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My thoughts heading to mining Indaba

Linda Beal on the shake-up in mining and how it creates the perfect storm for M&A in the sector

As I and Grant Thornton colleagues head off to the Investing in African Mining Conference 'Indaba 2015' in Cape Town this week, thoughts turn to the health of the South African and wider regional mining sector. It is certainly a far cry from the bedrock of the economy that it had been in decades gone by. Hardly a week goes by without an announcement from both mining majors and juniors on changes to assets, strategies and investments. However, I see a healthier mid-term future.

Even a casual observer of the South African mining sector will have noted, the extreme upheaval which the industry has undergone over the past few years. A series of factors have contributed to this, not least of which have been industrial action, oversupply of commodities and declining market prices.

Corporate reshuffling and realignment has accelerated year on year, as can be seen by announcements from the likes of AngloGold Ashanti, Goldfields, Anglo Platinum and Glencore. Activity among the mining juniors across the full spectrum of commodities is equally strong albeit of a smaller magnitude.

However, as we see on the ground, and highlighted in our recent 'Gathering Momentum – the resurgence of M&A in global mining”, a near perfect alignment of factors globally is heralding a new era in mining mergers and acquisitions (M&A). By the middle of 2014, 1,132 deals valued at more than US$106-billion have been concluded, surpassing the US$85 billion registered (from over almost 2,000 deals) the previous year.

Drawing on the insight of more than 250 senior mining executives globally the report finds that one-in-ten junior miners globally expects to enter administration while a quarter of major mining companies anticipate challenges with financial covenants. This is expected to introduce significant quantities of distressed assets and low valuations. A third of executives at both junior and major mining companies around the world say they are likely to make an acquisition, with an almost equal number indicating they are likely to sell assets.  The falling commodity prices have also been cited as a driver for M&A activity as companies look to consolidate assets to realise scale, lower productions costs and band together to create effectiveness of scale and to reduce overheads.

The survey responses from South African mining companies are broadly in line with the global results, although there are some material differences with nearly 39% of local companies saying they are quite likely to acquire a unit or division of another miner, compared with 16% globally. On the other side of the coin, 12% of local respondents say they are highly likely to be sold or taken over versus the 6% global average.

One of the factors that is expected to drive global M&A activity is the estimated US$8 billion that global private equity firms have raised for which they are seeking investment targets.

Despite the turmoil in the local industry, African mineral riches remain attractive to miners and investors who are able to execute strategies that aim to minimise costs and maximise the long-term returns these assets will invariably deliver. We continue to see keen interest from Chinese clients to acquire mining assets in Africa, spurred on by the low valuations.

At Indaba I look forward to hearing more and discussing how mining executives can position their businesses as attractive for buyers or sellers, developing strategies to access funding by exploring alternative sources such as earn-in and funded related joint venture arrangements as well as the traditional bond market. Key to this will be the need to drive cost efficiencies and productivity improvements to enhance the likelihood of attracting funding or optimal valuations. The commodity supercycle may have ended but the mining industry can still be optimistic for future growth.