The December 2023 quarterly results have been released for Australian mineral exploration, revealing a national drop of three per cent in expenditure, despite reaching a record high in CY2023.

A seasonally adjusted minor increase in spending of 0.9 per cent was reported by the ABS for the December 2023 quarter. After the last two quarters of record-breaking growth, the statistics underscore what the industry has been observing. 

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies’ (AMEC) Chief Executive, Warren Pearce, said, “The trends are shifting to a decline in expenditure and metres drilled, with the hardest hit being exploration for new deposits.”

Using original terms, Australian mineral exploration expenditure decreased by 3.1 per cent ($35.9 million) to $1.124 billion quarter on quarter. Expenditure on greenfield exploration to discover new deposits decreased by 4.4 per cent ($16.4 million) to $353.8 million, while brownfield exploration rose 2.5 per cent ($19.48 million) to $770.3 million.

Mr Pearce said “It’s concerning to see that metres drilled continues to fall, with a five per cent decline for the total of new and existing deposits. New deposits alone fell by 13.6 per cent.”

Spending in the nickel and cobalt category recorded the lowest result since March 2022. Nickel and lithium explorers both experienced reductions in share price and commodity price.

In contrast, the ‘other’ category reached an all-time high, including mineral sands, uranium and diamonds. Silver, lead and zinc exploration increased by 25.1 per cent to $34.9 million followed by coal exploration increasing by 5.6 per cent to $90.9 million, which is almost a decade high.

Despite the overall small decline in mineral exploration expenditure, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia all recorded increases. Queensland recorded a $7 million (4.3 per cent) increase to $168.1 million, New South Wales increased $6.4 million (6.9 per cent) to $98.6 million and South Australia increased $3 million (3.9 per cent) to $79.7 million.

The largest decrease was experienced in Western Australia, dropping to $675 million down $34.8 million (4.9 per cent) from the state’s previous record high of $709.8 million in the September quarter.

Expenditure also fell in the Northern Territory by $11.3 million (15.2 per cent) to $63.1 million along with Victoria down $1.4 million (4.4 per cent) to $30.7 million and Tasmania dropping $1.8 million (one per cent) to $8.4 million.

Nationally, expenditure dropped for all commodities except silver, lead, zinc, the ‘other’ category and coal. 

Commodities that declined in expenditure were:

  • Iron ore – down by 13.1 per cent to $170.6 million
  • Copper – down 4.8 per cent to $173.9 million
  • Nickel/cobalt – down 14.4 per cent to $75.6 million
  • Selected base metals – down 4.8 per cent to $284.5 million
  • Uranium – down 14.3 per cent to $15 million
  • Mineral sands – down ten per cent to $15.3 million.

New South Wales recorded a 28 per cent increase in gold to $32.5 million, selected base metals were up 11.3 per cent to $37.4 million and copper was up 10.6 per cent to $23 million.

In South Australia, all commodities recorded an increase with gold making the greatest gains increasing 51.5 per cent to $5 million, and in the Northern Territory expenditure for gold was up 13.6 per cent to $20.1 million for the quarter.

“Overall, these results are a clear sign that the mineral and exploration industry is delicately poised,” Mr Pearce said.

“It also further strengthens calls for support from both State and Federal Government, to ensure the sector rebounds and can provide the platform needed for the ongoing energy transition.”

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