White Sabbath For Moscow: Thom @ Large

By Thom Calandra

MOSCOW -- Just back from Russia, where I was researching what might be a diamond in the rough. More on that early next year after some double-D.

I returned from Moscow on Saturday, when 100,000 or so Russians demonstrated peacefully amidst slush, ice and bitter cold. Their white sabbath came after a protest three weeks ago against election shenanigans and Kremlin leaders P&M. Prime Minister Putin and his onetime campaign manager, President Medvedev,  "are two midgets who will keep tossing their balls back and forth as long as they can," one investment banker told me during my visit.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="This Concert Poster Needs No Explanation: Go Ozzie GO"]Sabbath In Moscow[/caption]

The running joke is that the ministers of government, baring their faulty decisions in front of a hungry media, embarrass even their mothers. "Before, only I knew you were a fool," a politician's mother tells her son. "Now, the whole world knows."

Russia's voters hope to see their deserved representatives awarded seats in government, up to and including the Kremlin and the White House. I'll be returning in March, hopefully to see Ozzie Osbourne's Black Sabbath (poster here: Thom Calandra photo). My timing, if I can afford Moscow's sky-high ticket (and just about everything else) prices, will come 14 days after those March elections.

Hopefully, I also will get to see the results of an honest electoral match. As an onlooker, I can say the country needs to see fresh leadership candidates emerge. P&M could succeed in their juggling trickery come March. So the only thing I will count on is the Sabbath concert. (The last time I saw the band perform was 1978 or 1977 on Long Island, New York.)

It has been 10 years since my last Moscow visit. The one before that came in 1992, after Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the USSR and retired his leadership role to Boris Yeltsin. Moscow was cheap in '92, dirt cheap. Back then, people waited on line for hours to spend rubles at the first Mickie-D burger joint in the USSR.

Moscow was fairly cheap in the early 2000s, as well, mostly thanks to an impoverished ruble. Today, the ruble is rocking strong; the city is now ranked as one of the world's most expensive. Alice Cooper was here the other day, almost surely because ticket prices ival those of Las Vegas.

I think Moscow is dearer than Tokyo and Zurich, where a plate of excellent risotto with truffles white or black can run $50. I paid more than that in Moscow. Even taxis are a ripoff. A serving of vodka at a restaurant runs $8 to $24, depending on what brand you request. (I suggest bellying up to Beluga.)

Still, Moscow is a festive city, and beautiful in many ways: the architecture and well preserved buildings from the 1600s onward; the wide boulevards; the skyline at night, which this time of year runs all but four or five hours. The so-called Seven Sisters, Stalinist skyscrapers all, function as a majestic compass for this megalopolis.

Russians celebrate Christmas for about 12 days starting on New Year's Day, Russian Orthodox style. Honestly, I saw Russians start partying well before Christmas Day. Family and friends flock to restaurants, nightclubs and some of the many ultra-modern shopping malls. Inside the malls, this could be Hong Kong or Singapore. Outside, few can ignore those Muscovites with their torn but clean coats, scarves and scuffed shoes, pelted by BMW-driven pellets of spattered ice and slush.

I shall resume the Russia theme in coming weeks. Until then, here are two notes that are possibly actionable in the area of natural resource investing. I own both, and one is a client of our Torrey Hills Capital, an investor outreach firm.

Avanti Mining (AVT in Canada) has seen CEO Craig J. Nelsen accumulate more than 13 million shares and CFO A J Ali up his stake to more than 10 million shares. Shareholders await some movement on the molybdenum mine developer's ability to line up financing and off-take agreements for its Kitsault property in British Columbia. I think a pact is weeks away; I pray one is. In recent months I have in frustration and the desire to raise my position sizes in other resource companies slimmed my Avanti stake from about 1 million AVT shares to about 750,000. At 8 cents a pop, I might start buying again.

Calibre Mining (CXB in Canada) is sticking to its three-property exploratory drilling of Nicaragua gold and silver properties. Chairman and geologist Douglas Forster from Vancouver tells me there he hopes to see a steady stream of results from the properties, especially 100 percent owned RIscos de Oro in northeast Nickie. Riscos de Oro looks like a high-grade epithermal gold and silver deposit. More published assays are due soon. Mr. Forster has his company tied into relationships with several companies, including Be2Gold and shareholder Yamana Gold. The shares rose sharply this past week. The resume trading in Canada on Wednesday. I own about 200,000 shares and hope both to purchase more and to see the properties down there.

Thom Calandra writes for Torrey Hills Capital's Baby Bulls. He is a co-founder of Stockhouse's Ticker Trax service. He is a co-founder of MarketWatch.com. Avanti Mining is a client of Torrey Hills Capital of Del Mar, California, and pays fees and stock options to the firm in exchange for road shows and investor outreach services. For more of Thom's work, visit Cambridge House and www.babybulls.com. Thom will be speaking at Cambridge House's natural resources conference January 22 and 23.