The argument for stronger zinc prices -- and with it zinc plays -- has regained favour this year.

Falling treatment charges at zinc smelters alongside dropping zinc stockpiles with a quick supply response -- substantial cuts by Glencore in particular -- may bolster zinc prices in 2016 and beyond, market analysis suggests (e.g. the always insightful Andy Home.)

The price of zinc already has recovered, mildly at least. In recent months it climbed over $0.80/lb after falling to abysmal depths in the 60-cent range.

To make the market happier, and zippier, it will have to rise a fair bit more than that, of course. And it might be added: while higher prices would help, given a dearth of quality zinc discoveries in recent decades, quality zinc juniors remain compelling. Full stop.

At any rate, there's now a good or at least better rationale to consider zinc juniors than there has been for some time. 

Of particular interest, to me at least, are the lower-cap explorers and developers. Those that may surprise the market with discoveries and milestones on advanced stage projects and don't come with debt, offtake baggage, and questions over the marginality of producing assets.

Three came to mind today. They aren't the only three with serious assets. But they are the ones I know the best: GPM Metals, Heron Resources, and Arizona Mining. 

In the case of all three, 2016 should prove an important year. Without further ado.

GPM Metals (GPM-V)
Notable driver: Patrick Sheridan (e.g. Guyana Goldfields)
Cash: Raising $4m +
Marketcap: ~$14m

Shares o/s: ~61m

You might say this one's a half-century in the making.

This summer GPM plans to drill a widely regarded lead anomaly -- part of what is known as the Walker Gossan -- in a region of Australia known for zinc-lead monsters. Gossans -- oxidized rock -- can be striking at surface and sometimes speak to underlying sulphide deposits of note (but certainly this is no guarantee.)

Indeed, in Australia, some of the world's largest known zinc-lead deposits were discovered thanks to the gossans at surface (e.g. Mt Isa.) 

The Walker Gossan is an extensive gossan that stretches for kilometres and contains sizeable lead anomalies in host rock thought to be favourable for large deposits.

But, the story goes, exploration was prohibited on the site for decades with a freeze on exploration in aboriginal reserves. However, in recent years, access has been re-established.

The project is owned by Rio Tinto but in the late 2000s an option on it was acquired by DPG Resources, a deal that was finalized in 2014. GPM Metals -- which also explores base metals in Peru -- then acquired DPG, which can initially earn 51% in the project.

Now drilling is set to test for sulphides beneath the gossan. No doubt this will be on areas with the better lead anomalies. 

When? It's said GPM will be back on the ground at Walker in June and drilling in July.

That's going to tell us a lot about its potential.

Heron Resources (HER-T)
Notable driver: Stephen Dennis
Cash: ~A$24m (funding feasibility)
Marketcap: $43m
Shares o/s: 415m

Disclosure: I own shares

Heron is all about the past-producing Woodlawn zinc project in southeastern Australia.

It stands as one the more interesting zinc projects -- I think -- with a chance to zip back into production should zinc prices move.

That's a core component of the company thesis, of course.

This is not a monster. But a story that centers around modest-sized extensions to a past producing zinc-lead-silver mine (13.8mt @ 9.1% Zn, 3.6% Pb, 1.6% Cu, 74 g/t Ag and 0.5 g/t Au in past production).

In zinc-rich resources, targeted for underground mining, Heron counts 1.6 million tonnes, indicated, at 10.7% Zn, 1.5% Cu, 4% Pb, 0.46 g/t Au and 78 g/t Ag. 

In inferred, it counts about twice that score with 3 million tonnes 8.1% Zn, 1.6% Cu 3.2 % Pb, 0.88 g/t Au and 70 g/t Ag. 

Then also slated for underground mining, it has copper dominant resources with: 800,000 tonnes @ 2.8% copper, indicated, and 1.1 million tonnes @ 2.8% copper, inferred.

Added to these resources, there are tailings from past production that Heron hopes to re-process with underground feed. In the tailings Heron reports 9.4 million tonnes @ 6.3 Zn-equivalent in measured and indicated resources.

The thing to watch for is an upcoming feasibility on Woodlawn. That will pin down the project's potential, which in a PEA was pegged to produce 112 million pounds zinc, 22 million pounds copper and 35 million pounds lead annually at steady state.

This feasibility, importantly I think, will be wrapped around a project that is already permitted, making it an attractive asset, perhaps, for a moderate-sized producer.

Arizona Mining (AZ-T)
Notable drivers: Richard Warke (e.g. Ventana) & James Gowans (ex Barrick co-President) 
Cash: Raised $15.6m in April
Marketcap: $224m
Shares o/s: ~174m

Watch out for strong resource growth on an already sizeable new discovery. 

In a discovery made last year, Arizona Mining has quickly outlined 39.4 million tonnes @ 11% zinc equivalent in the Taylor skarn/carbonate replacement deposit in Arizona.

It's apparent now that it could (or, should, I think) grow given results in areas Arizona Mining is now drilling.

Among recent hits, Arizona noted a ~250 metre step-out beyond resources to the northwest on newly acquired patented mining claims (in doing this it's acted as a project consolidator.)

It hit as much as 19 metres @ 11.7% Zn, 17.3% Pb, 0.23% Cu and 290 g/t Ag. 

These are grades similar to the best hits in past drilling that backed the inferred resource.

Drilling continues and the focus is primarily northwest, where some 1,000 metres of strike has gone undrilled between the resource -- Arizona's discovery -- and a historic drillhole that hit a narrow, high-grade intercept of zinc-lead-copper-silver.

With the 250 metre step-out in this previously untested area showing strong grades and widths continue to the the northwest, Arizona shows that the deposit could grow -- and perhaps substantially.

Further, and assuming inferred resources hold up, the tonnage and grade set Arizona Mining and Taylor apart from many other undeveloped zinc-lead assets.