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Industry Top Trends 2021: Metals and Mining

Greenhouse gas and gold mines Nearly 1 ton of CO2 emitted per ounce of gold produced in 2019

Essential Metals & Mining Insights - September 2020

Essential Metals & Mining Insights - August 2020


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Fundsare available if you have the appropriate asset. As the financial press informedus this week, finance has been forthcoming for toilets in China, a famous author'schair and unicorns.

It isa golden age for lavatory construction in China. In a program supported by PresidentXi Jinping, China's National Tourism Administration announced this week that thegovernment plans to spend over 12.5 billion Chinese yuan (about US$1.9 billion)this year to build or upgrade 25,000 public restrooms in and around popular touristattractions.

The investmentis part of an ongoing program — described by CaixinOnline as the "Potty Revolution"— that aims to build 57,000 "odorless, free and effectively managed" restroomsfor travelers by the end of 2017 after a slew of complaints over the years.

Thisweek, the 1930s oak chair used by J.K. Rowling when she wrote the first two HarryPotter novels sold for US$394,000 at auction in New York. The chair, one of fourmismatching ones given free to Rowling for her council flat in Edinburgh, containsthe inscription, "I wrote Harry Potter while sitting on this chair," andcomes with a letter of provenance.

Financehas also been readily available for unicorns. In addition to describing a mythicalcreature, the term is used for private technology companies that have a valuationof at least US$1 billion. The term was coined in late 2013 by Aileen Lee, founderof the seed-stage fund Cowboy Ventures, to describe what were extremely rare startupventures. At the time, she estimated there were just 39 unicorns, including Airbnband Uber.

Unicornsare now less rare. Asset managers piled into private technology companies last year,and the number of unicorns soared as technology startups boomed. By the end of 2015there were an estimated 150 young tech companies worth over a billion dollars.

In anoutbreak of common sense, regulators expressed concern about the eye-popping valuationof some unlisted startups. Investors started writing down the value of these assetsin the final few months of last year amid talk of a technology bubble. There arenow fears of large-scale failures, and dead unicorns.

In contrast,mining stocks are starting to look like a good bet, and several analysts at thisweek's Mines and Money Asia conference in Hong Kong talked of a positive shift insentiment. For example, the executive director of fund manager Lion Manager Pty,Hedley Widdup, told delegates, "The tide has turned after five years of anythingbetween awful and bloody awful."

Lion,which manages the ASX-listed investment company Lion Selection Group Ltd., has developedthe concept of a "mining clock" to describe the mining cycle. Taking 6o'clock as representing booming conditions, and 12 o'clock as a crash, Lion typifiescompany liquidations and declining exploration as occurring at 1 o'clock and 2 o'clock,mergers and cash takeovers at 4 o'clock and 5 o'clock, new floats and rising explorationat 7 o'clock and 8 o'clock, and paper takeovers and new floats at 10 o'clock and11 o'clock.

Speakingearlier this week, Widdup commented that it has been "between midnight and3 o'clock, signaling the bust, for the past few years." In September last year,Widdup had described the clock as having moved to 4:30, "where things startto pick up." This week he said the mining cycle had "hit 5 o'clock"as it was "becoming possible for companies to raise money for exploration."

Widdupsaid that the rally in resources stocks in the first three months of 2016 is evidenceof a substantial change in sentiment towards miners. A realization has set in thatminers are "cheap and probably have very little downside on price."

LionSelection believes that this rally stands out because this is the first time minershave outperformed the rest of the market since 2011, and there has been "araft of small mining companies raising money."

"Theend of a bust in any cyclical investment space is characterized by a capitulationevent, which itself culminates in the collective realization by investors that thesector is too cheap to ignore any longer."

Goldcompanies collectively are now exhibiting rather impressive cash generation, drivenby low costs and a robust price (especially as measured in the weak currencies ofmany producing nations). When rising equity prices align with increasing cash balances,company aspirations usually shift toward growth, notes Widdup, rather than increaseddividends. The climate in the gold space, he said, "looks right for the beginningof balance sheet funded mergers and acquisitions."

Duringthe same panel session at Mines and Money, EIM Capital's John Robertson agreed therewere "points of light," but stressed "no rays of sunshine."He complained, "If the resource sector was getting its fair share of investment,an extra A$30 billion would be available."

Perhapsa few more fund managers can be encouraged to leave unicorns to mythology and investin something more tangible. The clock is ticking.