In historic comparison, these major risks replace that of a skills shortage, industry consolidation and infrastructure access in a similar report back in 2008, at the peak of the commodity cycle.
The “Business Risks Facing Mining and Metals” report said the shift in the risks landscape was triggered by companies and shareholders’ reaction to the “super correction” of the super cycle, where the downswing brought an extended period of lower and volatile commodity prices affecting earnings, balance sheets and investor confidence.
“With highly risk-averse capital markets, most mining and metals companies remain focused on the short term — cost-cutting and maximising current returns to shareholders — and risk limiting future growth prospects,” the report said.
This is particularly dangerous as new competition is emerging in the form of private capital investors and commodity traders, who may be in stronger strategic and financial positions to make long-term countercyclical investments without the resistance of risk-averse public shareholders.
As such, EY said switching to growth and breaking the padlock on capital was important if older players were to survive and thrive in the next cyclical upswing.
“The switch to growth is looming and assets are now still relatively cheap and ripe for opportunistic acquisition,” the report said.
“Given the long lead time to develop new supply, decisions to invest for future growth have to be made now or long-term returns will be lowered.”
While most miners had started recouping some of the productivity lost during the “production at any cost” boom years, EY said there was still sizeable scope for improvement and forecasted productivity would remain the number one operational focus of CEOs throughout 2015-16.
Evolving risks identified in the report include resource nationalism and social licence to operate – which together round-out the top five – pointing to tax and policy issues for miners in jurisdictions around the world.
The remainder of the top 10 risks included prices and current volatility; capital project overruns; access to energy; and, for the first time, cyber security and innovation.
In EY’s “Global Information Security Survey 2014”, 65% of mining and metals companies said they had experienced an increase in cyber threats over the past 12 months.
“The integration of IT and operations technology (OT) could make organisations more vulnerable to cyber-hacking, but applying the greater levels of security and control around IT to OT will eventually enhance the integrated technology environment,” EY said.
“Being a victim of any form of cyber-attack can cost a company millions of dollars in lost production, a threat to worker safety or cause massive reputational damage, by leaking of confidential or stakeholder sensitive information.
“The focus on regaining lost productivity has also brought the lack of innovation in the sector to the fore, pushing it onto the risk rankings this year. Innovation will be vital to protecting and sustaining margins in the long term, and will be the key to maximising revenues in the future.”