Mining Indaba kicked-off last year in the shadow of China Inc's $2 billion play for Extract Resources' African uranium assets. This year it begins in the wake of the collapse of Barrick's deal to sell its African gold assets to China.
The deal with China National Gold, had it gone ahead, would have put a multi-billion price tag on Barrick's 74 per cent stake in London-listed African Barrick Gold - making it one of the few large transactions in the African space mooted in recent times.
The wave of write-downs on assets acquired by the big players that kicked-off 2013 make it likely that the prospects of mega-deals in Africa and elsewhere are fading. Barrick's problems are widely attributed to its $7 billion acquisition of former-Perth copper miner Equinox Minerals back in 2011, but there is growing expectation of strengthening deal-flow in the mid-cap end of the market. Azure capital director Richie Baston said he was hoping to see a "modest uptick" in African-focused M&A this year.
"We expect this to be driven in part by the continuing challenges facing single project companies requiring capital and the natural match with the mid-tier producers that have strong cash balances," he said.
That need for scarce cash has already seen some action on the markets, having been the driver for Noble Mineral Resources flirtation with China's Zhongrun Mining, before eventually settling on an $85 million convertible note deal that will almost certainly give effective control to Resolute Mining.
BDO corporate finance director Sherif Adrawes said the "capital raising by merger" approach would likely dominate corporate activity this year.
"There are always people looking at brand new things, raw exploration areas but I think what people will be looking for more than anything will be things a bit less risky than that, projects closer to development," he said. "And people with projects like that will be looking for benefactors, people to come in and help them. Raising cash isn't as easy as it could be, so what I'm hearing is there will be a lot of capital raising through merger or acquisition."
Despite the failure of China National Gold's negotiations with Barrick, there's little doubt Chinese miners will keep on the hunt for gold assets.
But even China has become more risk averse over the last year, making it more likely that deal flow will come in the $200 million to $500 million range, sources say.
The China Development Bank has repeatedly stalled Hanlong Mining's long-running takeover move on Sundance Resources, and other projects requiring infrastructure spending have also seen some cooling of interest.
And although there is some cause for optimism, Mr Baston warned that perceptions that Africa is becoming a riskier proposition may also temper corporate activity.
The re-emergence of political risk, the rise of social unrest in jurisdictions such as South Africa, and the outbreak of civil war in the previously highly regarded investment destination of Mali may cool interest in some parts of Africa, or force sellers to reconsider their expectations.
But that won't hurt the whole continent, Mr Adrawes said.
The reporter is attending Indaba as a guest of Gryphon Minerals
Pic: Barrick Gold's Africa operations.
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