Mining boom transitions to the next phase

With resource exports overtaking construction imports stage three of Australia’s mining boom has arrived.

Mineral exports rose 11 per cent in the March quarter, while imports of construction machinery used for mining investment plunged.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the country experienced a $5.6 billion trade balance lift in the March quarter.

Rising exports and falling imports delivered a $367 million surplus, up from a $5.2 billion deficit in December, SMH reported.

Exports of iron ore and other metals rose by $2.2 billion and imports of miscellaneous capital goods nose-dived 26 per cent or $1.1 billion, after seasonal adjustments.

The ABS estimates that in the six months to March, construction machinery imports, the majority of which is used in mining development, dropped 44 per cent year on year.

Seasonably adjusted metal ores and minerals export figures from the March-quarter last year dropped 13 per cent.

Using Professor Bob Gregory’s resources boom model, the numbers signify that Australia is transitioning from the second to the third stage of the resources boom, moving from mining investment to mining exports.

Despite volatile commodity prices, Australia’s exports remained strong, rebounding to $14.85 billion, the best month in almost a year.

And with previous year's investment slowly trickling down the pipeline, resource exports are expected to grow 28 per cent over the next five years, the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics forecasts.

Miners are shifting track, Rio and BHP are highlighting cost cutting agendas and moving to put underperforming assets up for sale.

Both have also cut exploration and capital expenditure budgets, putting major projects on hold in favour of working existing assets harder.

Mining contractors are also feeling the brunt of the transition, with mass layoffs and mining construction projects drying up.

Last month Australian Mining reported mining contractor Leighton took a $260 million hit when BHP replaced the contractor with a smaller company as it moved to cut costs.

The company expects to lose more than $260 million of work over the next two years as a result of the decision.

As the mining boom slows, companies continue to reassess their expenditure, and it seems they have contractors in their sites.

"Against a backdrop of increasing costs and falling commodity prices, BMA continues to focus on reducing its overheads and operating costs across the business," a spokeswoman for BHP said at the time.

In what many claim was the first sign mining contractors were to bear the brunt of expenditure slashing by resource companies, late last year Macmahon Holdings cut its earnings estimate in half for 2012-13, with CEO Nick Bowen resigning as a result.

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