Mining deals hit lowest level in more than a decade

May 28, 2015

A report from Ernst & Young found that the amount of mining mergers and acquisitions is at its lowest level in more than 10 years.

The problem is not a lack of mines available, rather a lack of buyers.

With commodity prices at a six-year low for many metals, deal volumes in 2014 fell 23 percent to 544 from the previous year, the lowest amount since 2003 and the fourth straight year of declines, according to Ernst & Young. Deals during the past decade peaked in 2010, when 1,123 were completed amid a China-fueled boom in prices. In the first quarter of 2015, the value of mergers and acquisitions in the mining industry globally fell 18 percent to $5.9 billion, from $7.2 billion a year ago, Ernst & Young said.

“It will take a stronger perception we’re at the bottom of the commodity cycle before we see pickup, and typically the pickup happens after we’re off the bottom,” Dick Evans, chairman of aluminum maker Constellium NV told The Wall Street Journal.

Even with the subdued activity, there are still mining deals happening almost every day, though most are relatively small. Sirius Resources NL, which is building a nickel mine in Australia, agreed to a takeover offer worth 1.8 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) by Independence Group NL. Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s largest gold miner by production, agreed to sell an Australian gold operation for $550 million and a 50 percent stake in a gold mine in Papua New Guinea for $298 million.

But with deal action stuck in slow motion, miners have struggled to raise cash, streamline operations and mend their beaten balance sheets.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Rio Tinto recently started shopping around its Pacific Aluminum assets in a deal bankers say could fetch $1 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. Slumping prices for raw aluminum could hinder a deal, bankers said. Another obstacle is the high energy costs of operating the company’s smelters—furnaces that transform raw materials into metal—in Australia and New Zealand.

One potential bright spot is the emergence of X2 Resources, a private-equity fund founded by mining veteran Mick Davis, armed with $5.6 billion in cash it plans to deploy in the next few months..

Another potential trigger: rising interest rates. With current interest rates low, miners can keep afloat poor-performing mines with cheap debt. If rates tick higher, miners would have to pay more to fund operations, making them more likely to settle for cut-rate prices, said Deutsche Bank analyst Jorge Beristain.



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