Is ‘value over volume’ the new mantra for miners?

After barely creating any value during the Chinese supercycle, mining companies are focusing on sustainability.

1 minute read

Guilty of going after tonnages and pursuing growth at any cost during bull times, the world's mining companies have suffered a wave of CEO replacements, with shareholders demanding more capital austerity and returns in the form of dividends and share buybacks.

By 2016, the mining industry had given back all the value created during the Chinese growth cycle and 'capital discipline' became the new mantra.  But solid growth in China’s property market in 2016 and 2017, plus a significant recovery of mining stocks spurred by trimmed balance sheets, sparked a US$80 billion rise in the combined market capitalisation of the five biggest miners in 2016.

Using copper as a case study, we took a look at the previous investment cycle: 

Demand grew substantially by 4.2 Mtpa. When added to the 1.8 Mtpa rate of deposit depletion and production attrition, the total tonnage amount up for grabs between 2010 and 2017 was 6.0 Mtpa.

In terms of supply, primary copper output has grown by 5.9 Mtpa, keeping the market largely at balance with some slight year-to-year stock variations.

On top of gross capacity additions from greenfield and brownfield developments, approximately 3.3 Mtpa of 2010 output changed hands during the same time through M&A. The resulting growth movements have led to significant changes in the ranking of the largest copper producers between 2010 and 2017.

What can we expect from the next investment cycle?

For the next investment cycle, we're expecting to see companies focus on maximizing the speed to market and their ability to profit from high price cycles. 

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Can miners avoid the value versus volume trade-off?

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