Virus damps upbeat mood among miners as financing dries up

NEW YORK: A gathering of prospectors and mine developers in Toronto began with an upbeat mood, despite the spreading coronavirus.

By the time it ended, reality set in, with signs of financing drying up.

The Bloomberg Industrial Metals Subindex Total Return has tumbled more than 10% since mid-January as the virus outbreak spread globally, disrupting the global supply chain and dimming demand outlook for raw materials.

“It’s slowing everything down,” SilverCrest Metals Inc President Christopher Ritchie said in an interview, referring to the outbreak.

“It’s not going to clear up anytime soon – financing, marketing, moving projects forward – most people are just stuck, from a junior-mining perspective.”

Investors are turning sour on small mining companies as the number of coronavirus cases top 93,000, fuelling market anxiety.

A worst-case scenario where all the world’s major economies face a disruptive outbreak could cause global economic growth to grind to a halt this year at a cost of US$2.7 trillion in lost output, according to Bloomberg Economics.

“From the perspective of financing mining companies, currently it’s very challenged,” Ilan Bahar, co-head of BMO Capital Markets’ global mining group, said during a panel discussion at the conference called PDAC.

“We need less volatility in the market for financing to return to more sustainable levels.”

The conference typically draws a huge delegation of Chinese investors.

This year, the management team of China Gold International Resources Corp opted to show up as they quarantined themselves in Vancouver, Kevin Shum, a consultant for the miner said.

The number of attendees fell 11% to 23,144 this year from a year earlier.

Participants peaked at more than 30,000 in 2012.

A bigger event originally scheduled for March 23 in Chile, the largest copper producer, was cancelled as the virus disrupts travel.

Freeport-McMoRan Inc Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson said last week that “everybody is on edge,” as the outbreak fuels uncertainty.

Still, some are unfazed by the virus that fuelled a record 80% slump in the monthly China sales of cars and the weakest factory activity on record in the Asian nation.

“The mining industry has been so challenged so many times the last few years, you think the coronavirus is gonna stop us?” said Joanne Jobin, head of investor relations at Ely Gold Royalties Inc.

“I can’t stop, the world is not going to shut down, and people have to take a more commonsense approach to this. It’s panic stories.”