This is the scariest mining chart you'll see today

For the last three years the mantra at mining companies has been cut costs and cut budgets.

Projects have been delayed, expansions have been shelved, exploration stalled and expenditures deferred.

Project investment at BHP Billiton this year will be a stunning $10 billion below its 2013 peak. The world's number one miner only has four projects in the works, two of which are almost complete, compared to 18 mine and infrastructure developments just two years ago.

The situation is no different at other majors but belt-tightening extends from the top tier right through the industry.

A new report by SNL Metals and Mining finds total capital spending across all mining companies has declined by around $70 billion since the 2012 peak to just over $150 billion forecast for this year.

This is the scariest mining chart you'll see today

Source: SNL Metals & Mining

Mark Fellows, director of consulting for the mining research firm, says while sustaining capital expenditure is down 13% since the peak in 2012, capital expenditure on new developments has been even harder hit.

Spending on brownfield expansions is down 25% while greenfield project expenditure has plummeted by nearly one third.

The report compares the current downturn to the previous bear market in mining which ran from 1997 to 2002 and argues that capex cutbacks are far from over.

Instead the industry should brace itself for at least another two years of shrinking budgets and outlays with the first signs of a "subdued" recovery only appearing early in 2018.

But even this prediction could be too bullish.

"Worryingly, metal prices have already fallen 12% further than they did during the bear market in the 1990s. In the last bear market, capex only recovered to its pre-crash (1997) level after seven years (2004)," according to Fellows.

 

This is the scariest mining chart you'll see today

Source: SNL Metals & Mining