Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Capital goes on strike

Commodity prices are at their lowest in 12 years. The world’s biggest mining companies 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, investors say. Of the 20 countries most reliant on mineral exports, 10 are in Africa.

The Nedbank Africa Mining Index, which consists of 20 companies including Johannesburg-based Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., touched a six-year low in December, indicating investors’ negative outlook for the continent’s prospects.

“Africa has such potential and resources to be developed,” Pictet’s Moorhead said. “But to realize that, you need to spend a lot of cash and that’s a story, in general, investors don’t want to hear right now.”

“People are cutting back on Africa more than say Australia because Africa tends to be high on the cost curve,” said Andrew Lapping, who helps manage $39 billion at Allan Gray Ltd. in Cape Town. “Suddenly they’re having to cut capital and decide which are their best projects. There are less of those in Africa than in other regions.”

Unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as uncertainty over mining taxes in Zambia -- the two largest copper producers on the continent -- has added to investor unease in recent weeks. The pullback presents a challenge to nations such as Botswana and Guinea which, according to the International Council of Mining & Metals, derive more than 60 percent of their exports from minerals.

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company, is moving to spin off its Africa-focused assets into a new company called South32, while Rio Tinto Group, the second-largest, exited its Mozambican coal business last year after writing it down by $3 billion. Glencore Plc’s South African coal unit will cut annual output by half amid a “continued deterioration in the export coal price,” it said last month. Anglo American Plc is looking to sell platinum mines in South Africa and its iron-ore unit is planning to reduce capital expenditure 20 percent. West Africa-based producers of iron ore, which has declined 54 percent to $61.64 a metric ton since the beginning of 2014, have been particularly hard hit. London Mining Plc was planning a $400 million expansion of its Marampa operation in Sierra Leone in July but by October it had called in administrators. African Minerals Ltd., which also produces the steelmaking ingredient in the country, shut its mine in December.

“Traditional mining areas, even places like Australia and Canada, will all be hit but particularly in Africa where you’ve got big projects being built,” said Clive Burstow, who helps manage $44 billion at Baring Asset Management in London. “Companies have become very Darwinian in how they look at capex. Projects have to make a return.”

In Zambia, First Quantum Minerals Ltd. and Glencore are among companies that have suspended projects valued at more than $1.5 billion in Zambia because of a tax dispute, while Barrick Gold Corp., the biggest producer of the metal, has started the process to put its Lumwana mine under care and maintenance. Vedanta Resources Plc, founded by Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal, is reviewing its Zambian copper unit amid a 23 percent slump in the price of the metal to $5,663 a ton since the start of 2013 and higher taxes introduced last month. Minerals from Zambia, Africa’s largest copper producer after Congo, comprised 69 percent of the country’s total exports in 2012

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