The analysis showed a 19% decline in worldwide nonferrous metal exploration budgets in 2015 compared with the previous year, as well as the lowering of the sector’s aggregate market capitalisation to levels not seen since early 2009.
In the 26th edition of its Corporate Exploration Strategies report, SNL Metals & Mining calculated that the mining industry’s total budget for nonferrous metal exploration in 2015 was US$9.2 billion, less than half the record US$21.5 billion budgeted in 2012.
While many junior companies have been able to survive on minimal funding, an increasing number are moving out of the sector by seeking opportunities in non-mining industries. As any future upward shift in market sentiment towards metals and mining is likely to be gradual and uneven, it could be some time before the juniors derive any practical benefit from an eventual upturn.
Despite the troubles facing the junior sector, the number of active projects with drilling activity has remained surprisingly stable over the past two years, with significant drill results remaining well above the levels reported in 2008-09.
However, over the past 15 years, exploration budgets have been shifting away from the grassroots work upon which new discoveries largely depend. With risk aversion continuing to plague the sector, companies are focusing their exploration activity on existing or developing mines to ensure an adequate level of reserves to support production.
Early indications suggest that 2016 is unlikely to produce a rebound for the exploration sector; SNL, therefore, projects a modest decline in exploration budgets for the year.