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Posts Tagged ‘supply’

Mining Week 25/’12: Whitehaven buyout options; Mine 2012

June 17, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • Whitehaven rejects initial offer from largest shareholder
    • Tinkler, largest shareholder of Whitehaven with over 20% of shares, is trying to arrange financing to buy the full group. An initial approach was rejected by Whitehaven as financing of the bid was not deemed solid.
    • Whitehaven became Australia’s largest listed coal group last year after taking over Ashton. Share price dropped approx. 30% over the past 2 months, making the company an attractive buyout target
    • Sources: Wall Street Journal; Financial Times; Reuters
  • PWC launches ‘Mine 2012’
    • Consultancy PWC recently published its annual study on the key industry trends in the mining industry, focusing on the 40 largest mining companies. This year’s report is titled ‘the growing disconnect’, zooming in on the paradox between the need to build new projects to increase supply and the reluctance by shareholders to have their companies commit funds to investment.

Record historical results, high commodity prices, and a bullish outlook shared by many miners continues to underline the industry’s strong fundamentals. But investors’ reluctance to emerge and support growth plans points to a growing disconnect between the market and the mining industry.

Source: PWC

Trends & Implications:

  • PWC identifies the following key trends in their report:
    1. Increased volatility is here to stay
    2. Long-term demand fundamentals remain robust …
    3. … but supply will be the industry’s real challenge going forward
    4. Structural changes to the cost base
    5. Changing fiscal regimes and resource nationalism
    6. Capital expenditure requirements
    7. Can’t bring it on fast enough
  • The report presents the numbers around investment and use of cash for the Top 40 mining companies: $98 billion was invested in capital projects in 2011 and plan for a further $140 billion for 2012. At the same time share prices have decreased across the line. PWC argues 2011 marks the start of the growing disconnect.

©2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Recycling & the Future of Mining

April 15, 2012 7 comments

For thousands of years the mining industry has supplied the world with the raw materials the growing population needed for ever increasing consumption. However, mining is not the only supplier of these raw materials. Next to the primary mining industry a secondary mining industry is growing: ‘urban mining’. The existing stock of materials in the urban environment is recycled more and more. 38% of iron input in the steel making process comes from scrap. The average ‘new’ copper cable contains some 30% recycled material. The more we recycle, the less we need to mine. As mining costs increase because ‘easy’ mineral deposits are becoming scarcer and as technological improvements make recycling more competitive, the impact of urban mining on the traditional mining sector grows. How does this change the perspectives of the mining industry in the long term? And which factors will play an important role in shaping this future?

Read more…

Mining Week 02/’12: Temporary & Permanent Cost Increases

January 14, 2012 Comments off

Top Stories of the Week:

  • ENRC settles Congo dispute with First Quantum
    • ENRC agreed to pay $1.25bln to First Quantum to settle the dispute over the Kolwezi Tailings project, the Frontier and Lonshi mines and related exploration interests in DRC. First Quantum was stripped of the rights to these projects by the government, after which ENRC came in and agreed to buy the rights from the government in a move widely criticized in the industry.
    • Sources: ENRC press release; Financial Times; First Quantum press release
  • Coal India agrees to salary costs hike of 25%
    • Coal India, by far the largest miner of energy coal in the country, has agree to a 25% permanent increase of wages. In august of last year the unions demanded a 100% increase to offset increased cost of living and reduce the increasing income gap between management and workers. Investment bankers at the time expected the company to agree to a 15-20% increase. The salary hike results in an increase of operating cost for the company by approx. 10%.
    • Sources: Wall Street Journal; Economic Times
  • Weather in Australia and Brazil drives iron ore price up

    • The closure of the export facilities in Port Hedland because of cyclone Heidi and the cancellation of shipments from Brazil because of heavy rains results in supply pressure in the iron ore market. Heavy rains are expected to continue in the Pilbara region, which supplies close to 40% of seaborne iron ore in the world, in the short term.
    • Sources: Financial Times; Supply Chain Review; Wall Street Journal; Vale Press Release

Trends & Implications:

  • Extreme weather conditions have a big influence on bulk material supply chains in the short term, because stockpiling these materials in amounts large enough to last for several weeks is very costly and thus not a normal practice. Especially the steel industry is hit hard with both iron ore and metallurgical coal having to be shipped in from locations that are often hit by storms. Although the impact on spot prices in the short term can be large, the longer term impact on the miners is quite small. Most contracts allow for some flexibility in when exactly the ore is delivered. As long as the mining operations don’t have to stop, the ore will get to the steel manufacturers as some point.
  • The wage increase expected for Coal India is a good example of the very high cost inflation of mining in developing countries. Whereas the cost increase of contracted services and equipment leasing can be seen as (at least partly) a temporary phenomenon caused by high commodity prices, the cost increase because of increased labor and consumable costs in developing countries causes a more permanent shift of the global cost curves.

