The 2015 Metals outlook: What lies ahead

The mining industry has experienced a dire 12 months.

There have been mass layoffs, write downs, and projects being stalled or delayed, whilst exploration has basically come to a standstill.

From the Global Financial Crisis, which seemed to act as the ignition point for this apparently unstoppable boom, commodity prices continually tracked an upwards trajectory, and would do so for a number of years.

For all of the major metals, such as iron ore and gold, there have been huge falls recorded off the back of historically high prices.

Prior to 2014 new ceilings were broken in both these metals, which combined with a skyrocketing coal prices since 2008, essentially created the mining boom bubble, buoying up Australia's economy as it rode on the back of unbridled growth in China.

These good times – commodity price-wise – occurred as the industry was in its massive development stage, moving their deposits from exploration projects and through feasibility into a construction stage which was an investment and new capital equipment heavy period.

It was a golden age for the industry: one that came to a screeching halt in 2012.

Prices fell, quickly and surely.

Whilst iron ore held out and rescinded slowly, gold tumbled from its high point of almost US$1800 per troy ounce to just short of US$1100 per oz.

Coal, on the other hand, fell off a financial cliff, as thermal coal began its spike in August 2010 from US$ 96.19 to US$ 141.94 in the space of six months after which it just began a constant downwards movement.

Coking coal has also suffered, with ANZ's head of Australian economics – corporate and commercial, Justin Fabo, stating that the sector "looks oversold" with the market awash with oversupply pushing prices to multi-years lows.

In terms of all coal mining "major producers are showing no sign of supply discipline and demand growth is either waning of under pressure from alternative supply," Fabo said.

This was echoed by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, which said global commodity supply had grown significantly over recent years, placing pressure on prices in the medium term.

It said producers will need to continue to focus on managing costs and improving their competitiveness in order to survive downturn in price cycles.

"We believe the situation is unlikely to improve in the near to medium term," Fabo added.

However despite it all there is still optimism for the next financial year.

According to IBISWorld, while the end of 2014 and the start of 2015 will see an overall decline of 1.1 per cent in Australian mining revenues to approximately $232 billion, the 2015/16 financial year is pegged to quickly ratchet up, growing 7.1 per cent, with expectations for this upwards trend to continue into the following financial year with 2016/17 predicted to record an 8.4 per cent increase in revenues as recovery continues.

Fabo added that commodity markets have already entered the second half of 2014 on a mildly positive note, "but it's likely to be a far more gradual recovery than in the past as it will be tempered by lower liquidity and stronger US dollar as the US Federal Reserve edges closer to raising interest rates".

"At the same time, the lack of sustainable uplift in commodity prices on the back of increasing geopolitical risks around the world suggest the market is dismissive of their impact on commodity markets.

"But this view looks a bit too complacent and overall we see the risks skewed modestly to the upside for commodity prices in general."

IBISWorld's reports into the next few years have outlined how "growing output is forecast to support division growth in the next five years, which is forecast at a compound annual rate of 4.2 per cent, to reach $285.4 billion in 2019/20".

BREE expects Australian economic growth to moderate to 2.5 per cent in 2014/15, from 3.1 per cent last financial year.

It said mining was the key con-tributor to Australia's economic growth in 2013-14.

"Capital expenditure, par­ticularly in resources and energy projects, has been a key contributor to Australia's economic growth over the past several years. As these projects are completed and Australia transitions to a period of higher commodity production, exports of resources and energy commodities and sustained high levels of residential construction activity will be the key drivers of GDP growth over the medium term."

Overall, there is a positive trend expected.

In the following pages we break down how the commodities have tracked, and how analysts are laying out their future movement, metal by metal.

Because as Grant Thornton stated in its recent JUMEX report "not all commodity markets are the same, despite the uncertain global backdrop".

"So; while the overarching global factors are certainly very important for each commodity market, each market often has its own bespoke factors that can influence actual and expected prices.

"A key lesson from recent years, however, has been that some of these factors can be anticipated but some cannot: Factoring in the potential for unexpected development is vital," Grant Thornton said.

Read on to find out what lies ahead for our metals market.

The Iron Ore Outlook

The Copper Outlook

The Gold Outlook

The Silver, Lead, Zinc Outlook

The Nickel Outlook 

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