The mining industry has enriched Chile. But its future is precarious … TOURIST shops sell polished copper trinkets. Building after building sports a bit of copper cladding. Even the taxi-drivers in Santiago, Chile’s capital, know the price of copper. It is not hard to guess what the country’s biggest export is. … Copper has been kind to Chile. It provides 20% of GDP and 60% of exports. Thanks to it, Chile’s economy is expanding by nearly 6% annually, while inflation and unemployment are enviably low. Poverty rates have tumbled; public services are mostly good. Chile has other strengths, such as agriculture, tourism and even high-tech. But small shifts in the copper price make headlines.
De Beers’ undertaking highlights the dilemma faced by diamond miners, who are forecasting diminishing supplies if they don’t discover new caches of gems. Only a blockbuster discovery will enable them to keep long-term production at current levels, according to De Beers and analysts. ... The problem: Only a fraction of the world’s underground diamond deposits are large enough to justify the expense of harvesting them. ... Global diamond production is expected to peak in 2017, when 164 million carats of diamonds are forecast to be produced, according to McKinsey & Co. After that, production is expected to go into a long-term decline, unless major new discoveries are made, McKinsey’s forecasts show. ... De Beers is marshaling new technology, including advanced computer algorithms that can comb through the mass of data the company gathers as it scans the Kalahari for signs of a diamond-studded kimberlite, a pipe of solidified lava containing rich veins of diamonds pushed up from the earth’s mantle. Only about 15 in 100 kimberlite pipes contains even one diamond, and only a fraction of those have enough to make them worth building a mine to harvest the diamonds
As America switches from an industrial economy to a digital one, its bluest collar workers are facing the toughest challenge of their lives. Can miners really learn how to code? ... coal is basically over. The federal government has pumped nearly $23 million into the region in the last two years to diversify the post-coal economy and retrain miners into jobs like installing broadband fiber. But until there’s some serious new high-paying option, most ex-mine workers are getting by on unemployment, taking lower paying jobs, moving away, or, as one put it to me, “going into panic mode.” ... The job, they determined, would start with a 22-week training program to learn how to code. Trainees would be paid $15 an hour, which came from federal funds pumped through a regional economic development agency. That’s less than miner wages, but it was better than working at the McDonald’s double-lane drive-thru downtown. Then, after those 22 weeks, Justice and Parrish would put up three dollars for every one from the government and build a coding team that could take on real, paying work. ... Most had heard the program’s radio ad. “Have you been laid off from a job in the mining industry? If you are a logic-based thinker willing to work and learn new things, we have a career opportunity for you. BitSource is bringing the computer coding revolution to Eastern Kentucky.”
Visited on a chilly day in December, the area around the top of the mine, the “collar” in mining terms, doesn’t look inviting. Steam clouds pour from the mouth of No. 9. It’s the hot air being drawn from the cave dug at the bottom of No. 10. That far down, rocks formed billions of years ago still carry heat from the molten core of the earth. Without the elaborate refrigeration system that pumps chilled air down No. 10, the bottom of the mine would be 180F, far too hot for a human to withstand. ... a venture between the two largest mining companies in the world, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Together they’ve spent more than $1 billion, including $350 million sinking the No. 10 mine shaft, in hopes of tapping nearly 2 billion metric tons of ore. Less than 2 percent of it is believed to be copper. It might not sound like much, but that’s considered dense, making it the fourth-largest undeveloped copper deposit in the world. ... Resolution Copper plans to dig four more shafts over the next 15 years. At peak production, this will be the biggest copper mine in the U.S., producing 100,000 tons of rock a day, and enough copper to meet a quarter of the country’s demand. It could also end up being a financial problem for its owners. The price of copper, along with lots of other commodities, has crashed as China’s economy has slowed. The Resolution mine is essentially an enormous bet that the third-most-used metal in the world is oversold and that prices will rebound by the time the mine opens in several years. ... Steaming hot water pours off the rocks; during construction, workers bored into an ancient lake trapped thousands of feet underground by impermeable rock, and it’s leaking into the mine. It’s like standing in a tropical rainstorm. A digital hydrometer on the wall registers 100 percent humidity. Overhead, cooled air gushes out of a metal duct, blowing the rain sideways and keeping the temperature in the mid-70s.
Few developing countries have seen their hopes dashed more by the slump in global commodity prices than Mongolia, this country of three million people that is almost four times the size of California. ... With its vast unexploited reserves of copper, coal and other minerals once estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion, and a neighbor—China—going through a belated industrial revolution, Mongolia looked to have won a ticket into the modern world. ... “We missed the big time; the free ride that we were given,” said Ganhuyag Chuluun Hutagt, Mongolia’s vice minister of finance from 2010-2012. “No matter what happens to China, I thought, we will still find something to sell to them…which was not true, obviously.” ... There is little industry outside of Mongolia’s resources sector and no other country is as reliant on China, to which Mongolia sends nearly 90% of its exports, mostly commodities. ... Residential property prices have dropped by 35% in the past four years, while an estimated 37,000 apartments stand empty across the city, according to estimates from M.A.D. Investment Solutions, a local property group.
