Poor market conditions put major chill on global exploration

Poor market conditions put chill on global explorationGlobal exploration spending dropped 26% in last year, compared with 2013, as several juniors threw in the towel and producing miners slammed the brakes on capital and exploration expenditure to improve their margins, a study released Monday shows.

According to the latest World Exploration Trends report from SNL Metals & Mining, the global industry's total budget for nonferrous metals exploration was US$11.4 billion in 2014. This contrasts with the US$15.2 billion allocated in 2013 and the record US$21.5 billion budgeted in 2012.

The rout in commodity prices to the lowest in 12 years will spur deeper spending cuts by the world’s biggest mining companies in Africa, hurting a region more reliant on mineral exports than any other on the planet.

Miners will scale back spending by $20 billion this year, according to Macquarie Group Ltd., as they cut growth plans amid waning demand for raw materials. With projects planned during the decade-long commodities boom now being shelved, Africa is likely to bear the brunt of the cuts.

Deals boom

In Australia, where major miners have been shelving or unloading projects and mines, experts are expecting a boom of mergers and acquisitions, especially in the gold sector. Analysts argue Down Under’s gold mines have largely become more profitable during the past year on the back of the falling local dollar and a trend for miners to axe costs.

SNL's 2014 exploration estimate was based on information collected from more than 3,500 mining and exploration companies worldwide, of which almost 2,000 had exploration budgets reported in the study.

Those companies (each budgeting at least US$100,000) together allocated US$10.74 billion for nonferrous exploration, which SNL estimates covers 95% of worldwide commercially oriented nonferrous exploration spending. Adding estimates of budgets that SNL was unable to obtain, the 2014 worldwide total exploration budget reached US$11.36 billion.

Image by Sumit buranarothtrakul | Shutterstock.