Shares of prospective precious metals miner Northern Dynasty Minerals (NYSEMKT: NAK) rose more than 10% Thursday, before falling back to ground level, after an article published Wednesday on Seeking Alpha claimed that the all-important partnership with copper mining giant First Quantum Minerals is on target and should be signed "in the very near term."
Unfortunately, there aren't any real world indications supporting either side of the argument -- finalizing a proposed partnership or backing out -- at this time. The only certainty is uncertainty, although investors may receive an answer soon. As of 11:48 a.m. EST, the stock had settled to a 5.1% gain.
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Northern Dynasty Minerals stock cratered in recent weeks after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a surprise move to reinstate protections for the sockeye salmon fisheries in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The agency previously removed protections, which was a sign that it would allow the company's nearby Pebble Project -- the world's largest undeveloped copper and gold mine -- to proceed with permitting and a multi-year development process. Now the EPA admits there's a high bar to clear for any mining project, which has spooked investors.
It's important to note that the EPA's decision doesn't derail Pebble and may not affect the development timeline. But considering that the mine isn't expected to be in production until 2024, investors wouldn't easily stomach a delay.
More importantly, increased scrutiny from the EPA could become a factor for First Quantum Minerals, which has the option to partner on Pebble. Since it hasn't finalized its role in the project and could still walk away, it's the biggest near-term consideration for investors. They may get an answer on the copper mining giant's decision on Feb. 12, when the company announces full-year 2017 earnings.
Investors should expect Northern Dynasty Minerals to remain volatile for the foreseeable future. If First Quantum Minerals publicly and unequivocally states its commitment to developing Pebble, then the market can breathe a sigh of relief and turn its attention to the long road ahead. If the larger miner withdraws from the proposed partnership, then it could spell the end of the prospective miner altogether. That's just one reason I wouldn't consider this stock for an investment.
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