Electric vehicles grabbed headlines throughout 2017 and the buzz has continued in to the New Year. As a result, battery metals have been a focus for commodity commentators, and copper has garnered its fair share of the attention. Surging more than 30%, copper was one of the best performing commodities last year.
January invariably requires market commentators, investors and analysts to review the performance over the past 12 months, and predict what will happen in the coming year. The consensus sees copper demand increasing significantly over global supply in the next decade.
In 2014, there were less than 1 million electric cars on the road worldwide, this grew to more than 2 million in 2016 and the rate at which the world switches to EV is set to snowball. The UK and France have both announced plans to ban sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. While China struggles to reduce the levels of air pollution, it is accelerating preparations for the rise of EVs and, the Indian government, set to be the world’s third largest car market within five years, has pledged to sell only EVs by 2030. According to the International Copper Association, as much as 1.74 million tonnes of copper will be needed to meet EV demand by 2027, up from 185,000 tonnes in 2017.
However, the number of labour contracts up for renewal in 2018, is the highest it has been for nearly a decade. During this uncertain time, the threat of strikes is unnervingly high that analysts have started to factor in allowances for potential unrest. BHP’s Escondida mine, located in Chile, is the largest copper mine in the world. Last year it suffered a 43 day strike to protest layoffs. Chile is the world's biggest copper producer, and sales of the metal make up for about 60% its export earnings.
The second supply disruption comes from changes to China’s copper scrap import regulations. China has said they will stop accepting certain types of foreign solid waste, including metals, from 2018 if they do not meet stricter impurity thresholds. This has caused a major stir in the market as China is the world’s largest importer of scrap metal. Analysts say this cuts off a key source of supply for the world’s largest copper consumer and boosts refined copper markets, which are likely to see an increase in demand.
With these market dynamics, exploration and the discovery of new projects is back on the agenda and rapidly climbing through the priority ranks. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, the mining exploration sector rebounded in 2017, recovering from a protracted period of stagnancy since 2012. The annual global budget has risen to $7.95 billion, a 14% year on year increase. Improving market conditions and higher commodities prices in 2016 have led to increased investment, particularly in junior miners.
However, project discovery takes time and after a period of limited exploration there is now a shortfall in the development pipeline. EY reported capex spent on resource replacement has declined by 66% from US$20.5b to US$6.8b due to lower commodity prices and returns, over the last five years.
Through the support of SolGold’s board, management team, staff and investors SolGold has bucked this trend and has been actively exploring in Ecuador for the past five years. With a potential multi-billion tonne resource, our Cascabel project is mooted to be one of the most attractive mineral properties discovered in the last decade.