Even speculation in the shares of such a company is attended with more than ordinary risk. We may place great faith in the ability of such a man to manipulate the price as he pleases, but we can never tell the moment when he will forfeit that faith. No one knows but himself what wild scheme he may be formulating, which may suddenly plunge the company and the shareholders into disaster. One day he may succeed, by some clever manoeuvre, to send the shares to a premium; a few days later they may be quoted at only a few shillings. He may dream of a scheme for taking advantage of men who are cleverer than himself, for these men know not their own limitations, but have the profoundest confidence in their skill and cleverness. Even if they were disposed to act honourably, it will be seen that they often fail in ability. They greatly overrate themselves, and this overconfidence discards the prudence and the caution essential to all success. The speculative value of shares in such companies cannot be estimated. They must be guessed at; they are dependent not so much upon solid assets as upon the questionable ability, though not the questionable unscrupulousness, of one man. Therefore, I repeat, such shares should be avoided both by the investor and speculator.
Now, it does not occur to a great number of investors and speculators that the shares of mining companies are not always quoted in accordance with their intrinsic merits, but often they are quoted far above them and often far below. In the first place, it is hardly possible, except in a few rare cases, to know what those merits are at any given moment. The prices are made by the jobbers on the Stock Exchange, and are ruled, for the most part, just as most other commodities are, by the supply and demand. If there is a great demand for any special share, merely from a spontaneous whim on the part of the public, such a demand would naturally compel the jobbers to put up the price, especially if at the same time the supply was limited. At the present time, owing to the depression in the mining market and the absence of demand, the prices of shares are low, but to-morrow, for some pretext or other, there may be such a demand that those prices would appreciate considerably. A certain share may be intrinsically a very valuable one. The mine may be developing most promisingly, but for some reason or other it attracts no attention. Accordingly, jobbers offer the shares at low prices, just as we would offer our stock if there was no demand for it. On the other hand, the shares may stand at a high premium, and speculators will sell in order to take their profits. The market, therefore, is surfeited with them, and as the supply greatly exceeds the demand, the price goes down in accordance with the natural economical law. Therefore.
it does not follow that because a share is quoted beneath what we consider its intrinsic merits it is not good enough for speculative purposes. On the contrary, such a share is one of the best for such a purpose, for it is bound to attract attention sooner or later, and when it does it often creates so great a demand that the price rises far beyond its true value. It is for such shares as these that the speculator should search, and not be attracted to others because they are at a high price and seem to be public favourites. Great mistakes are committed by speculators of this stamp. They think they will be safe in speculating solely in the favourites, instead of looking for a share that is bound eventually to become a favourite. Otherwise they run the risk of buying at top prices and of seeing a downfall immediately afterwards. This is certainly not the surest road to successful speculation.
I should also like to say a word about company wreckers. There are scores of these pests in our midst, their business in life being to select certain companies which have not met with success, to buy five or ten shares in them, and then to commence an agitation to get rid of the directors, in order that they might be elected in their places. They pose, of course, as the friends of the shareholders, and as most of them wield a vigorous pen, and have at their command the most persuasive eloquence, they very frequently attain their interested objects. The shareholders rally round them, and the directors fight them, often in vain. Their method invariably is to insist upon committees of investigation, on which they will be sure to be appointed, and from that to a seat on the board is an easy step. The directors may have been incompetent, but they may, at least, have been honest. Now the shareholders have removed them for the dishonest, for men whose sole objects are to feather their own nests, and hence the change is not one for the better.
To sum up briefly what I have said, I think I have shown fairly conclusively that, in spite of the many risks that are attached to mining - to Nature herself in her erratic depositions, and to man in his still more unreliable dispositions - we can conduct our investments and speculations upon a system, the success of which must be dependent upon our individual ability. We should select a certain group of shares, according to the capital we have at our disposal, and make a study of them. Whether we buy for investment or speculation, we should never buy at top prices, the best time for the former being when the market is weak and prices are low. Search for the best, and leave the bad alone. Let the speculator be content with small profits, and not hold on too long. The best may fall, but they are not liable to such serious fluctuations as the worst. They fall only to rise again. Their intrinsic merits are quite sufficient to prevent disaster.