Mining sector ending year strongly

By: Chris Hinde | 27 November 2017

The following analysis is an abstract of the State of the Market: Mining Q3-2017 report.

The mining industry is showing clear signs of increasing health. This was particularly evident during the September quarter in the exploration sector, as measured by S&P Global Market Intelligence's Pipeline Activity Index, which is a measure of exploration and development activity.

After what had been a poor start to 2017, the Pipeline Activity Index, or PAI, has returned to the level of the final quarter of 2016. This improvement was driven mostly by an increase in drilling activity, with the number of distinct projects reporting drill results rising nearly 9% from 456 in the June quarter, itself up 45% from the previous period, to 496 projects. The increase in activity was at its greatest in the search for copper, up 46%.

The international mining industry suffered five difficult years, from 2011 to the start of 2016, but metals prices, exploration activity, financing and mergers and acquisitions all stabilized in 2016. This year has seen an undeniable upward trend, a trajectory confirmed in the three months to end-September, as evident from the graph below and in the recently published State of the Market report.

In the September quarter, the total number of reported drillholes rose for the sixth consecutive quarter to 10,726, with the number of zinc-lead results more than doubling quarter over quarter to 707 from 302. This is a likely reflection of the significant increase in zinc exploration budgets in 2017, as recorded in the recently published Trends in Exploration Budgets by Target, which is part of S&P Global Market Intelligence's Corporate Exploration Strategies series.

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The announcements of exploration financings and positive project "milestones" during the September quarter were comparable with those during the three months to end-June. Initial resource announcements were actually lower than the previous quarter.

Financing across the industry in the three months to end-September totaled US$23.1 billion. This is almost double the amount raised during the June quarter and compares favorably with funding of US$9.57 billion in the March quarter and US$10.8 billion in the year-ago period.

The State of the Market report identifies 744 financings during the period, compared with 787, 762, 894 and 1,033 in the respective previous four quarters. Companies with a market capitalization of at least US$2.0 billion accounted for over 64% of the amount raised by the industry, compared with 66% in the June quarter and 40% in the year-ago quarter.

Companies with a market capitalization between US$500 million and US$2 billion raised a further 11% of the total. This means that companies with a market value of under US$500 million — the great numerical majority of the industry's listed companies — raised less than 7% of the total, compared with over 21% in the year-ago quarter.

Over the past year, M&A announcements in the international metals and mining industry have averaged barely 12 deals per month that are "significant," or those of over US$5 million. There was a modest improvement, to less than 14 per month, during the three months to end-September.

In the latest quarter, S&P Global Market Intelligence recorded 41 significant deals for metal assets, compared with 47 in the June quarter and 29 in the first quarter. The peak in recent deal activity came in the 2016 September quarter with 62 individual announcements. The recent low came in the 2016 March quarter, when only 25 deals were announced.

However, the value of the deals recorded during the three months to end-September improved slightly to US$4.91 billion after jumping to US$4.50 billion in the previous quarter, compared to only US$3.32 billion in the March quarter. Nevertheless, these recent improvements are still well short of the recent peak of US$8.01 billion recorded in the June quarter of 2016. Almost 54% of the 41 significant deals announced in the September 2017 quarter were for gold assets.

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