Junior Company Definition
Junior Company is the company that undertakes the development of natural resources including research, confirmation of the existence of resources at the exploration site, actual extraction, etc and also bears the direct risk of failure of such exploration activity. The senior companies oversee their activities and provide them with the necessary funds.
Characteristics of Junior Company
- Low market cap: Mostly these companies have lower than 500 million market-capitalization and therefore fall under the small-cap category.
- Low volume: These are thinly traded stocks and therefore the volume on a day to day basis is very low or may even be negligible
- High Capex: As the projects require a lot of site excavation work, the investment in R&D and equipment is high, therefore such companies have very high fixed asset investment.
- High acquisition costs: A study of resources can be conducted only after the site has been acquired, and therefore acquisition costs become a very high component of overall costs.
- High Risks: As the sole reward rests on the positive results of the study, the risks are very high for junior companies, because if the study fails, they won’t get further funding for exploration and trading of the resources, whereas the initial funds used in the acquisition and conducting of the study all become a sunk cost.
- Skilled workforce: Junior companies require skilled management and technical experts, to handle the local government laws and environmental regulations, and also the scientific viability of the proposed acquisition targets.
Example of a Junior Company
Atalaya Mining PLC, previously known as EMED mining public ltd., has a market cap of CAD 432 million with 137.339 million listed ordinary shares on the TSX and the AIM as on Nov 12, 2019, 3:14 AM EST. It is a mining and development company in copper concentrates and silver by-product domain.
Its operations are concentrated in south-western Spain at the Rio Tinto project site among others, of which it acquired 100% ownership in October 2008 and is currently in an expansion phase.
One of the most appropriate ways of the understanding junior company is through its shareholding pattern, which shows the sources of capital for its operational activities. Below image shows the major shareholding of Atalaya Mining PLC as at 16 September 2019:
- Urion Holdings (Malta) Ltd (“Trafigura”): This is a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of one of the market leaders in the global commodity trading industry, Trafigura, and one of its core operations is to acquire a shareholding in various commodity exploration companies, such as Atalya Mining PLC
- Yanggu Xiangguang Copper Co. Ltd (‘XGC’): This is a wholly-owned direct subsidiary of XGC, which is one of the largest copper processing and refining companies based out of Shandong, China.
- Liberty Metals & Mining Holdings LLC (“Liberty”): This is based out of Boston, US and is a subsidiary to Liberty Mutual Insurance (LMM), which is an insurance company that invests in various sectors to be able to fulfill the insurance payouts to its policy-owners.
- Orion Mine Finance (Master) Fund I LP (‘Orion’): This is a fund of Orion Resource partners, which an investment management firm in the alternative investment domain with an AUM of approx. $6 billion
- Management and Board of Directors: This could be due to the requirement of qualification shares, or sweat-equity or any other reason.
We can see that none of its major investors actually take up the mining operations at the ground level. Most of their involvement is for providing the funds. However, the largest shareholders are in related businesses such as trading or processing and refining of the produce of Atalya or mining is their core investment domain.
Other examples could be Great bear resources, Novo resources, Silvercorp Metals, Pacific Booker Minerals, Kirkland Lake Gold among others.
Challenges Faced by a Junior Company
- Environmental permits: These days, one of the most important factors which can make or break the spine of junior companies is the environmental regulations of the governments of the countries where such exploration sites are located. Certain countries offer environmental permits, while some countries have less liberal policies
- Geopolitical risks: The interest of junior companies is affected by the geopolitical risks of the countries of exploration sites. For e.g., if the country faces a civil war, the junior company is affected the most.
- Rights of Indigenous people: Most sites are located in the tribal areas or in the unexplored and therefore require rehabilitation of these people. Further, due to being accustomed to their ways of living, it is very difficult for them to adjust to a new environment and they may or may not possess the skills required for survival. This creates a barrier to exploration activities. Proper compensation may not always be feasible. A very recent example of the same is the Niyamgiri hill-Vedanta Group case from India in which the Supreme court finally ruled in favor of the indigenous people and against the Vedanta resources.
- Failures: As mentioned above, the sites need to be acquired before the study for resource existence can be undertaken. This requires a lot of capital and if the study results are negative, all the investments go down the drain and produce no return. Therefore at times failures even lead to the bankruptcy of the junior company if its debt is very high.
- Socio-economic: In most African countries, such companies have to operate in a joint venture with a local corporation or the local communities as the resources present on the lands of these local communities belong to these people also. For e.g. the Blue Rock Diamonds group, based out of the U.K., operates in South Africa in collaboration with Ghaap Mining (Pty)Ltd., Kimberly, which owns 26% of its capital structure. This is because of the requirements of the Black economic empowerment regulations.
To sum up, the companies which undertake the initial study for the existence of natural resources and then team up with larger companies either financially or structurally to undertake the extraction activities are known as the Junior Companies.
Once they come up with a positive study result, they may either take up exploration activity themselves or may sell out their findings and the explored site to an interested party which might then take up the extraction activity.
It is high risk and high reward work, and therefore it is not an investment opportunity for all kinds of investors, only those who have high risk-taking capacity and willingness should take up such investments.
This has been a guide to what is junior company and its definition. Here we discuss the characteristics of junior companies along with the examples and various challenges faced by them. You can learn more about finance from the following articles –