Global mining exploration budgets are forecast to have fallen 29% this year in the latest SNL Metals Economics Group Corporate Exploration Strategies survey.
SNL says non ferrous metals exploration worldwide will have fallen to $15.2Bn by the end of this year because of higher operating and capital costs and pressure from activist shareholders which have forced a refocus towards margins after years of growth oriented investment. The fall in exploration activity is despite the prices of most metals being at or near their ten year averages.
Despite these problems companies continued to explore in 127 countries, including areas of high and medium risk which account for over half of the total exploration spending. Spending in mature mining regions like the United States and Canada fell, with the United States down 38% largely because of major gold miners scaling back exploration programs. Canada’s budget fell 41% due to weakness among the junior explorers.
SNL says that since 2012 junior companies have struggled to attract investor interest and have been forced to limit exploration activities and their total budgets have fallen 39%, reducing their share of the total to 34% from a high of 55% in 2007. The majors’ cutbacks led to a 24% fall in their exploration budget total.
The percentage of overall exploration budgets dedicated to minesite work reached a historical high in 2013 as producers focussed on less capital intensive brownfields investment programmes.
Canada and Australia remained the top exploration countries overall, with the United States, Chile and Mexico also in the top five.
The influential survey is based on data from some 3,500 mining and exploration companies worldwide, over 2,100 of whom had exploration budgets for 2013. The companies each budgeted at least $100,000, with a total of $14.43Bn budgeted for non ferrous exploration. The $15.2Bn figure comes from adding SNL’s own estimates for budgets that could not be obtained.