Hogsback on the GCD (great capital drought) and what it means for mine developments

FARMERS know all about droughts, miners less so. But, as the financial crisis in Europe builds toward a dramatic solution, or a spectacular economic explosion, Hogsback fears that all forms of mining, from coal to iron ore, will be hit by a once in a lifetime capital drought.

Tim Treadgold

The problem, which is about as far removed as possible from the physical mining process, is that the banks of Europe are going broke, and no one has yet volunteered to save them.

Readers with coal dust in their blood will, at this point, mutter something crude about bankers, and ask what their problems have got to do with me.

Unfortunately, as The Hog will demonstrate, the answer is an awful lot. Banking might appear to be a totally foreign industry to mining, but the truth is that you can’t have one without the other.

There are two ways of demonstrating that point, both involve a visit to the high temple of capitalism, the stock exchange.

Firstly, there is a simple exercise in arithmetic called adding up. In this case it involves counting the number of companies which say they are planning to raise capital and list on the ASX.

Secondly, there is a somewhat more tricky business of asking whatever happened to one of Australia’s most famous companies yet to agree to the terms of a stock exchange listing despite many attempts.

The adding up exercise shows that right now there are 35 companies with their names before the listing committee of the ASX, which is good news for followers of the new float game, especially mining as most of the would be “floaters” are mining related.

However, on closer examination it is discovered that 17 of the companies which have filled out the listing forms and perhaps paid a deposit have also withdrawn their application, or opted for deferral with the date for listing bearing the initials TBA – to be advised.

In other words, roughly 50% of the companies which thought they could go to the capital market and ask investors and bankers for financial support for their new business have failed.

Money, either as debt or equity, is drying up in the same way a farmer’s field does when it doesn’t rain. If there was a government agency to make the declaration, the money business would be said to have entered drought conditions

The second drought test involves asking a rather tired question: whatever happened to Clive Palmer’s multi-billion dollar float of Resourcehouse?

Billed as one of the floats of the modern era resources boom, Resourcehouse was designed to offer outside investors a chance to share in the mining empire assembled by Palmer. At different times it was said to include coal, iron ore and possibly nickel assets.

Unfortunately, the time has never been right for the mega float. Palmer first tested the appetite at the ASX, before opting to try his hand in Hong Kong where the stock exchange in the former British colony, and now part of China, has been actively soliciting resource floats.

For whatever reason, and perhaps there are a lot of them, Resourcehouse failed to achieve lift off in Hong Kong, finally ending a stop–start float process in June after institutional investors shunned a chance to cough up an estimated $US3.6 billion to achieve a minority 46% stake in the Australian focussed mine developer.

A common comment at the time was that investors were not happy putting money into a business that was yet to turn a profit from actually mining anything.

Palmer, stoically, said he would turn to China for debt funding to get Resourcehouse off the ground.

Well, five months later and the name Resourcehouse has faded from the headlines. In its place are daily reports of Europe’s financial crisis, complete this week with an offer from China to contribute to an infrastructure building fund.

In other words, the European crisis which threatens to stunt global growth for the next few years is starting to suck in China with its spare capital (that Palmer wanted a slice of), and is also causing European banks to call up loans and decline new borrowing applications. Even Australian and American banks are feeling the chill winds of global financial crisis (GFC) Mark 2.

It’s when you consider what’s happening as the Europe crisis becomes a global crisis that the connection between 17 withdrawn or delayed Australian floats becomes clearer.

More importantly, the European crisis means that everyone planning to raise capital to develop or expand a mine will discover that potential equity investors are ducking for cover, and the banks have bolted their doors.

Welcome to the start of the Great Capital Drought – or GCD as it will one day be called.

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