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Perspectives on Mineral Commodity Price Cycles and their relevance to Underground Mining

- By: John P Sykes
Posted in: Blog, Commodities, Conferences, Mining, Publications, Recommended, Technical Paper Reviews


Adelaide, Australia

Yesterday Allan Trench presented a paper we co-authoured on “Perspectives on Mineral Commodity Price Cycles and their Relevance to Underground Mining” to the 12th AusIMM Underground Operators Conference, in Adelaide, Australia.

The paper is available in the proceedings (digital and paper) through the AusIMM. The abstract is below:

Mineral commodity prices are subject to volatility over both the short and longer run – driving fluctuating operating margins for mining companies over time. Such market dynamics influence mine operating decisions depending on the interplay of company-specific and mineral market factors. The company factors include corporate financial strength and price-risk management strategy, as well as mining practices and methods at the operation level. The critical mineral market factor is the price of the ex-mine product. This results from underlying microeconomic and macroeconomic root-causes pertaining to mineral supply and demand, in addition to the activities of financial participants within commodity markets.

Significant changes in commodity prices of an extended duration, either up or down, remain the principal influence upon mine economics – and therefore on mining practices too. Accurate and precise forecasting of commodity prices (and of relevant exchange rates) continues to prove elusive both to mineral economists and market analysts. Thus, at any given point in time, there are often widely differing price forecasts available for both the relevant commodity and currency.

Companies as a result are unclear how to respond in practical operating terms to such price side uncertainty – other than to manage incremental capital and operating expenditure. Typical company – and industry financier – responses to the difficulty in predicting future mineral commodity prices are to take measures to manage uncertainties in mining project revenues and costs. These operating practices are prudent – yet come at an economic cost: that is, lost revenue and margin opportunity is inevitable in any such system not easily capable of responding to price volatility in the market. The mine of the future will seek to capture this lost economic opportunity. This paper presents a three-stage framework for analysing commodity price forecasts to aide understanding of the commodity price cycle and the periods of high-margin opportunity.