©2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Strike Begins at Freeport Indonesia

September 16, 2011 Comments off

“Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.’s Indonesia unit suspended mining operations at its Grasberg mine in West Papua on Thursday, as workers started a strike that could last a month, a labor union spokesman said. ‘All of the mining operations, except for the public facilities, are shut down,’ Juli Parrorongan told Dow Jones Newswires in a text message. All workers at the mine are participating in the strike, which will last until Oct. 15 if the company refuses their demand for higher pay, Mr. Parrorongan said.

Freeport suspended operations during a weeklong strike at Grasberg in July and lost about 35 million pounds of copper and 60,000 ounces of gold output. ‘We are disappointed that union workers decided to implement an illegal work stoppage,’ PT Freeport Indonesia, which is 90.64% owned by Freeport-McMoRan, said in a statement. The company said that since July 20, it ‘has negotiated in a diligent good-faith manner’ with the union toward a collective labor agreement to cover 2011-13.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, September 15 2011

Observations:

  • Grasberg forecasted 2011 total mine sales of 1 billion pounds of copper and 1.3 million troy ounces of gold, representing approximately 3.1% of global copper production and 1.5% of global gold production.
  • Current negotiations started after an 8-day strike in July. Freeport offers a 22% wage increase over 2 years, but unions demand an increase of salaries by more than 100%.

Implications:

  • Copper price has been relatively stable for the year to date, but the news of the strike at Grasberg coincides with reports of falling production in Chile and increased buying by Chinese traders, potentially leading to a new price rally.
  • Several analysts still expect a modest global copper supply increase for the year. However, if strikes spread to other mines supply for the year might actually decrease for the first time in about a decade. Global production has almost doubled in the past 20 years, only experiencing a short stabilization in 2002-2003.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Miners, Supply, and Cost Pressures

September 6, 2011 Comments off

“Building new mines is getting costlier, thanks to higher energy and wage bills as well as equipment shortages. Investing in new copper mines is 50% more expensive in real terms than the average since 1985, HSBC estimates. This acts as a brake on new growth projects. Tighter regulation also slows development; Anglo American estimates getting the right permits to set up a new mine in Australia takes three years now, compared with one year back in 2006.

Many analysts and investors, however, are well aware of the industry’s shortcomings already. Commodities consultant Brook Hunt says it discounts planned industry production growth by 25% for brownfield projects, and by 50% for totally new projects. For a key commodity like copper, it also discounts production forecasts by 5% per year to allow for strikes or poor weather.

Even so, it expects more aluminum, nickel, lead and zinc to be mined ion 2012 than will be consumed, with only the markets for lead and zinc falling into deficit thereafter. It expects the copper market to be in balance next year and surplus thereafter and the iron-ore market to approach balance by 2015.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, September 6 2011

Observations:

  • All large miners report increasing costs, but the high commodity prices still help them to retain profit margins. Large projects are typically phased so that development costs can be controlled per phase.
  • In its latest annual results presentation BHP Billiton reported the increase of capital intensity of iron ore production (for BHP mainly in Western Australia). Costs per tonne of capacity currently are around $200, while pre-crisis costs were below $100 per annual tonne.

Implications:

  • The issue of cost pressures will partly solve itself when demand falls and prices decrease: demand for labor and equipment will fall too, enabling cost cutting.
  • The difficulties of capacity increases is more fundamental: new projects have lower grades, are more remote and located in less stable areas politically, leading to both high costs and more effort required to set up a financially stable project.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

BHP Billiton’s record profits don’t hide industry concerns

August 26, 2011 Comments off

“Robust demand, industry wide cost pressures and
persistent supply side constraints continued to support the fundamentals for the majority of BHP Billiton’s core commodities. In that context, another strong year of growth in Chinese crude steel production ensured steelmaking material prices were the major contributing factor to the US$17.2 billion price related increase in Underlying EBIT.

