Archive

Archive for the ‘Market change’ Category

The Year’s Top Priorities for Mining CEOs

December 31, 2012 Comments off

With rapidly increasing production costs, metal and coal prices stable or decreasing, and general global market uncertainty, 2012 was not an easy year to be the CEO of a mining company. The boards of many mining companies have drawn their conclusions and decided 2013 will be the year in which a new leader will make a start. These new executives and the veterans that survived 2012 will face many similar challenges in the new year. The market for project development appears to cool down, but cost pressures and decreasing margins are real and volatility is here to stay for some time.

Below 7 key priorities for mining CEOs in the coming year:

1. Watch your balance sheet

Global debt problems aren’t over yet, and a company’s debt is never stronger than the host country’s sovereign debt. A lot of national, regional, and corporate debt is still overvalued. The European financial system being too young to make tough decisions, the American political system being to antique and entangled in corporate interests to make tough decisions, and a new Chinese government being too dependent on international markets and national stability to make tough decisions are not going to help to solve the debt issue anytime soon. A new chapter of the debt crisis is likely start in 2013, creating a volatile environment in which prudent balance sheet management is key for business stability, preventing you from finding yourself standing at the edge of a solvency cliff, as many coal miners and even iron ore miner Fortescue experienced recently. Don’t get deep into debt, and don’t wait ‘till the last moment to refinance maturing debt, as many global developments could make raising money in debt markets suddenly very hard.

2. Kill bad projects

As a result of rapidly increasing product prices and in the knowledge that global demand for most commodities continues to grow over the next 2 decades, the project pipelines across the industry have been filled to the max. However, for most products only about one third of the projects currently being communicated as ‘planned’ is actually needed to bridge the supply-demand gap in the 2025. That means two out of three projects need to be stopped. And yes, that includes some of your projects. Deciding which of the development projects in the global industry actually are the good projects, and which not so good projects do have a chance to succeed simply because they have a powerful developer, is going to be a key task for this year. Simply doing an IRR calculation based on an imaginary product price doesn’t do the trick; there might be plenty of better projects out there that will make your price forecasts miss the mark completely. It’s time to rev up the intelligence on competitor’s projects: in the end the best projects survive. Making sure you get hold of your fair share of good projects is the objective for the coming years. Those projects that don’t pass the test and that happen to be yours? Kill them, and move on to priority number 3.

3. Expedite good projects

Hopefully your assessment of global project potential confirms your view that some of the projects in your pipeline will make the cut. Now do everything you can to bring those projects forward. Counter-cyclical investment has been a mantra of management gurus forever, but very few executives actually dare to execute on it. Redirect the resources you free up by killing bad projects – finances, human capital, and equipment – to those projects that might succeed. This does not only help you to bring those projects forward, it also sends a clear signal to the market that those projects really are the probable survivors of the battle of the fittest projects. If you decided that none of your projects are good enough to make it? Get to work on priority number 4.

4. Buy cheap future growth

Many of the important mines of the end of this decade and of the coming decades are still in the hands of explorers or juniors that don’t have the funds or appetite to develop the projects, that are always on the outlook for the acquirer, and that have seen their share price become much more discounted than the prices of their potential acquirers. Buying current production is expensive as always and will be tough on your balance sheet, but this year is not a bad moment to buy the exploration-stage projects that will make your company great in the long run. Be aware that for many of these projects the development capital, that scares most company executives at this point, will actually only be needed during the next commodity price cycle. And yes, those projects are challenged geographically, politically, technically, and environmentally, but so were most of the current great mines 10 years before they started producing.

5. Be tough on suppliers and contractors

The slump for mining suppliers and contractors lags the slump for miners by about a year. Last year was the moment of the great awakening in mining companies that the period of rapid growth is over; this year their suppliers and contractors will feel the pain. Don’t forget to squeeze your suppliers out this year! With many projects being shelved or stopped the bargaining position of engineering and construction constructors and equipment manufacturers is deteriorating quickly. Over the past years they have enjoyed a situation in which there were simply not enough skilled people and production capacity to serve all of the industry’s wants straight away, but that period is about to be over. Cost pressures are still there, but the mining companies can solve part of that issue by paying less in new procurement and trying to renegotiate existing contracts.

6. Get talent on board when the job market is down

The suddenly emerging reality of thinning margins has made most mining companies very hesitant in recruiting, and has led several companies to reduce the size of the workforce or implement hiring freezes. The job market in the industry does not look good, so people stay where they are. Just as you should be searching for the right projects especially during tough times, you should be on the hunt for ambitious talent when the job market is bad. Good people always want to make the next step, and any period in which making steps is hard is a headhunter’s bonanza. Not only half of Xstrata’s executives is seriously looking for a new challenge away from Glenstrata, but junior, mid-management, and executives in paralyzed companies around the world are sensitive to a good offer at this time.

