Large-scale deals to head down the mineshaft in 2013: PwC

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the mining sector fell 30% last year — the lowest since 2005 — and the trend is expected to continue in 2013, with most deal activity to be driven by the top miners offloading non-core assets, says the latest Mining Deals report published Tuesday by PwC.

According to the firm’s report, miners will mostly “sit and wait” until metal prices stabilize more and companies bet on a continued rise in commodity demand from countries such as China.

The firm does not expect any mega-mergers to materialize this year, as rising costs, resource nationalism and potential political ramifications of buying and selling assets will lead decisions.

The value of mining deals also slipped last year, as compared to 2011, with the total of M&As amounting to $110 billion in 2012 (including the $54 billion value of the Glencore/Xstrata merger announced last February that has now nearly cleared all regulatory approvals).

Without the Glencore/Xstrata merger, deal value falls to $56 billion — compared to a total deal value of $149 billion in 2011.

"[2013] is shaping up to be another interesting year for commodity markets as investors are waiting anxiously to see which companies have the capability to take advantage of the next big opportunity,” said Tim Goldsmith, global mining leader at PwC, in a statement.

He adds the appetite for controversy is decreasing, as miners are wary of joining the list of highly publicized write-offs from past deals, both friendly and hostile.

According to Goldsmith, companies want to prove more than ever that they're being prudent with their shareholders' dollars.

“There's an expectation that most deals will be smaller and more digestible, triggered by companies with successful track records from both deal and project development,” Goldsmith says.

Gold and copper the favourites

According to the PwC’s report, gold and copper dominated M&A activity in 2012 as miners with cash took advantage of lower valuations to fund future growth.

Together, the two metals accounted for half of the top 20 deals last year, even before considering their mix in the diversified metal mergers.

The researches say the two metals are popular for different, but equally powerful reasons.

“Investors are turning to gold as a hedge against inflation and general economic uncertainty. While copper is considered a bet on the future health of the global economy as the metal is used in everything from plumbing and power to automobiles," PwC says.

Other commodities to watch this year, says the firm, are uranium and iron ore, which also appeared a few times among the top 20 deals of 2012, particularly among steelmakers looking to boost access to the latter.

Image by George Eastman House