However, BHP Billiton has regularly highlighted its belief that costs tend to lag the commodity price cycle as consumable, labour and contractor costs are broadly correlated with the mining industry’s level of activity. In the current environment, tight labour and raw material markets are presenting a challenge for all operators, and BHP Billiton is not immune from that trend. The devaluation of the US dollar and inflation reduced Underlying EBIT by a further US$3.2 billion.”

Source: BHP Billiton news release, August 24 2011

Observations:

  • BHP Billiton, which uses a fiscal year ending June 31st, reported record full year EBIT of $32bln on revenues of $72bln.
  • The 62% year on year increase in EBIT was mainly caused by ‘uncontrollable’ price increases. BHP managed to increase volumes slightly, but this gain was offset by higher costs of over $1.4bln. In a breakdown of the cost increase BHP estimates approx. half of the increase to be structural.

Implications:

  • Analysts point at the weakness of BHP’s buy-back program, in which the company runs the risk of overpaying for its own shares. In general the buyback and dividend program reveals the lack of investment options and the hesitance of management to embark on aggressive expansion in the light of global economic and financial uncertainty. Though industry leaders continue to mention supply shortage as key industry driver, they don’t want to end up at the top of the cost curve.
  • Key developments to watch in the coming months are the continuation of China’s rapid growth; high iron ore, copper & coal prices; and survival of the international financial system. If any of these trends turn around, 2011 might well be the peak of the mining industry’s profits, after which the mantra of ‘cost control’ replaces the current theme of ‘capacity growth’.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Iron ore to stay above $150, says Vale

July 12, 2011 Comments off

“The price of iron ore will remain above $150 a tonne for at least the next five years, according to Vale, the top miner of the ­commodity. The bullish prediction by Guilherme Cavalcanti, finance director of the mining group, is the latest contribution to a debate on the outlook for the iron ore market that has polarised analysts and investors.

Used to make steel, iron ore is the largest contributor to the profitability for the three largest mining groups: BHP Billiton, Vale, and Rio Tinto. And if Vale’s forecast is correct, the three companies’ shares would be expected to rise sharply.

Asked how long he expected prices to remain above $150 a tonne, Mr Cavalcanti said ‘at least the next five years’, arguing that miners would struggle to meet booming Asian demand. His prediction, in a video interview with the Financial Times, runs against consensus thinking.”

Source: Financial Times, July 6 2011

Observations:

  • Vale’s finance director explains he is not concerned about high inflation in China as mainly the consumer goods price inflation is high, while construction activity still ensures full offtake of Vale’s production.
  • Commodity swaps indicate the market expects prices to decline steadily over the coming years.

Implications:

  • While Vale expects Asian demand for iron ore to stay strong, the companies mainly sees restrained production because of delayed development projects (often because of environmental permitting issues) and weather influences as the key driver for high prices. Together with the high inflation in equipment costs and the relatively weak dollar iron ore prices will for a prolonged time be very elastic to supply.
  • Vale’s share price is lagging behind the price of its main competitors over the past years, resulting in higher cost of debt and reduced ability to perform share based M&A. With Vale’s large exposure to the iron ore price the company would benefit strongly from higher iron ore price expectations in the market.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

The Economist: the wacky world of gold

June 2, 2011 Comments off

“Gold is not like other commodities. … Yet gold miners’ shares have failed to keep pace. This is new. Gold and gold-mining shares used to rise and fall in lockstep. Over the past five years, however, the price of gold has trebled while the value of gold miners has merely doubled. Investors in firms that shift, crush and process rocks are more grounded, it seems, than those who invest in bullion.

As mines age, extracting gold gets harder and costlier. Ores give up less of the metal—average grades have fallen by 30% since 1999 according to GFMS, a consultancy. And ore must be hauled up from ever greater depths. Fuel is pricier. So, too, are labour and equipment, since the global minerals boom has driven up demand for miners and drills.

Finding new seams to replace depleted ones is becoming harder. Metals Economics Group, a mining consultancy, estimates that in 2002 gold miners spent $500m on exploration. By 2008 they were spending $3 billion but finding much less. All the easy gold has been mined already.”

Source: The Economist, June 2 2011

Observations:

  • The Economist identifies several reasons for the share price of gold mining companies to stay behind compared to the gold price: hedging limiting many miners benefits; increasing geopolitical risks; commodity diversification of gold miners; and the emergence of other methods to invest in gold.
  • The article mentions investment demand as the most important source of demand for gold. However, although this demand class is increasing in importance, demand for jewelry (mainly in India and China) still is the most important source of demand (see UBS-graphs below).

