Miners getting on with life after the crash

06/08/2009 - 00:00


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Despite the massive plunge in share values in recent months, many junior miners are once again optimistic about the future – provided government comes to the party.

Miners getting on with life after the crash

"I'M an optimist, and I think we are (still) in the middle of ... a super-cycle. I think what we are encountering now is a hiccup on that path."

Mining veteran Mal Randall's opening statement at a recent roundtable for junior miners at WA Business News was in equal parts upbeat and defiant.

The Iron Ore Holdings chairman was not being flippant about the seriousness of the impact of the global financial crisis.

Sure, it had wreaked havoc on the share prices of local explorers such as his, and forced most to trim their cloth to suit more frugal times.

But as a veteran of the last Japanese-led super-cycle of the 1960s and 1970s, Mr Randall always figured a few stumbles were an inevitable part of China's breakneck economic expansion.

Similarly, while the pace had slowed, the fundamental drivers of boom-time conditions remained largely intact, with Chinese expansion likely to be followed by growth in other densely populated emerging economies down the track.

The trick, according to Mr Randall, is to make sure that government does not blow industry's chances of capitalising on opportunities through over-regulation, obfuscation and delay.

Put any group of individuals from the same industry together in the one room and it's a good bet the conversation will pretty quickly turn to the actual issues of greatest concern - irrespective what those outside the sector might believe.

So while many 'expert' commentators have spent the past six months predicting the financial crisis as the harbinger of doom for Australia's miners big and small, it would seem that the sector is already looking to move on - as revealed by Mr Randall's opening remark.

Indeed, the casual listener could be forgiven thinking the global financial crisis has had about as much lasting impact as the first cyclone of a Pilbara summer -lots of noise and colour, but at the end of the day, leaving behind little more than a few roofless sheds.

A glance at the performance of local industry so far in 2009 explains some of that optimism.

In November last year, when financial markets were at their weakest, the value of the largest 100 listed WA companies which comprise the Deloitte WA Index plunged more than $17 billion in just one month.

Since then, Western Australian companies have led the nation in terms of recovery, with the Deloitte WA Index rising 64 per cent to almost $120 billion - a gain of more than $46 billion.

While those gains reflect the performance of WA's bigger resources groups, they have, in turn, dragged the smaller members of the local exploration sector along for the ride.

Despite their junior status, each of the companies represented at the roundtable has enjoyed strong bounces since the start of March - albeit from a low base.

Iron Ore Holdings has climbed 300 per cent, Warwick Resources is up more than 110 per cent, Polaris Metals has risen 100 per cent, Hannans Reward is up 67 per cent, Pioneer is up 36 per cent, and Heron Resources about 30 per cent.

That is also reflected in official figures released by the Australian Securities Exchange in early July.

While initially public offerings slumped more than 80 per cent during the 2009 financial year, secondary raisings surged 74 per cent to just over $88 billion, including a whopping $10.25 billion raised in the month of June.

Again, WA resources companies big and small were among the most active, with WA companies jointly raising more than $8.5 billion in almost 300 separate capital raisings during the March and June quarters.

That's not to say times haven't been tough; most companies remain well below their prices during the market peak early last year. But junior miners seem a pragmatic bunch and recognise the pointlessness of railing at the windmills of financial markets.

Instead, discussion at the forum identified the age-old issue of excessive red tape, duplication, open-ended approvals processes, and general bureaucratic inertia as a bigger brake on industry than current financial conditions.

Similarly, timely investment in infrastructure and clarifying the regulations around foreign investment were equally vital, especially given the virtual freeze on debt financing for resources projects and the need to access capital from more controversial sources such as Chinese state-owned entities and foreign commodities traders.

Fix those issues, and it would seem even the juniors feel that they can take care of themselves.



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