7. Prepare for the low/now growth era

Most of the young talent you recruit at this point will witness the age of ‘peak mining’ during their career. Riding the wave of development in emerging countries the mining industry’s output will grow over the next decades. Still, driven by demographics, economics, and increasing recycled metal supply, the demand for most mined metals is likely to start a slow decrease around 2040. Your investors don’t really care about anything that happens after 2020, but the talent you are recruiting and the communities you are operating in do care. Rio Tinto’s ‘Mine of the Future’ program is focused entirely on the technological future of mining. However, preparing your company for a new, low or no growth, normal implies exploring a whole new way of doing business, technology only being a minor part. Wouldn’t it be great to be known as the CEO who prepared the company for ‘Mining of the Future’?

Enough to work on to keep the miner’s job interesting in the new year! Do you happen not to be the CEO of your company? Don’t hesitate to forward this text to him/her to make sure the most important to-do list in the company includes these priorities. Happy new year!

2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

ICMM: Trends in the Industry

October 21, 2012 Comments off

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) published 2 new reports this week:

Trends in the Mining and Metals Industry

This 16-summary of where the industry is coming from and where it is going mainly gives an interesting perspective on geographic developments in the mining industry. The report shows how center of mining activity has shifted from Europe, via the US, to the BRIC countries and new frontiers. At the same time the report illustrates how a large part of processing capacity still is located in the developed world, though China’s processing surge is instrumental in changing this situation.

The report in summary:

  • Center of mining is shifting to new frontiers, including BRIC countries;
  • Iron ore, gold, and copper continue to account for roughly two-thirds of value of global mined metals;
  • Large companies are responsible for an increasing share of global production;
  • With lower average ore grades, bulk open-pit mining is more and more the mining method of choice;
  • Human resource challenges are becoming restrictive;
  • China-led nationalized mining is leading to a global increased in state participation in mining companies.

The role of mining in National Economies

This report presents a Mineral Contribution Index (MCI), ranking countries’ dependency on the mineral industry. The index includes:

  • The percentage contribution of the mineral industry to export value;
  • The change in this contribution over a 5 year period;
  • The mineral production value as percentage of GDP.

The top 25 countries according to the ranking with their respective scores are displayed below.

Zambia suspends permits to export metals

October 7, 2011 Comments off

“Zambia’s new government has suspended metal export permits as it prepares new guidelines for the sector of Africa’s biggest copper producer. The decision followed concerns that copper exporters had not been paying their full duties to the state and is seen as an attempt to improve transparency in the industry. But it is also the latest in a number of sweeping measures by President Michael Sata’s administration, including the threat of higher mining taxes, as he looks to stamp his mark on the country after winning September 20 elections.

Frederick Bantubonse, general manager at Zambia’s Chamber of Mines, the industry body, said he was ‘terribly worried’ by the suspension. ‘At the current copper production level, you are talking over 2,000 tons of copper per day … you have contracts with exporters, you have contracts with the transporters,’ he said. However, an official at the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development said the guidelines were merely following a presidential directive that all exports need to be cleared by the central bank.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, June 3 2011

Observations:

  • Zambia’s new president promised to strengthen control over the country’s mining sector, responding to unrest in the country about the actions of foreign mining companies.
  • Zambia accounts for approx. 5% of global copper production with a significant potential to grow. First Quantum’s Kansanshi copper mine is among the world’s top 20 in terms of output. Only one-tenth of the tax revenue comes from copper, though three-quarters of export earnings are from copper.

Implications:

  • Resource nationalism is a key issue in the mining business this year, driven by high commodity prices and economic uncertainty. Just this week the news featured Vale’s potential agreement with the Guinean government about Simandou ownership and the request and withdrawal of the same request of Mongolia’s government to review the ownership of Oyu Tolgoi, developed by Rio Tinto.
  • The concerns of the chamber of mines about contractual obligations with exporters and transporters are not very fundamental. All the parties in the mining value chain benefit from high copper production, making it easy to find a modus operandi while the uncertainty lasts. However, the industry in Zambia will have to prepare itself for negotiations about higher taxes as the new government will try to gain popular support by transferring more of the profits from the country’s natural resources to the people.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto growing in potash

October 6, 2011 Comments off

“Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian mining group, is re-entering the potash business through a joint venture with a Russian fertiliser producer which holds extensive exploration permits in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Rio will initially acquire a 40 per cent stake in nine blocks covering an area of 241,000 hectares currently held by North Atlantic Potash, a subsidiary of Russia’s JSC Acron. Under the deal, Rio can eventually raise its stake as high as 80 per cent.”

Source: Financial Times, September 28 2011

“Mining heavyweight BHP Billiton is “aggressively” pursuing potash projects in Saskatchewan along with its Jansen asset, the company said on Wednesday.

“Although these are at an early stage, the data acquired suggests they have the ability to support significant potential developments,” spokesperson Ruban Yogarajah said, adding that the combined properties could “at least” match Jansen’s planned output of eight-million tons a year.

BHP Billiton in June said it approved a further $488-million to develop Jansen, bringing its total investment in the project to $1.2-billion.”

Source: Mining Weekly, September 29 2011

Observations:

  • Approx. 33mln tons of potash are mined annually, with Canada accounting for approx. 30% of global production. With price per ton of around $400-$500 the global market totals $13-17bln annually.
  • Both BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are planning to move or expand in the Potash industry. BHP Billiton already is operating in Saskatchewan and tried to make a big move by taking over PotashCorp last year. Rio Tinto sold its potash exploration projects in 2009, but tries to re-enter in a JV with a small Russian player.

