Sent: 30-03-2010 10:52:15
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Changing Resource Sector Moods
The mood within the resources industry has improved dramatically but financiers are still reluctant participants.
The sixth Asian Mining Congress attracted some 700 delegates in Singapore last week from resources companies, institutional investors and service providers, including bankers.
A year ago, there were less than half as many participants. This year, companies based in Europe, Australia and north America were promoting projects throughout the region in a sign that the activity rate is probably higher than it has ever been.
Many new mining locations are opening up. The Philippines and Indonesia have been targeted before. So, to a lesser extent, has Laos and Thailand. Vietnam is another emerging centre. Fast dwarfing them in importance now is central Asia and Mongolia. Just as they loom as the next mining frontiers, west Africa is increasingly seen as the Pilbara of the future because of its iron ore riches.
From an Australian perspective, the emergence of these new mining locations means a loss of global market share. Of course, many Australian companies are engaged in these emerging mining centres, keeping up the chance that Australian investors will be able to access quality overseas projects through the local market.
Nonetheless, Australian investors, used to having major iron ore, coal and base metal projects in their backyard, will have to get used to going much further afield. In this, they will increasingly become more like investors in other countries as they are forced to travel to new hemispheres for their investments.
China loomed extraordinarily large in the thinking of the delegates both as a user of raw materials and a source of funding for new projects. Companies seeking to attract new investors were at pains to highlight their China connections, including ownership ties to some of the large state owned Chinese metals and mining corporations.
The Chinese companies, themselves, highlighted the strong likelihood of their permanent presence as an influence on the sector.
The prospects for iron ore were a feature of the conference. The head of the Chinese diversified steel maker, Shougang Group Corporation, himself a member of the Financial and Economic Affairs Committee of the eleventh National People's Congress, saw iron ore demand in 2010 reaching 610 million tonnes as growth resumes.
His sense of strategic positioning was also evident. Despite the complexity of the Mount Gibson Iron shareholding arrangements, there was no ambiguity in his view, despite the wobbly English, that his company "owns all iron ore sales monopoly in the useful life of Gibson".
Meanwhile, a representative of the Indian industry suggested that demand for iron ore from his country between now and 2050 would grow from 99 million tonnes in 2008 to 621 million tonnes by 2050, a 4½% per annum growth rate. The need for new mines was clearly evident.
Bankers emphasized that they were ready to fund high quality projects but there was ample evidence that they had raised the bar for what constituted quality. Bankers were also becoming less interested in the projects themselves than in using access to raw materials to construct new financial products.
At the more innovative end, structured products to manage iron ore price fluctuations are now available as well as the more traditional offerings based around the long established London and New York terminal markets.
For those who worry when herds are forming in financial markets, here is another.
Several bankers confided privately that they would not offer any finance - no matter how fundamentally attractive the underlying asset - if they could not gain access to the commodity exposure. The same bankers thought that the same held for all their competitors.
There are signs that retail investors in local Asian markets such as Singapore and Hong Kong have begun to take more interest in the sector.
Hong Kong is emerging as a regional sector hub with several recent listings designed to tap Chinese savings as well as the strategic commodity sourcing attempts of China's state owned enterprises.
Singapore's single listed resources company, Straits Asia Resources, has reported a dramatic expansion in its retail shareholder base in the past year. But Singapore's retail investors must still go somewhere else to get any substantial access to the sector. Significantly, one of its major local banks has facilitated their efforts with an increasingly popular sectoral fund.
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