ton a year underground mine and bio-oxidation processing route is technically and commercially viable. The chief executive, Richard Wilkins, reckons the group will soon have quadrupled gold production, from the current 70,000 ounces a year, off the back of the news.
The new mine will help to push the shares as high as 33p, according to analysts at Canaccord Adams. The stock closed on Friday at 16p.
The group has also set up an educational foundation, of which Prince Michael of Kent will be patron, where Uzbeks in Tashkent can study for degrees awarded by the University of Westminster. Mr Wilkins said that the foundation, launched last week, comes at little financial cost to Oxus, adding that it was, um, "worth its weight in gold," as far as relations in Tashkent are concerned.
Tatarstan, for those that do not know, is part of the Russian Federation, and thanks partly to AIM-listed Teleset Networks, it has a fairly decent telephone and internet service.
Teleset moved to the federal capital, Kazan, in the mid-1990s and has done a good job of competing with its state-run rivals. So good, in fact, that now it wants to expand in the region, and needs cash to make the necessary acquisitions. The prospects look solid for a company that already has strong institutional backing and is undervalued, according the house broker, Metrolpol. It said Teleset trades at about a 40 per cent discount to the market, and that investors should flock to what is a pretty attractive proposition.
However, there is also a thinly veiled suggestion that if the money cannot be raised, predators might start circling Teleset and that this too "could be beneficial for minority shareholders," Metrolpole said.
Templeton and Deutsche Bank already hold big stakes and might well be rubbing their hands in anticipation at either outcome.
For those tied to a computer and claim they never get a chance to sit down and read a good book, take note of Publishing Technology. The tiny company, which has a market capitalisation of less than £6m, has hitherto concentrated on providing an online service for academic publishers. But as it signalled at the Frankfurt book fair in October, the group is preparing for some innovative online expansion.
As you read this, the firm is trialling a product that it reckons will be a cross between Apple's iTunes and a YouTube for books. The chief executive, George Lossius, said the technology will allow publishers to sell parts of books, say a recipe, or the whole thing. Moreover, publishers will be able to market particular authors and genres to particular customers.
That's not to say Publishing Technology is going to be the Random House of the digital age. Mr Lossius admitted that some of the bigger publishers are probably already planning to do it themselves, but Publishing Technology might well be left alone to scrap for some of those lucrative smaller deals.
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