Back to the future

MINEXPO is approaching and that has Supply Side thinking about how little the situation seems to have changed since 2008. By Noel Dyson
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Conexpo will take place from March 4 to 8 in Las Vegas, Nevada, US.

Noel Dyson

Back in 2008 when Minexpo last took over the Las Vegas Convention Centre the world was a changing place.

George W Bush, the president that had kept us all entertained for the past eight years, was on the way out.

However, one of his great speeches, to me, summed up how similar the mining world in 2012 is to how it was in 2008.

One of the things Dubya brought us was the war on terror and in the midst of this he came out with this little gem: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

God bless him.

Another of my favourite Bushisms: “Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs [obstetrician-gynecologists] aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country” but we can really have too much of a good thing.

Taking Bush’s first point let’s look at the situation facing mining.

Four years ago, the mining industry was running higher than Joe Cocker, much as it is today.

Four years ago, there were the rumblings of a global financial crisis, much as there is today.

Four years ago, Minexpo was bigger and better than it had been previously – much as has been predicted will happen this time around.

Starting to feel nervous?

Anyone at Minexpo 2008 would have come away thinking that the mining industry had nothing to worry about.

More metal, more coal, the Chinese dragon rumbled. Yes sir, the miners responded.

Yes there was a bit of a crisis in the US about sub-prime loans. Terms such as jingle letter were starting to come into the lexicon.

For those who don’t know, a “jingle letter” referred to the practice where people who could not afford to pay their mortgage anymore simply packed up their things, locked the door and put the keys in an envelope and left it in the letter box.

But in Vegas, the talk seemed more to be about how the suppliers could afford a nice long holiday somewhere sunny but couldn’t find the time to take one.

Stronger for longer. This jingle letter talk was so far away from the “reality” of the commodities boom.

A couple of weeks later though and those problems came to roost and the layoffs started.

This time though I sense a much more sober approach.

Minexpo 2008 was full of punch-drunk mining suppliers who had been scrambling to meet the mountain of orders that had come through the door over the past three or so years.

This time around they were much better prepared. Yes, there was a lot of work to be done but knowing what to expect can make things easier.

The sobriety has also stretched to the miners. They seem to be taking a much more measured approach to things while also working with their suppliers to get better solutions.

Another sobering factor is the plight of the US coal industry.

Just yesterday news broke that Patriot Coal – one of the largest players there – had sought Chapter 11 protection.

A changing US energy market is to blame, with cheap shale gas usurping coal’s rule in the mix.

Therefore I do not expect the euphoria of 2008 to be there but I do expect a quiet confidence over the way ahead.

This article first appeared in ILN's sister publication

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