MARKETS

Mixed views on mining's move into tech

A FLURRY of explorers dumped their resource assets and moved into technology in 2014, and the move has continued this year. But good projects are still finding support, and things aren't as bad as they could be at the smaller end of the market.

Andrew Duffy
Mixed views on mining's move into tech

The latest move into tech came just weeks ago, with Stratum Metals signing an option to acquire a US-based social commerce platform.

But Stratum is not the only explorer to take this path, with new start-ups keen to make a backdoor listing and resource companies desperate to diversify or exit the sector completely.

Other companies that have attempted a move away from mining in the past 12 months include Monteray Mining Group, Goldminex Resources, Precious Metal Resources, Resource Star, Intercept Minerals, Palace Resources, Crucible Gold, White Eagle Resources and Red Gum Resources.

Based on the recent weakness in commodities a number of pundits have tipped this drift to continue.

But there’s no consensus on the trend, and a scratch below the surface of the resource sector could hint to a slowdown in the number of miners dropping out of the industry.

Still some support

Those with a close watch on Australia's burgeoning tech space will tell you there are plenty more start-ups keen to use miners for a backdoor listing.

But conversely, those with their finger on the pulse of the resource sector say that while times are tough, companies are still moving forward with their projects.

Raising capital remains a challenge, but on the whole explorers have been able to get what they need to keep developing.

“Certainly on the exploration side there has been a significant increase in the cost to juniors to actually get capital in the door,” Fat Prophets resource analyst David Lennox told MiningNews.net.

“That’s primarily because share prices have been badly traded down, and obviously to issue fresh capital it requires hundreds of millions of shares to be issued now at very unfortunate low prices.”

“That’s a fairly common factor, but we have still found that the sector has been able to raise money. Investors, especially existing investors, have tended to bite the bullet and are supporting juniors through this current period of a lack of capital.”

Lennox said most explorers were toughing it out rather than switching industries completely, and were introducing new initiatives to stay competitive.

“If anything, I would suggest that juniors have hunkered down and they’ve used their cash wisely,” he said.

“And where they’ve got cash they’ve still been quite comfortable to progress the projects they have on their books.”

This resilience is centred on the fact that metals markets are still indicating a need for new development.

Gold has been one of the big stories so far this year, and Australian-listed producers and developers have already seen some good gains.

Elsewhere, the fall in the Australian dollar has helped counteract price falls in other areas.

“You’ve got to remember in local currencies, not only here in Australia but in other resource-focused currencies, domestic pricing for commodities is still reasonably attractive,” Lennox said.

“The price of gold in Australian dollar terms is quite attractive, you can say the same thing in South Africa. And copper, it’s down in US dollar terms but in Australian dollar terms it’s still quite attractive.”

“It’s been the local movements in the domestic currencies compared to the US dollar that’s really kept an interest in the market for junior explorers.”

With the mining market still flickering Lennox said there wasn’t a huge incentive for companies looking to make the switch.

And while there have been a few explorers that have dropped their mining assets, their ranks pale in comparison to the companies toughing it out.

Lennox said he had not detected any real swing by junior base metal explorers wanting to become junior high-tech companies.

“If the market doesn’t improve we might just see that that trend pick up, but we don’t think it will be terribly significant.”

Taking stock of the wider conditions, miners aren't the only ones finding it challenging.

Conditions elsewhere remain subdued, with the Australian Securities Exchange trading in negative territory so far this year.

And in a possible sign of things to come, Lithex Resources’ acquisition of an internet marketing business fell through last week.

“We’re quite comfortable with the state of the junior market. Certainly it’s not as bad as we’ve seen in other downturn periods,” Lennox said.

“And where else are you going to go? Into health? Well we’ve seen a lot of health juniors coming to grief because the cost of getting anything through the authorities to the market is almost as bad as trying to dig up a deposit of copper. It’s probably worse actually.”

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