Implications:

  • The potash market it currently dominated by 2 marketing ‘cartels’: Canpotex (PotashCorp, Mosaic, Agrium) and BPC (Belarusian Potash Company: Silvinit & Uralkali), which control close to three quarters of global sales and typically copy each others pricing agreements with large customers. The rise of the large diversified players in the business (apart from BHP and Rio, Vale is also building its potash business) could break the power of these cartels and might move the market to pricing based more on spot prices.
  • From a technology and production standpoint it makes a lot of sense to have diversified mining companies, specialized in running large scale extraction projects, operate potash mines. Only on the marketing and sales side of the business synergies will be hard to realize, but companies like BHP and Rio Tinto have the experience and size required to set up a strong marketing presence.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Little change for ENRC board

October 3, 2011 Comments off

“An internal review at Eurasian Natural Resources Corp, launched after of a corporate governance debacle that saw two directors ousted at the mining company’s annual meeting, has left the management and board almost unchanged. Johannes Sittard, chairman and former chief executive, remains chairman. Felix Vulis, who resigned in February citing commitments in his family life, has been restored as permanent chief executive.

The three-month review of corporate governance at the embattled FTSE 100 company, which has lost almost half its stock market valuation in 2011, includes the board appointment of Terence Wilkinson, a former chief executive of Aim-quoted Ridge Mining and Lonrho. The review, which concluded on Wednesday night, focused on whether the board of ENRC, a company that is largely controlled by three central Asian entrepreneurs with no board seats, should remain fully independent of the three men or become a more actively family-controlled miner akin to Vedanta, Fresnillo, and Antofagasta.”

Source: Financial Times, September 29 2011

Observations:

  • One of ENRC’s founders, mr. Alexander Mashkevich, was rumoured to be interested to take over the presidency of the company. However, within days of the publication of this story the results of the review were announced.
  • The review restored a majority of independent board members for the company, which was lost after various board members left or were not reelected earlier this year in a power struggle in the board.

Implications:

  • In the current situation about 70% of the shareholders are not represented in the board. This might lead to disagreement between board and shareholders in the case of a potential takeover bid. In June Glencore was said to be interested in buying ENRC, which has lost a lot of market value in the past year.
  • The Kazakh government and Kazakhmys together hold close to 40% of the shares. Both parties will not be in favor of the 3 founders (the Troika) gaining more control over the company and will be happy mr. Mashkevich does not join the board.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Vale Reaches Pact With Mine Workers

September 30, 2011 Comments off

“Brazilian mining company Vale SA said Thursday it struck a two-year collective labor accord with all of the country’s mining workers’ unions. The accord will give Vale employees an 8.6% pay rise effective November and a further 8% pay increase in November 2012, Vale said in a statement. In addition, the employees will get a bonus each year of 1,400 Brazilian reais ($744.68), the company said.

Also, employees who stay in their posts during the next two years will gain a special one-off bonus equivalent to 1.7 times their monthly salary under the agreement. This is designed to keep employees from leaving Vale to join rival iron-ore producers in Brazil, which is suffering from a shortage of skilled manpower in the mining and metals industry.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, September 22 2011

Observations:

  • Out of 71 thousand of Vale’s employees (Dec 31 2010) approx. 60 thousand work in Brazil.
  • The agreement holds the middle between Vale’s initial 7.5%/y offer and the union’s ‘15%/y plus bonuses’ demands. In previous years Vale gave a 7% increase annually. Inflation rate in Brazil has been around 5-6% over the past years.

Implications:

  • Creative bonus systems will become a more important part of the mining remuneration policies because skilled resources and talent are becoming increasingly scarce in the mining industry.
  • Brazil’s National Mining Plan foresees growth of the domestic iron ore production of 58% from 2011 to 2015. Current high ore prices will help to finance aggressive expansion, but the legislative processes around development and the shortage of workers form two important obstacles to realize this objective.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Breaking down BHP Billiton’s iron ore production costs

September 29, 2011 2 comments

BHP Billiton organized a site tour of its Western Australia Iron Ore operations this week, providing valuable information about its production costs:

Source: BHP Billiton Site Tour Presentation, September 27 2011

Observations:

  • BHP positions itself in the cost curve around $39/t CIF. Average iron ore price for the year ended June 2011 was $163/t, resulting in a 76% operating margin.

Implications:

  • Combining the data from the two charts above, BHP’s breakdown of total iron ore costs of $39/t CIF China are as follows:
    • US$9.4/t – Contractors
    • US$7.0/t – Secondary taxes & royalties
    • US$4.3/t – Freight, distribution & demurrage
    • US$3.5/t – Depreciation, depletion & amortization
    • US$3.1/t – Fuel & energy
    • US$2.7/t – Raw materials & consumables
    • US$2.7/t – Labor incl. consultants
    • US$0.4/t – Exploration
    • US$5.9/t – Other

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

%d bloggers like this: