Was 2022 as good as it gets for explorers?

THE latest analysis from advisory firm BDO shows that ASX-listed explorers raised a near-record A$3.02 billion in the December quarter.

Was 2022 as good as it gets for explorers?

According to BDO's Explorer Quarterly Cash Update, the amount raised in the December quarter was the second largest amount of funds raised in a quarter since the start of BDO's analysis in 2013.

It was a 66% increase from the $1.82 billion raised in the September 2022 quarter.

Exploration spend, based on all mining and oil and gas juniors which lodge Appendix 5B reports with the ASX, dropped 8% to $993 million in the December quarter, but remained historically high.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, total mineral exploration expenditure in Australia dropped 1.3% in the December quarter to $1.01 billion but was up 9.6% year-on-year.

"The money's there - what the stats are showing is that exploration companies are strong, they've raised a lot of money in the last quarter, they came back from a temporary dip in the previous quarter to raise $3 billion dollars in the quarter, which is healthy, and the cash levels are healthy," BDO head of global natural resources Sherif Andrawes told MNN.

However, earlier this week, resource investment group Lion Selection said it was seeing signs of "capital raising stress" emerging.

A managing director of a West Perth-based junior echoed those sentiments, saying that raising money in the current market was "a grind".

"All those guys who didn't raise money at the end of last year are in a world of pain," he told MNN.

He estimates it costs $60,000 a month to keep the lights on for an explorer "and that's standing still" and was aware of several juniors with less than $1 million cash in the bank.

According to BDO's analysis, 16% of juniors had less than $1 million at December 30, which remains historically low.

While it was difficult to get drill rigs a year ago, the junior MD reported receiving calls every day or two from drilling companies chasing business.

Earlier this week, drilling company DDH1 warned of "short-term" pain, saying it had experienced a weaker-than-expected start to the year.

Managing director Sy Van Dyk blamed weather impacts, regulatory approvals and deferral of drilling programs.

He said the company was confident of getting back on track in March and April and put the slow start down to juniors "running very hard" for the past two years and taking an extended break over Christmas.

March quarters are often the worst for exploration spend in Australia due to weather and the Christmas break.

Andrawes said a characteristic of juniors is that they don't tend to spend money unless they know they can raise more.

"My feeling is, is that there's going to be ups and downs - we'll have quarters like the September quarter where we're down a bit and we'll have quarters like the June and December quarters where we're up very high," he said.

"I think that's a feature we're going to see over the next period because the metals they're investing in - put gold aside - tend to be about a longer-term megatrend, energy transition, rare earths and that's a 10, 15, 20-year trend.

"To build the mines that are needed for the energy transition, you had to start exploring yesterday in time to meet the commitments.

"So I think the money's still going to be coming in, but it'll be sporadic - there'll be periods where it's a bit quiet or a bit higher but the overall trend is going to be very positive."

For the second year running, the biggest financing inflow was for lithium, attracting $1.2 billion in funds, down from $2.01 billion in 2021.

Rare earths raisings almost doubled from $350.5 million in 2021 to $698.7 million, overtaking oil and gas to be in third for the year.

Andrawes said the race to find rare earth supplies outside China was on.

"I think that the West, Europe, America, Australia are just coming to the party a bit late and are trying to make up for lost time and so they're trying to catch up," he said.

Despite the focus on energy transition metals, gold was still second, attracting $1.94 billion of funds in 2021 and $1.15 billion in 2022.

Andrawes noted the resilience of gold explorers, despite weak sentiment in the sector through 2022.

"Regardless of what happens in Australia, the ASX and gold exploration are interlinked," he said.

"Whether it's good times, bad times, gold will always be there."

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining News Intelligence team.

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining News Intelligence team.


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