Until within a few months ago mining operations ceased on the Rand as far as English shareholders were concerned, but permission has recently been given to a few mines to restart operations. For eighteen months, therefore, the public have taken little or no interest in the Kaffir market, and this was comprehensible. In the first place, no one could tell what damage the Boers might do to the mines during the war, and though they could not injure them permanently, they could do an incalculable amount of harm, and might delay profitable work for years to come. But, luckily, the damage done has been very slight, and will be easily repaired, so that within only a few weeks of restarting these mines have already given returns. The great Robinson mine was one of the first to be granted permission to resume work, and at the latter end of July the first monthly report was issued. There is no doubt that gradually permission will be given to other mines to restart, even before the war is finished, and that being so, I cannot understand why the public still keep aloof from this market. That it is unwise of them I have no hesitation in saying. Prices are now as low as they are ever likely to be, and hence a unique opportunity is presented which may never again be offered to the investor. Caution is undoubtedly commendable in mining investment, but it is certainly being carried too far at this moment. It is incomprehensible to me why the investor cannot see it. He knows the worst. He knows that the mines are but slightly damaged, and that in a few months' time the industry will be in full swing. He is waiting for the end of the war, or he is told that he is waiting for the end of the war, and the result is that he will wait too long. The foolish fellow is waiting until everybody buys - until he can hang on at the outskirts of a crowd and get what he can. If one thing is certain in this life, it is that the prices of all the good Rand mining shares will appreciate considerably in the immediate future. Is he waiting until they do appreciate before he buys? It certainly looks like it. The ordinary investor seems very fond of buying at top prices, notwithstanding that it is an act of folly. And this is what we shall surely witness later on.
The speculator, too, is missing his opportunity. If he buys now (that is, at the end of August), he will be able to sell at enormous profits later on. But he is afraid because others are not doing it. He seems anxious first of all to see his competitors multiply, and then he will rush eagerly in to take his share of the spoils. But he will find little left for him. He will have already lost the supreme chance of his life. I don't say that no opportunity will present itself for successful speculation in the future. There will be many such opportunities; but there will be none like the present, for, as I say, prices are not likely to go so low again.
It is evident, however, that, though there are many waiting to buy, there are few disposed to sell. And this is prudence. It shows, at any rate, that holders are conscious of the great prospective values of their holdings, whether they intend to retain them to sell again at higher prices, or merely to hold them for the dividends they will receive upon them. Personally, I would adopt the latter policy, for the shares may be held for many years, and good dividends be received upon them, and then they may be sold at a handsome profit, in all probability. That would not be the case, of course, with short-lived mines. That must depend upon the price at which they were bought, and how long they had already been held. With those mines, however, which have a long life before them, and especially the deep levels, the case is different. At any rate, this is not the time for selling, but the time for buying only, and those who neglect their opportunities will undoubtedly repent it.
Do they fear that there will be a difficulty in getting native labour? This is a fear which may be greatly exaggerated. "We may not be able to get the native the very moment we want him, but under the new regime the labour problem is likely to be easier of solution than in the past. Moreover, also, the labour will be more efficient. The native labourer will not have his old facilities for getting drunk. In the future he will have to be a sober man, and therefore he will be a more reliable and efficient workman. All this must be taken into calculation by the investor and speculator. It would be unwise of either to ignore it. This will conduce to greater economy of working, and more economy-means higher profits and dividends.
Is the investor and speculator afraid of the taxation that will be imposed upon the mines? A great deal has been made of this, far too much. If companies can pay 100 per cent. dividends under a hostile Government, when working costs were much higher than they are likely to be in the future, they can afford to pay a reasonable tax. We must not forget that they will benefit from the war more than anybody or anything, and it is only just that they should bear their proportion of the burden. They should not take all and give none. It would be no calamity if those companies that hitherto paid 100 per cent. dividends in the past paid only 95 per cent. in the future. It would simply mean that we should have to give a little less for the shares. The output of gold would be exactly the same and the economy of the world would not suffer in consequence. The British taxpayer has been burdened sufficiently, and he will have to wait long before he gets his compensation, whilst the Rand mining industry will benefit in a score of ways, and if the score is reduced to nineteen it will bring upon it no irremediable harm.