Key Takeaways from Diggers & Dealers 2023 Mining Forum:
Shifting Focus to Future Minerals: Beyond the golden history of Kalgoorlie (over 60 million ounces of gold mined), the conference spotlighted "future facing minerals". Presentations emphasised emerging critical and battery minerals, including lithium and nickel.
Pilbara Minerals' Transformation: Dale Henderson's compelling presentation highlighted Digger of the Year Pilbara Minerals' journey through the “Lithium Winter” of 2019 to a $15 billion powerhouse today. The company's remarkable turnaround and a $3.3 billion cash reserve sparked discussions on potential growth strategies.
Lithium Reigns Supreme: Lithium dominated the conference: in addition to Pilbara Minerals, the Dealer of the Year went to Allkem and Emerging Company of the Year to Patriot Battery Minerals, underscoring lithium's significance as a “metal of the future”.
Nickel's Resurgence and Challenges: Recent corporate activity in the nickel sector (including IGO’s acquisition of Western Areas and Wyloo's acquisition of Mincor), spurred intense focus on prospects for further consolidation of still-fragmented industry. Operational obstacles and personnel shortages mean junior companies still struggle to bring nickel projects to fruition.
Exploration Selectivity Amid Uncertainty: Several service providers noted that exploration companies are increasingly cautious, with several rigs remaining idle. Explorers are adopting a more incremental approach, directing efforts toward high-potential targets with significant prospectivity and reducing spend on high-risk, high impact holes.
Resurgence of IPO Market: Signs of a resurgent IPO market emerged, with consultants noting that they are actively preparing Technical Assessment Reports for floats, signalling the potential for renewed ECM activity after a very lean period in the market.
Lithium as a Blueprint: Emerging players in battery and critical minerals drew inspiration from the lithium market's growth over the past decade, using it as a template for predicting the development of other critical mineral markets in the short to medium term. Cobalt, vanadium, niobium and rare earths were all mooted as potentially significant opportunities.
WA's Role in the Energy Revolution: Western Australia is well-positioned to drive the new energy revolution's resource demands, yet effective collaboration between industry and government, along with further technical innovation, is imperative to maximise this opportunity.
Refining the Sustainability Approach: While industry-wide focus on decarbonisation remains prominent, mentions of 'net zero' and 'decarbonisation' in presentations decreased by 25% compared to 2022, potentially due to regulatory interventions concerning ‘greenwashing’. Companies are now striving to substantiate sustainability goals realistically.
Balancing Hype and Reality: Perhaps in recognition of the challenges in transitioning from exploration to production, promising developers nearing production urged investors to exercise patience, pointing to the potential for valuation re-rating upon achieving commercial production.
In a nutshell, the Diggers & Dealers 2023 Mining Forum showcased a forward-looking shift towards future minerals, highlighted by the remarkable success story of Pilbara Minerals, discussions around the stunning success of WA’s lithium industry, while underlining the necessity of sustainable practices and strategic collaboration for Western Australia's pivotal role in the global energy transition.