The following is from the Metals Economics Group’s 21st Corporate Exploration Strategies study.
Responding to rising prices and more stable market conditions, most companies increased their exploration budgets in 2010, resulting in a 44% rise in the estimated worldwide exploration total for 2010. According to Metals Economics Group’s (MEG) 21st edition of Corporate Exploration Strategies (CES), the estimated total 2010 budget for nonferrous metals exploration reached $12.1 billion, reinstating almost two-thirds of the industry’s $6 billion in cuts to exploration in 2009. (Note: nonferrous exploration refers to expenditures related to precious and base metals, diamonds, uranium, and some industrial minerals; it specifically excludes iron ore, aluminum, coal, and oil and gas.)
After rising for six straight years to an alltime high of $14.4 billion in 2008, nonferrous exploration budgets dropped 42% in 2009 as the global economic crisis and declining prices for almost all commodities took their toll on the industry. Metals prices — the primary driver of exploration spending — have improved markedly since bottoming in early 2009, and have traded well above their long-term trends throughout 2010.
In response, major, intermediate, and junior companies have all increased their aggregate exploration allocations in 2010. In particular, the significant improvement in the availability of equity financings for the juniors over the past 12-18 months has allowed this group to account for the largest share of the overall increase in exploration spending this year.
As one would expect in a year in which exploration spending jumped 44%, most countries saw year-on-year increases in allocations (the 2010 CES documents exploration allocations in 125 individual countries); however, the industry’s overall appetite for risk has not returned to levels prior to the economic downturn. Companies continue to face the threat of resource nationalism, as more countries openly consider or enact windfall and resource rent taxes, increase royalties, or impose other controls on foreign companies such as revoking or freezing licenses for “review.” As a result, exploration in several countries considered to be higher risk continued to fall in 2010, despite the sharp rise in overall exploration, while other countries with elevated risk profiles showed only modest increases far below the global average. In addition, early-stage exploration, which is the most mobile and tends to be cut first when risk levels rise (or tolerance for risk declines), has all but dried up in many of these countries, with the explorers remaining focused on advanced projects and mines that are much harder to abandon.
MEG’s 2010 exploration estimate is based on information collected from more than 3,200 mining and exploration companies worldwide, of which more than 2,200 had exploration budgets in 2010. These 2,200 companies (each budgeting at least $100,000) have together budgeted $11.51 billion for nonferrous exploration in 2010, which we estimate covers about 95% of worldwide commercially oriented nonferrous exploration budgets. Including our estimates for all budgets that we could not obtain, the 2010 worldwide exploration budget total reaches more than $12.1 billion.