SNL Metals Economics Group’s 23rd Corporate Exploration Strategies estimated that exploration budgets for 2012 rose by $3.3 billion, or 19%, over 2011.
While Canada and Australia remained the most explored countries on earth, both lost share of exploration due to the tougher climate for juniors.
The United States, Mexico and Chile rounded out the top five destinations out of the 129 countries being explored, which was up from 121 last year.
SNL MEG said that over half the destinations were considered high or medium-risk due to security, policy and resource nationalism.
Despite tighter equity markets, most juniors increased their exploration budgets slightly.
“Historically, major and intermediate producers have adjusted their exploration spending in response to commodity price fluctuations, but in the current cycle many are taking a longer view despite near-term uncertainty, committing to investing in their project pipelines throughout market cycles,” SNL MEG said.
“As a group, the majors increased their exploration allocations the most in 2012, increasing their share of the worldwide total to its highest point in almost a decade.”
However, early stage and grassroots exploration spending hit an all-time low in 2012, with more money allocated to advanced projects and regional exploration around existing mine sites, which SNL MEG said had been a trend over the past decade.
“This reduced focus on early-stage and generative work has led to concern that many companies, and perhaps the industry in general may be sacrificing long-term project pipelines in favor of short- and near-term growth,” SNL MEG said.
The annual report is based on information collected from almost 3500 companies worldwide and covers precious and base metals, diamonds, uranium and some industrial minerals, but excludes iron ore, aluminum, coal, oil and gas.