Casting doubt on China's stamina

MAKE sure new projects are firmly based to withstand weaker prices and resist siren calls to invest in marginal projects that
Casting doubt on China's stamina Casting doubt on China's stamina Casting doubt on China's stamina Casting doubt on China's stamina Casting doubt on China's stamina

Tianamen Square.

Angie Tomlinson

Crowson, now director of the London Metal Exchange, was speaking at the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering's 2007 Symposium in Perth this week on the mining boom.

"China is grappling with rising inflation and social pressures, and it may be unable to sustain the rates of investment and economic growth of recent years, without at least pausing for breath once the Beijing Olympics are over," he said.

"The vigorous investment boom in China has accentuated demand for raw materials.

"That boom may be exaggerating China's underlying needs, particularly as its economy becomes more market-oriented, its state-owned firms improve their efficiency, and more emphasis is placed on environmental protection."

Crowson said demand for minerals and metals had been driven by a strong concerted upswing in the global economy - forecast to continue through 2008 - but that there were downside risks to the conventional forecasts.

"The impact of strong global economic activity on the minerals industry has been greatly reinforced by supply constraints. There is a substantial amount of new or expanded mining capacity under construction in many locations," he said.

"Although some capacity is taking longer to develop and is proving more costly than originally predicted, sufficient additional production will be forthcoming over the next three years to restore market balance to most products.

"This will relieve recent pressures on prices and take them back closer to the marginal costs of supply, even if demand continues rising steadily. Thus the present boom in prices already contains all the seeds of its ultimate reversal even if demand continues to expand steadily."

Crowson warned countries such as Australia needed to make sure new projects were firmly based and that they could withstand periods of much weaker prices than those of the recent past.

"Dynamic balance is being gradually restored between supply and demand, but at higher equilibrium price levels than in the 1990s," he said.

"Different products will achieve this balance at different times.

"Resist siren calls to invest in marginal projects based on promises from users. They will not always love you in the morning."