Miners regain sparkle as commodity prices rebound


SYDNEY — Increased Chinese spending on housing and hopes of an infrastructure bonanza in the U.S. and India are driving a recovery in resources giants, analysts said, with major miners raking in huge profits.

A slowdown in the global economy, particularly in the world’s top consumer China, and a supply glut hammered prices in recent years, pushing many firms to the brink of collapse and forcing others to slash jobs and spending. But with Beijing rediscovering its appetite for key metals — and the economy showing signs of stabilizing — optimism is returning, although there are lingering worries the recovery might not last. “Most miners are going to be making very good cash, and better cash than they have been making for years,” UBS commodities analyst Daniel Morgan told AFP. “Their cost bases are lower and in many cases they are back to sustaining capex (capital expenditure) rather than growing capex. So right now they’ll be minting cash and improving their balance sheets.” Iron ore, a key ingredient in steelmaking, has been representative of the commodities rollercoaster. After hitting a peak near US$200 a ton in 2011, it tumbled some 80 percent to below US$40 in late 2015. Since then, it has rallied to spike above US$90 in February, surprising analysts. Copper prices have also rallied, with a strike at BHP’s Escondida mine in Chile — the world’s biggest copper pit — also providing support. The main factors behind the broad-based revival have been supply constraints and a shift in Chinese demand, said CLSA’s head of resources research Andrew Driscoll. Chinese authorities introduced policies supporting the nation’s crucial property market while also increasing credit, helping drive infrastructure investment. “Demand was persistently better than what was expected, led by those two subsectors, for much of the year,” Driscoll told AFP. At the same time, supply constraints emerged as the central government enacted environmental reforms that made it more costly to produce polluting commodities in China. The November election of President Donald Trump, who has touted massive infrastructure spending, and the Indian government’s vow to fund the modernization of roads, airports and railways also boosted sentiment. The world’s two biggest miners — BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto — this month reported bumper profits for 2016 after plunging into the red the previous year and Brazil’s Vale also said Thursday it experienced a strong earnings boost on the back of record production.