Mixed outlook for commodities, M&A

EXPERTS are divided on when the next wave of merger and acquisition activity will take off, with miners also unsure which commodity will launch the next run.
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Andrew Duffy

According to a new survey from Ravensgate, mining professionals were split on the outlook for M&A, with other forecasts also drawing a wide range of opinions.

About 36% of the consultants, miners and explorers surveyed said an improvement in M&A could kick off in six months, while nearly 20% tipped three months.

A further 20% said the predicted frenzy would not happen at all, while 11% considered an uptick to be already underway.

“It’s the question many in the industry have been asking each other for a long time now and it doesn’t surprise me that the responses seem contradictory,” Ravensgate director Sonja Neame said.

“The results back many of the informal conversations we’ve had on this topic. It just highlights how much confusion there is in the market at this point about what might happen.”

The survey also showed divergence on which commodity would be the next hotspot.

After iron ore (42%) gold was voted the second most over-explored commodity in Australia, followed by coal and uranium.

Base metals were considered the most under-explored commodities, particularly zinc, nickel and tin.

At the same time precious metals, including gold, were considered under-explored in Australia.

Neame said that result again highlighted confusion in the local market.

“Gold is always polarising, some people love it, and others don’t,” she said.

“In the current climate we’d expect a stronger response to gold in Australia, with its value in Australian dollars appreciating.

“That many say it’s over explored in Australia could be because there have not been any major discoveries for a while, which may also be a function of reduced exploration budgets.

“Its strong global showing represents that people consider most new discoveries will come from further afield.”

Overall gold (37%) and nickel (17%) were judged to be the most in demand commodities for 2015, with some respondents also tipping zinc and copper.

Uranium was perceived as the most in-demand specialty metal.

“It’s just such a mixed bag, there is no strong clear leader,” Neame said.

“It shows how much the industry is in a severe state of flux. There is no strong demand for a particular commodity. Demand is not driving exploration. There is no run.”

Western Australia was the region tipped to do best on the local scale, followed by New South Wales, Queensland and the other resource states.

Globally, Africa was the standout with more than 36% naming it the best region for discoveries and growth.

“The finding on Africa was interesting, as it suggests a disconnect between industry and their very risk averse investors at the moment,” Neame said.

“Yes, Africa has great prospects for discoveries, and production costs are lower. But once you’ve made that discovery, things can get tough.

“Your political risks are high, Zambia’s recent royalty rate hikes are a great example. Added on to that you have risks like ebola and ISIS.

“In this climate a comeback for WA does make more sense, costs are higher, but you are not running the risk of an election and a sudden change of all the mining regulations.”

Overall, Neame said the mixed outlook could be a blessing in disguise for the mining industry.

“Clearly, we’re not all coming up with the same answer as no one commodity is putting its hand up through demand and rising prices.

“We’re not all jumping on the commodity of the moment as happened with iron ore and rare earths in the past.

“Longer-term, that could be a good thing.”

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