Implications:

  • The Economist fails to realize the importance of the supply side impact on the gold price. Miners are not the only source of gold in the market. Over 25% of supply is ‘scrap gold’, recycled from either jewelry or devices. Furthermore, historically the sales of gold reserves by central banks has strongly impacted the gold price.
  • Another important aspect of the gold supply dynamics not mentioned in the article is the development time lag: from investing in the search for gold to producing the first gold will easily take 5-10 years. The boom in gold exploration triggered by the high gold prices is now starting to result in supply increases, with production exceeding the previous 2001 peak. If gold prices stay high, the world will certainly see a slow further capacity increase.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Rusal Net Profit More Than Triples

April 1, 2011 Comments off

“United Co. Rusal PLC said Thursday its net profit more than tripled last year on higher aluminum prices and a strong contribution from 25%-owned OAO Norilsk Nickel. The Russian aluminum giant plans to nearly double capital spending this year to boost capacity in the face of growing aluminum demand.

Rusal CEO Oleg Deripaska said in a statement the company’s strong net-profit growth was driven by significant increases in demand for aluminum and metal prices, and the company expects global demand for aluminium to grow 8% to 43.8 million metric tons this year. He also said aluminum prices will likely remain in a range of $2,500-$2,600 per ton until the end of the year, due to underlying demand and continuing weakness in the U.S. dollar. Prices were volatile last year, ranging from less than $2,000 per ton to as high as $2,500 per ton, he said.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, March 31 2011

Observations:

  • The largest part of annual profit ($2.44bln out of $2.87bln) comes from the share in Norilsk Nickel, a low-cost nickel producer.
  • Bauxite output of the company increased 4% to 11.8mln tons. Rusal operates 8 mines in Guinea and Guyana.

Implications:

  • Cost increase in both alumina and electricity has driven the industry’s break-even price to above $2,200/ton. Predicted demand increases faster than supply, potentially leading to further price increases. However, large trading stocks could supplement supply and keep the price relatively low for several years.
  • Increasing demand partly comes from copper substitution. Rusal benefits in the long term from the high copper price as manufacturers search for alternatives to copper wires.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Oliver Wyman: Commodities bubble

February 15, 2011 Comments off

2015: Based on favorable demographic trends and continued liberalization, the growth story for emerging markets was accepted by almost everyone. However, much of the economic activity in these markets was buoyed by cheap money being pumped into the system by Western central banks. Commodities prices had acted as a sponge to soak up the excess global money supply, and commodities-rich emerging economies such as Brazil and Russia were the main beneficiaries. High commodities prices created strong incentives for these emerging economies to launch expensive development projects to dig more commodities out of the ground, creating a massive oversupply of commodities relative to the demand coming from the real economy. In the same way that over-valued property prices in the US had allowed people to go on debt-fueled spending sprees, the governments of commodities-rich economies started spending beyond their means. They fell into the familiar trap of borrowing from foreign investors to finance huge development projects justified by unrealistic valuations.

Once the Chinese economy began to slow, investors quickly realized that the demand for commodities was unsustainable. Combined with the massive oversupply that had built up during the boom, this led to a collapse of commodities prices. Having borrowed to finance expensive development projects, the commodities-rich countries in Latin America and Africa and some of the world’s leading mining companies were suddenly the focus of a new debt crisis. In the same way that the sub-prime crisis led to a plethora of half-completed real estate development projects in the US, Ireland and Spain, the commodities crisis of 2013 left many expensive commodity exploration projects unfinished.”

Source: Oliver Wyman: The Financial Crisis of 2015, February 2011

Observations:

  • Oliver Wyman, the international consulting firm, recently published a report in which it describes ‘the avoidable history’ of the next financial crisis. It foresees a bubble of commodity prices, caused by cheap money supply to developing countries in reaction to increased regulation in the developed world.
  • Wyman lists a number of prevention measures that should help to prevent the scenario sketched above from happening, removal of subsidies and scenario planning for development decisions being the most applicable to the mining sector.

Implications:

  • The factors Wyman does not include in its analysis are the long development lag of natural resources projects, causing supply to trail demand changes by several years, and competitive dynamics in the industry. Both factors might eventually strenghten the effects described, but a burst 2015 might be a too aggressive timeline.
  • Careful analysis of the sustainability of demand growth in Asia, in particular in China, is crucial for the investment decisions for long term projects in all mining firms, not only the companies that have Chinese customers. Once Chinese demand slows down the global fulfillment dynamics will change, making the low cost suppliers (totalling production and transportation costs) survive.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com