Navigating volatility in mining and metals

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Mining and metals

Navigating volatility

Do you change your business or the way your business works?

Volatility has been an ongoing challenge for companies seeking to maintain a strong balance sheet and develop plans for long-term profitability. This is a challenge that management will need to deal with for some time.

Fluctuations in commodity prices have become more rapid and frequent as commodity demand has become increasingly unpredictable. The longer-term economic outlook is also volatile, leading to the possibility of substantial revisions to long-term metal price forecasts and making it hard for mining and metals companies to plan for the future.

The impact of China and emerging market demand is also difficult to understand or predict. So as prices fluctuate and there is limited pricing or demand visibility, management is struggling to plan operations and capex.

Investment decisions and business strategy need to factor in the variability in outlook, particularly as long-range business forecasts (e.g., metal/energy prices, FX rates) are updated. The following graph illustrates how copper prices and quarterly long-term consensus price forecasts have changed since 1 January 2000.

EY - Quarterly commodity price fluctuations 1980-2016  EY - Copper prices

The key to success is agility and getting into shape to deal with volatility now. It is important to focus on six areas that will lead to more effective cash management.

Click a section to read more

EY - Cost reduction
EY - Working capital
EY - Productivity
EY - Capital effectiveness
EY - Portfolio strategy
EY - Financing

Further insights on these six areas will be added to this page.
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Where to from here?

Our advice to companies operating in an uncertain environment:

  • Consider all six levers we have discussed in this paper, not just one, as they are all important and should be dealt with concurrently
  • Break free of pro-cyclical, short-term behavior and instead consider the impact of your actions on long-term productivity and future growth
  • Look to other sectors for ideas of business optimization
  • Don’t forget the importance of people as success requires leadership and tone from the top — lead by example and others will follow
  • Always consider the reaction of shareholders and stakeholders
  • Don’t limit your thinking to what’s possible

Cost reduction

Creating sustainable and long-term value
During the mining boom, miners saw costs escalate in some cases by over 200% (such as fuel, energy and people). Initially higher commodity prices masked these costs, but as prices have fallen, these embedded higher costs have been impacting bottom lines. Miners started eliminating costs from all areas of the business, including reducing capital expenditure and labor. However, there are still a lot of opportunities to remove costs from the business, and miners need to maintain a focus on building a long-term sustainable cost base while making certain that cost reduction activities do not contribute to value erosion. This can be achieved in the areas of general expenses, low-cost country sourcing, offshoring/outsourcing and procurement.

EY - Cost reduction


Working capital

Unlocking cash in the sector
Mining companies focused on working capital have typically achieved reductions of 30% or more. For larger mining companies, this can mean reclaiming hundreds of millions of dollars of capital back into the business.

Processes and systems across the supply chain, particularly with regard to inventory, accounts payable, and WIP and finished goods, are the biggest areas where gains can be made. The next wave of improvements will require cultural change and data analysis.

EY - Working capital


Portfolio strategy

Capital allocation and portfolio strategy are critically linked
Empirical research suggests that companies that actively and dynamically manage their portfolio of assets achieve better longer-term returns than companies with a buy-and-hold strategy. For the mining sector, with capital decisions played over such a long period of time, and profitability so intrinsically linked to broader macroeconomic factors, effectively managing portfolios is a difficult task. This is made even harder with the heightened level of volatility being experienced.

Active portfolio management will remain a key priority in constructing an optimum portfolio. There needs to be a focus on optimizing the performance of assets through portfolio improvement and cost control measures.

EY - Portfolio strategy ×

Capital effectiveness

Making your existing assets work harder
A program built on the back of good asset management fundamentals will work as a platform to drive productivity and manage risk. Extracting more value from existing assets presents an opportunity to improve asset management capability. This can help to drive productivity and manage risk in a cost-constrained environment.

Key areas to achieve this is through advanced asset management, sustaining capital and capital productivity.

EY - Capital effectiveness



Balance sheet flexibility is key during this period of volatility
While there is a significant level of debt across the sector, and leverage is high on the back of lower earnings, a large proportion of debt is covenant lite and many corporates have taken action to push out maturities and reduce servicing costs. The associated distress, therefore, is perhaps lower than might otherwise be expected in such difficult market conditions.

Balance sheet flexibility remains critical during this period of volatility, and so does the associated “right-sizing” of debt levels to the underlying profitability of operations. Releasing capital to pay down debt can be achieved via dividend cuts, divestments and streaming.

EY - Financing