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Over-confident investors underestimate thinning pipeline, bank warns

Long-only investors put faith in the mining sector partly based on expectations of growth in battery metals - but the thin project pipeline for copper may have been overlooked, research by Credit Suisse has found.
Over-confident investors underestimate thinning pipeline, bank warns Over-confident investors underestimate thinning pipeline, bank warns Over-confident investors underestimate thinning pipeline, bank warns Over-confident investors underestimate thinning pipeline, bank warns Over-confident investors underestimate thinning pipeline, bank warns

Waiting for EVs to ride to the rescue of copper tomorrow may be to underestimate risk today, the bank warned

While the bank warned that investors were too focused on near-term capital expenditure trends, it also suggested investors' hopes for a turnaround in copper may also be in danger of underestimating near-term problems facing the red metal. 

Capital market consensus anticipate a copper deficit in five years' time, as demand for electric vehicles and other copper-related equipment takes off. But Credit Suisse warned the lack of new project approvals should not be overlooked. 

Boards of mining companies were being more reluctant to approve new big projects with a lack of near-term benefits, and a copper market surplus is expected in the next four years, as new projects sanctioned in the last two years will contribute 10% of global production once fully ramped up, the bank noted. 

"In 2017-19, copper has seen a wave of project approvals amounting to 2.7 million tonnes, much of which has already translated into equipment orders," the bank said in a note.

"We see evidence of the total value of new capex approved for projects having fallen by 50% [in the 12 months to September 2019] and expect this to suppress equipment orders in H219 and 2020. In contrast, the outlook for gold remains more positive."

Companies selling mining equipment to gold mines might benefit more than those servicing copper, the bank suggested, adding that its prferred choices were Sandvik and Epiroc, over Metso and FLSmidth (which it believes are over-valued). 

"The thinner project pipeline in copper and iron ore is a downside risk to 2020 growth in mining orders," the bank said. "[Whereas] depletion and mine closures [in gold] are putting pressure on supply and stimulating the need for more new projects and capex."

Earlier in September, BMO Capital Markets questioned bullish copper outlook projections by Peru energy and mines minister Francisco Ismodes, and argued the world's second biggest producer will struggle to meet its target.

However, the outlook for copper projects need not necessarily be entirely gloomy. In October, Mining Journal explored how juniors are finding other ways of raising finance, including Kincora Copper's Mongolia project which used platform-based finance as part of its most recent raising.