Record $8.5 billion likely spent in 2011 exploring for gold

Research firm Metals Economics Group reports gold continues to be top exploration target accounting for more than 50% of global exploration of non-ferrous metals for the second consecutive year in 2011. Latin America is set continue to be the industry’s favorite regional exploration destination in 2011, while Canada will remain the top overall country.

Copper will account for roughly a fifth of 2011 nonferrous exploration budgets that is expected to exceed US$17 billion for expenditures related to precious and base metals, diamonds, uranium, and some industrial minerals. It represents an increase of about 50% from the 2010 total and a new all time high.

Budgets for grassroots, late-stage, and mine site exploration have all increased significantly, but the relative proportions allocated to each stage of development are expected to remain relatively stable compared with 2010. Despite a sharp rise in the amount of money planned for grassroots work in 2011, the proportion of the overall industry exploration effort committed to long-term project generation is anticipated to remain near historically low levels—about a third of 2011’s exploration total compared with an average of about half the annual exploration totals through the 1990s.

MEG’s analysis is based on information collected from more than 3,500 companies worldwide, of which about 2,400 are expected to have active exploration programs and will therefore be included in the final study

Last year the 21st edition of Corporate Exploration Strategies (CES) reported a 2010 exploration budget total of $11.2 billion. The industry restored almost two thirds of the $5.5 billion that was cut from exploration in 2009 in response to the global financial crisis. The speed and the strength of the 2010 rebound were a welcome surprise to many, given the severity of the downturn and widespread forecasts of a deep and protracted recession.

Regionally, Latin America (led by Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina) was the top exploration destination in 2010—a position it has held for the better part of two decades—while Canada was the top country overall. Gold was the leading target, attracting more than half the global exploration budget total, with copper a distant second. When uranium allocations are added to the $11.2 billion nonferrous total, 2010 planned exploration spending rises to more than $12.1 billion, a 44% increase from the 2009 total including uranium.

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