Gold is undoubtedly having a good run this year, driven by the global economic turmoil caused by the pandemic and there are no signs of its price rise slowing.
The precious metal has reached nine year highs at around US$1,800, which has bounced companies working in the sector firmly back into the investor spotlight, not least cashed-up juniors that are actively advancing decent projects, and which are not too far away from production.
A prime example would be Benchmark Metals Inc (CVE:BNCH) (OTCQB:CYRTF), which owns the 140 sq km Lawyers gold and silver property in the Golden Horseshoe of British Columbia, and where up to 50,000 metres (m) of drilling is currently in train.
In a recent interview, Jim Greig, the group's president and a founding team member, explained how 'getting in' on a company, or project at this stage offers the potential for "tremendous" wealth generation, as the sector exits the "worst eight years" in the cycle and there are now signs of a bull run.
"This is perfect timing on the mine cycle curve," he tells me excitedly. "To be getting in early on a company that's near to a resource estimate followed by a new economic study... we've got several good years ahead of us."
There is no question that the brown-field Lawyers project, already sitting in a favourable jurisdiction in British Columbia, is advanced.
Exploration in the area began in the late 1960s, peaking in the 1980s, and identified numerous high grade, showings, prospects, and deposits.
The Cheni mine operated there from 1989 to 1992, generating 171,200 ounces of gold and 3.6 million ounces of silver, when the gold price was just US$300 an ounce and silver stood at US$7.
But 30 years ago the emphasis was on exploiting the high grade veins, and Benchmark quickly realised from its own work after acquiring the property in 2018 that the property had more near surface, bulk tonnage potential.
Benchmark believes there are several very large high-grade zones at surface which could be open pits.
"This (bulk tonnage) means there's a lot more material that appears to be economic and given the current price of gold, that will generate a lot more cash flow for a new mine, however this will require a compliant Mineral Resource Estimate and Economic Study. Both are items in progress," explains Greig.
The fact there was a previous mine on site also means the permitting process should be quicker, given the former mine footprint and disturbed, along with recently completed First Nations agreement he adds.
Five drill rigs are currently turning at the project after Benchmark has located five potential resource expansion areas and six early-stage targets, including Silver Pond Porphyry and Marmot.
Previous highlight drill assays from the firm at Lawyers have included 7m at 108 grams per ton (g/t) gold and 911 g/t silver.
Benchmark is also working up an exploration target of up to 1.9 million ounces of gold equivalent grading around 1.7 g/t AuEq at the Cliff Creek Zone, where several hundred meters have already been sunk in the current program. Three other large zones have potential to add more gold-silver ounces.
And Greig says he's confident that the group's fully funded resource drilling for 2010 will easily see it reach the potential for over 2 million ounce mark at a minimum and at higher grades, which will lead nicely to a new resource estimate in the first quarter of 2021 and a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) shortly thereafter.
In all, Benchmark believes they are onto a 5 million ounce gold-silver exploration target at Lawyers - an asset where only around 10% of the huge property has been explored, and which boasts a 20km plus district scale trend.
Sprott Equity Research recently began covering the shares with a 'Buy' rating and C$1.15 a share price target, sketching out a potential mine for the site.
"This year's 50,000m drill program should support a compliant resource and scoping study in 2021, and we see potential for at least 175koz pa over 10 years," its analysts suggested.
Sprott reckons the resource estimate could come up with 2.4 million ounces at 1.7 grams per ton (g/t) but says it sees "real potential" for this to lift towards the 3 million ounce mark, noting an attractive strip rate and that most drilling is less than 200 metres (m) deep.
This potential against Benchmark's current market cap of just C$75 million underpin its investment case, says Sprott, adding it expects shares to re-rate in the next 6-12 months.
Sprott's valuation, based on an inventory of around 41 million tonnes at 1.6g/t gold equivalent, mined over ten years, gives a build start net present valuation of a healthy C$359 million.
The Lawyer's project as it stands now also benefits from existing infrastructure estimated to be worth around C$50 million. Greig highlights that this being already 'disturbed' ground with infrastructure in place reduces the group's exploration and access costs.
He also highlighted that at Lawyers crews can drive a truck right up to the drill rigs, whereas operators in north BC usually must use helicopters. The site is also just 45 km from the world-class Kemess gold copper mine.
So against the gold price backdrop and outlook, along with the parameters of the project, the stars appear to be aligning perfectly for this exploration junior.
Benchmark, which is likely to have plenty of newsflow in the near future to drive the story forward, could definitely be one small cap to keep an eye on over the next few years.