Gold miners the 'winners' in tech shift

ANALYSTS from Barclays have picked out gold miners Agnico Eagle, Barrick Gold and Newmont as potential big winners from “accelerated application” of digital, automation, electrification and other technologies in the global mining industry over the next five years, but they believe the same technologies are going to be a double-edged sword for copper producers.
Gold miners the 'winners' in tech shift Gold miners the 'winners' in tech shift Gold miners the 'winners' in tech shift Gold miners the 'winners' in tech shift Gold miners the 'winners' in tech shift

Newmont's Borden mine uses electric vehicles underground

Staff reporter

The bank says in a lengthy commentary on the looming "material" impacts of prominent technologies on mining, and mining costs, historical deflationary effects that had been a "headwind to the industrial commodity space" could shave 7% off average copper production costs but also deliver significantly more copper to the market from marginal mines up to 2025.

"The key driver of bull markets is market deficits," bank analysts said.

"However, if our projections of supply growth through innovation are correct, the timing of these deficits is pushed back significantly.

"We continue to believe a bull market is coming in copper, supported by the mine capital cycle, however the timing of this bull market is much further out than we previously expected.

"Based on our analysis, we expect copper supply to grow 19% over the next six years, 7% above the industry base case, keeping the market in surplus until 2026.

"We see all-in sustaining costs dropping 7%, with the hurdle price for marginal new copper supply dropping below $3/lb.

"We reduce our long-term copper price to $2.75/lb from $3.10/lb."

But Barclays' research, which it said was based on interviews with mining executive teams and site managers as well as leading supplier "channel-checks" - with feedback diffused across more than 250 mines to understand potential impacts on costs and also supplier business models, suggested gold miners were the real beneficiaries of faster technology take-up.

"Gold miners are uniquely poised to benefit from technology-induced supply growth and cost deflation given that the gold price is driven more by macro factors than by supply/demand," the bank said.

"In the gold sector, innovation drives production 10% higher than the 2025 base case and median costs fall 4%, with the incentive price of a marginal underground gold mine falling by close to 7%."

While the median 4%, or US$25/oz, AISC change is significant at the sector margins, Barclays' assessment of an overall $150/oz pre-tax cash margin gain at $1,500/oz gold equates to large-scale value creation in the order of $8.2 billion.

"Our incremental innovation supply growth estimate of about 4Moz by 2025 is unlikely to influence the gold price very much, unless you assume the vast majority of above-ground gold stocks are price sensitive," the bank's analysts said.

"Even so, in the short term supply-drive price impacts would be fairly negligible relative to other factors, [such as] speculative flows related to investment demand.

"It is only in the long term that cumulative incremental gold supply may drag on price, but even then we would not predict a significant impact."

Barclays believes miners will continue to share insights into gains from mainly non-proprietary "innovations" based on the industry's historical non-competitive mindset when it came to applying technology. "Technology is not likely to create new barriers to entry, but rather will potentially reduce them by improving the economics of marginal production," it says.

"Rather than focusing on the delivery or communication mechanism - centralised or distributed, private or public, we feel the success of the innovation strategy comes down to culture.

"We see at Agnico Eagle, Barrick Gold and Newmont a progressive and continuous drive for efficiency and returns, with the scale and the assets to achieve it."

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