‘Three’s a charm’ points to a lucky outcome on the third attempt. After witnessing the mining sector tell its story at three conferences on three continents in three months, what lucky insights had I garnered?
Alongside supporting Hudson Sandler clients at these key industry events, I have had the chance to consider how the conferences stack up. Do they really differ? Are they important catalysts to drive the sector, its supporting markets and global trade? Or do they achieve little more than self-important navel-gazing and a boost for the hotels and bars of whichever cities host the influx of government officials and company executives eager to tell their national or corporate story?
I began in January at the Future Minerals Forum (FMF) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Whilst the Kingdom’s deep financial and even deeper oil reserves are well known, FMF revealed that KSA’s vast commodity reserves go far beyond the ‘black gold’ with which it has long been synonymous. Equipped with ample economic firepower to invest in the broader commodity sector and programmes to decarbonise and reduce reliance on petrodollars, major deals were the order of the day. Most notably, the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, PIF, announced a $3bn tie-up with its state mining fund Maaden, to invest in global mining assets to support its EV revolution. These ambitions were also boosted by HS client EV Metals Group signing a land, gas and power deal for the construction of its Battery Chemicals Complex in the country. The Forum’s Ritz Carlton venue with its palatial halls and chandelier-laden ballrooms was a fitting setting for many of the world’s trade ministers who attended, eager to secure deals. Behind them, the leaders of the mining majors lined up to tout their know-how as the partners of choice for Saudia Arabia. It was a courtship exercise like no other.
February was Cape Town – for the famous Mining Indaba. The advisory community to the entire sector downs tools for a networking marathon, putting the restaurants of Constantia, Camps Bay, and the V&A Waterfront to a demanding test. The event is grossly ‘over-broked’, though – in three days – it is a brilliant way of meeting your entire address book and expanding it. Hospitality aside, the real appeal is listening to the big beasts of the sector in full marketing mode. News that the world’s number 1 gold company Newmont was bidding for its top-10 rival Newcrest broke on the eve of the conference. This revelation drew more attention to Newmont CEO Tom Palmer’s speech. ESG credentials can hide a multitude of sins, though Palmer’s authentic presentation reassured that whatever growth comes, Newmont’s culture is stakeholder, not shareholder, led. Ivanhoe’s Robert Friedland, another industry titan, gave a JFK-inspired speech urging delegates to ask; not what Africa can do for you but what you can do for Africa. To the hardened cynic, it felt a touch too ‘showman’. Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of Eurasian Resources Group, delivered a simple and powerful message; to achieve the electric revolution, global industry is on the verge of placing the biggest purchase order in history with the mining sector, which is woefully under-invested to deliver on it.
My final stop was in Canada and Toronto for PDAC, where mining runs thick in the national DNA. A conference venue boasting hundreds of stands also reminded me that the sector is awash with junior and small-scale companies desperate to attract investment and partners to propel their projects to the next stage. Whilst it had less razzmatazz than FMF, the event, like Indaba, saw several of the continent’s governments in attendance, each promoting their jurisdiction’s mining-friendly credentials. Promises of less red tape, attractive royalty and tax structures, and investment incentives were a common cry. Sceptics point to slow progress and say, ‘twas ever thus’. Ultimately, however, if the sector needs to meet regularly to remind itself that it has a lot to do to sustainably service that ‘purchase order’, conferences cannot happen often enough.