Productivity tops mining and metals business risks list

Johannesburg, 5 August

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Productivity is now the top business risk facing mining and metals companies globally, ranking number one in EY’s annual Business risks facing mining and metals 2014-2015 report released today.

Wickus Botha, Mining & Metals sector leader for EY Africa says, “Productivity has declined across the sector globally and across emerging markets and will require complete business transformations to fully recover. Botha points out that a contributing factor to this has been that nearly all cost categories in the South African mining and metals industry increased at rates substantially higher than consumer and producer inflation indexes. Many of the input costs were driven by “administered prices” such as electricity and water or by international pricing of steel, oil and rubber.

Productivity ranked at two on last year’s risk list and was ranked at number four in 2012.

Botha says: “Boards and CEOs are now realising that regaining lost productivity and gaining new ground is critical for long-term profitability and requires a whole-of-business response.

“Cost cutting measures alone will not achieve the longer term productivity gains required. The super-cycle altered the DNA of mining companies to adapt the processes, performance measures and culture solely toward growth. The transformation has occurred by stealth and the counter-transformation will need to be far more radical.”

Capital allocation and access to capital, which was top of the risk list a year ago, remains a key issue at number two, while social license to operate moved up from four to number three. Access to water and energy is a new entry in the top rankings at number 10.

The 2014 top 10 strategic business risks in the global mining and metals sector:

  1. Productivity (2 in 2013)
  2. Capital dilemmas – allocation and access (1)
  3. Social license to operate (4)
  4. Resource nationalism (3)
  5. Capital projects (7)
  6. Price and currency volatility (6)
  7. Infrastructure access (9)
  8. Sharing the benefits (8)
  9. Balancing talent needs (5)
  10. Access to water and energy (new)

Capital allocation and access remains a key issue

The capital allocation dilemmas have fallen from last year’s top spot however it remains a pressing issue Steady progress has been made by the major industry players on capital management and optimisation following a spate of asset write-downs in 2013. However, at the other end of the sector, little has changed in the past 12 months for many juniors and explorers and they remain cash-starved and focused on survival.

Social license to operate is an imperative

Botha says: “Social license to operate has consistently been near the top of the risk rankings and this year is no different. The number and size of projects being delayed or stopped due to community and environmental activists continues to rise.

“Organisations cannot assume that acceptance from the community and its stakeholders will always be maintained. Organisations should be integrating the activities required to obtain and maintain a social license into the broader strategic plan of a more sustainable business.”

Resource nationalism retreats and advances

Despite declining commodity prices, there remain waves of resource nationalism by countries keen to gain a greater return from the mining and metals sector. On the one hand, some countries, such as Kazakhstan and Vietnam, have changed mining tax policies to become more attractive to mining investment in a lower investment environment. However at the same time, South Africa and other countries such as Zimbabwe and Indonesia have introduced mandated beneficiation and increased state ownership.

Botha says: “Mining and metals companies need to continue to educate governments on the impact of resource nationalism on investment decisions, whether that is taxes or in-country processing requirements and the like. They must continue to demonstrate the benefits of mining to the community and that raising the cost of doing business may jeopardise those benefits.”

Capital projects

While the public capital markets still do not have an appetite for investment in new supply, mining and metals companies are beginning to quietly prepare for the inevitable investment as reserves need replacing and the cycle changes.

Botha adds: “Mining companies do not want to make the same mistakes they made during the super-cycle and boards will be demanding much more robust capital project management to avoid the failures of the past. As supply shortages for many commodities start to come through and investments get the green light, this risk will be high on CEO and Board agendas.”

Access to water and energy

Accessing water and energy is an essential part of operations for mining and metals companies and this was viewed as an “under the radar” business risk in 2013.

Burgeoning energy costs and competing water demands in many mining regions around the world, particularly South Africa, Chile, Peru and Mongolia are starting to have a bigger impact on costs and the ability to operate, pushing this risk up into the top 10 for the first time.

Mining companies spent US$11.9b on water infrastructure globally in 2013 alone, an enormous 250% increase from US$3.4b in 2009. Similarly, global energy prices have leapt 260% since 2000.

Botha says: “With global demand for energy expected to increase 36% by 2025, and with falling ore grades, risk related to access to water and energy is compounding year by year with the sector facing higher energy prices and volatility. Managing costs sustainably is a priority and we expect to see increasing reliance on renewable energy in the sector as the cost declines, especially in remote areas.

“Similarly water scarcity is an issue demanding a strategic and practical response. Companies that treat water risks as a strategic challenge will be far better positioned in the future.”

Sharing the benefits

Even though sharing the benefits remained in the eight position globally, it has moved up on the agendas of South African miners. Botha concludes: “We need to make sure we understand the various stakeholders – workforce and organised labour are two different constituents and need to be handled differently. Companies need to make sure that they engage with their employees and not just the labour unions. This will ensure loyalty, alignment of thinking and elimination of perception and communication gaps.”


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