Today the Glencore CEO believes that the industry is suffering from a glut of commodities on world markets. If mining companies could only get a handle on production, Glasenberg says, prices would inevitably rise. “Mining companies have to wake up and stop increasing supply and look at demand,” he says. “And that is it.” ... When you travel around the Copperbelt in Africa, it quickly becomes clear just how big a player Glencore is. At the tiny Kolwezi airport in the DRC’s southernmost province of Katanga, Glencore paid to rebuild the small runway and put up new buildings in 2011. On the road leading to the Mutanda copper mine, our vehicle rumbles over a new bridge crossing the Lualaba River, funded recently by Glencore at a cost of $10 million. ... For Glencore’s long haul as a public company, Glasenberg must continue to do what investors have demanded over this bruising year: Control spending and cut debt. Meanwhile, it waits for markets to rationalize.
Jeremy has written extensively about the long-term prospects for natural resources,1 but there are advantages to commodity investing beyond potential commodity price appreciation, including diversification and inflation protection. Resource equities are a great way to gain commodity exposure, while also accessing the equity risk premium. Given their somewhat hybrid nature, with one foot in the equity market and the other foot in the commodity market, resource equities display some unusual characteristics; over various timeframes, resource equities may move more with equities or more with commodities and can look more or less risky than the broad market. Perhaps due to their quirky nature, resource equities are generally unloved and possibly misunderstood. However, we believe that resource equities present a compelling investment opportunity, both strategically and tactically, and that long-term investors could benefit from larger allocations to these assets. ... investors are still wary of investing in commodity producers due to the commodity price risk and the always uncertain commodity outlook. Long-term investors willing to tolerate that shorter-term risk should strongly consider whether they have allocated enough to this exciting and unloved segment of the market.
De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond company, marked the opening of its Gahcho Kué mine in September. ... the aim of extracting more than 12,000 carats (2.4kg) of diamonds each day. Gahcho Kué is an astonishing endeavour, the biggest new mine in the world in over a decade. De Beers has no plans for another. ... The diamond business gained its sparkle around 1866, when a farmer’s son picked up a glistening pebble on the bank of the Orange river in South Africa. For most of the next 150 years, De Beers would dominate the global market. Success depended on manipulated supply and skilfully cultivated demand. ... Much has changed since then. De Beers can no longer control the market. Though it is the biggest producer by value, it accounts for only a third of global sales, down from 45% in 2007. It faces many uncertainties, from synthetic diamonds to changing relationships with polishers and cutters. Its loosening grip is reflected in increased volatility: its sales fell 34% in 2015, before bouncing back by 30% last year. Meanwhile the source of the demand that drives sales—the link between diamonds and love—looks weaker than it used to. ... But one forecast seems solid: there will be fewer new diamonds. ... diamonds’ principal value has nothing to do with science. ... They are a “Veblen good”, as items that gain their value solely from their ability to signal status are named, after Thorstein Veblen, an economist who wrote about the spending of the rich.
Already, the four companies that in 2015 provided 88 percent of the world’s lithium can’t keep up: Lithium contract prices have increased from $4,000 per metric ton in 2014 to as high as $20,000 today. ... That’s why a host of junior entrants are scrambling to get into the game. Whoever can figure out the extraction and chemistry required to get lithium out of the ground and into batteries stands to capture a significant share of the market. But as with any commodity, it’s a precarious business. ... Lithium can be mined from rocks, as in Australia and China, but in Clayton Valley and the lithium triangle it’s extracted from briny aquifers. ... The best hope new entrants have of catching Albemarle lies in a process being developed by Tenova SpA, an Italian engineering company. This method, which strips the lithium using an ion-exchange system and returns the water to the ground, would allow companies to skip evaporation ponds, slashing production time from months to hours while yielding a higher concentration of lithium.
In the mid-to-late nineteen-sixties, as gold’s role in the international monetary system was about to implode, a handful of top Johnson Administration officials, a few sympathetic members of Congress, and hundreds of government-paid scientists set off on a nuclear-age alchemical quest. Barr gave it the code name Operation Goldfinger. The government would end up looking for gold in the oddest places: seawater, meteorites, plants, even deer antlers. In an era during which people wanted badly to believe in the peaceful use of subatomic energy, plans were drawn up to use nuclear explosives to extract gold from deep inside the Earth, and even to use particle accelerators to try to change base metals into gold. ... Operation Goldfinger represented the logical culmination of a government obsession with not having enough gold. The post-war global economy was expanding much faster than the gold supply that propped it up. Dollars freely convertible to gold were the underpinning of the world’s monetary system, and President John F. Kennedy—and many others—feared that if holders of dollars and other U.S. securities were to cash in their paper for gold, there wouldn’t be enough gold to exchange, and a global crisis could ensue.