LONDON, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Major mining companies are
looking to invest in countries they previously considered too
risky, including Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia,
propelled by a dwindling pipeline of big copper mines elsewhere
and record-high prices.
Investor wariness about uncertain regulatory environments,
challenging working conditions and corruption have meant some
listed companies favoured countries such as Australia or Canada,
despite the higher costs of operating there.
But perceived improvements - and the impetus for more
copper, a metal essential to the burgeoning electric vehicle
industry - are starting to convince some miners that the
possible reward could outweigh the risk.
"I am confident we have the capabilities to pursue
opportunities in what some would see as tougher jurisdictions,
but the size of the opportunity needs to be commensurate with
the increase in management effort that is going to be required,"
BHP CEO Mike Henry said last week.
BHP , the world's biggest miner, hasn't
been active in Africa since it span off South32 in
In Congo, the start up without hitches of big projects like
Ivanhoe's Kamoa-Kakula https://www.reuters.com/article/ozabs-us-ivanhoe-mines-congo-idAFKCN2D71DF-OZABS
mine provides reassurance for companies considering a project
in the country, investors say.
"Mining companies take a longer-term view than regimes last.
What is perceived as risky today might not be so in 10 years,"
George Cheveley, portfolio manager at Ninety One in London,
"When BHP developed Escondida, Chile was considered riskier
than it is now and look at the value of that project many years
down the line. One of the advantages of diversified miners is
their ability to manage risk rather than avoid risk," Cheveley
added. Escondida is the world's largest copper mine.
In Zambia, the August election of President Hakainde
Hichilema has been a "gamechanger", said Nick Schirnding,
chairman of exploration firm Arc Minerals, bringing a
promise of more business-friendly policies after his predecessor
was seen as antagonistic towards the mining industry.
"Going to places like Zambia has just become so much higher
on anybody's agenda," said Schirnding, whose company owns five
copper exploration licences in the country.
Arc Minerals hired investment bank Rothschild in March and
Schirnding said the company has received expressions of interest
from several majors, without giving further details.
Investors have become more tolerant in general, and the
African copperbelt's high-grade copper is a reward for the
higher risk, said Ian Woodley, a fund manager at Old Mutual.
"You can get 3% to 4% copper in the DRC and Zambia;
you can't get that anywhere else," he said.
'HORRIBLY WRONG' RISK
Congo has the world's biggest reserves of cobalt and is
Africa's largest copper producer, but it is ranked among the
worst countries in the world for "corruption perceptions,"
according to a Transparency International index.
A banking source who asked not to be named said Western
majors who previously would not have considered the country were
looking at it because of the shortage of new discoveries in
relatively safe jurisdictions in North America and Australia.
With copper prices reaching their highest yet above $10,000
a tonne in May and Goldman Sachs forecasting they could hit
$10,500 by the end of 2021 as the world thirsts for metals
needed to power the energy transition, miners are looking far
But the dangers have not gone away.
"If you go in there transparently, you're upfront and you
follow all the rules, I think people will give you the benefit
of the doubt - but you have to be careful," said Old Mutual's
"We've seen miners going into different locations; sometimes
they get it right and sometimes they get it horribly wrong."
(Reporting by Clara Denina in London, Melanie Burton in
Melbourne, and Helen Reid in Johannesburg; editing by Barbara