Mining companies should stall new investment projects in the face of the continued softening of global commodity prices rather than risk stability and profitability, an executive from the Australian Foundation Investment Co. (AFIC) said.
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Although the commitment of miners to pursue their planned projects is always a positive, it would not be a wise decision to turn in on a blind eye to the present realities of the economics of falling commodity prices and rising costs.
"That is obviously something we would encourage because we don't want to spend large amounts of money and not get good returns," Ross Barker, chief executive officer of AFIC, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in a television interview. The listed Melbourne-based fund with a market value of A$4.5 billion ($4.7 billion) owns shares in BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group.
Mining companies are currently re-evaluating programmed spending plans amid the dropping prices of commodities largely spurred by the growth concerns and demand appetite in China, the world's largest consumer of metals.
Over the weekend, BHP Billiton Ltd. said it will delay to 2014 its investment decision whether to push through or not the programmed A$30 billion (US$31.3 billion) mega expansion of the Olympic copper, gold and uranium mine project in South Australia
Also over the weekend, Canada's Cameco told analysts it was "not going to develop Kintyre at any cost" pending on either improved uranium prices, or an extensive expansion in its' resource base. The Kintyre project in Western Australia's Great Sandy desert would have been WA's first uranium mine in early 2014 as first planned. The project is 70 per cent owned by Cameco and 30 per cent by Japan's Mitsubishi Development.
Despite touted as one of the world's biggest undeveloped uranium deposits holding some 59.7 million pounds, Cameco said a planned 7-year mine life would only recover 40 million pounds in light of the prevailing challenges being experienced by uranium prices.
"To break even, the prefeasibility study indicates the project would require an average realised price of about $US67 or about 62 million pounds of packaged production using a uranium price similar to today's spot price ($US50 a pound)," Cameco said.
Prices of spot uranium have dropped by more than 10 per cent in 2011, following the total closure of Japan's nuclear power industry as an aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.
In comments that were not aired during the program, Mr Barker noted that miners have been saying that doing business in Australia has been getting more expensive.
"Many of those mining companies say 'Well, Australia is one of the more expensive places to develop projects these days', so with commodities prices coming off their highs, they'll start to say, 'Do these projects look economic?," Mr Barker said.
Mr Barker nonetheless believed the mining companies' interest in Australia and its resources, albeit the steep costs involved in mining and developing it, will remain high.
"There are still an enormously large number of mining projects in train and on the drawing board in Australia. The big question for immediate- to long-term investors is how many of those will actually get up," Mr. Barker said.
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