New analysis from EY has shown that despite improving working capital from 2007 to 2011, performance on the key metric has declined since 2011 in the world’s top 80 miners.
“As a sector, the mining industry performs fairly poorly in managing working capital,” EY global mining and metals advisory leader Paul Mitchell said.
“Most companies could probably reduce working capital 25-50% inside 18 months if they tried.”
EY’s new report focused on the cash-to-cash cycle, which measures the days between an initial cash outflow to pay suppliers to the time a company receives cash from customers.
Analysis of the global mining industry showed the cycle was 39 days in 2013 – up from 38 days in 2011 and well short of the 29 days in the oil and gas sector.
When assessed by commodity group, only aluminium, zinc and copper companies improved from 2011 to 2013.
In 2013 cash-to-cash for iron ore and coal companies was 25 days, while platinum and nickel posted the worst results of more than 95 days.
Those in-between included aluminium (37 days), gold (48 days) and copper (51 days).
“For each commodity there have been major variations in both the level and degree of change in cash-to-cash between individual companies – that has to do with structural and operational differences and factors like pricing practices, exposure to commodity trading and volatility in mineral prices,” Mitchell said.
“While innate operational factors and differences in the complexity of processes for some commodities consume more working capital, companies would benefit from comparing their own performance to that of peers and other commodities.
“In many ways this, along with low productivity, is a legacy of the super-cycle ‘production at any cost’ attitude that prevailed for a number of years.”
Mitchell said a lower draw on working capital could be a significant competitive difference in the current tough environment.
He said changing the company culture and using measures to focus on working capital were two of the biggest factors that could improve performance.
“We expect the 2014 results to show some companies are already embracing substantial and sustainable operational and structural changes to improving working capital,” he said.
Breaking down the numbers, EY’s report showed mining cash-to-cash fell 24% between 2007 and 2011, with iron ore and coal the best performers and gold the only sector not registering a reduction.
From 2011 to 2013 cash-to-cash rose 2%, with platinum the worst performing sector due to impacts from the strike action in South Africa.