While exploration in Africa is also feeling the impacts of a struggling global economy, the gold sector remains steady.
Although Africa is still the continent with the lowest per capita gross domestic product, its nations include many of the world’s fastest growing economies. In the first decade of this century, all ten of the fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa, and African foreign direct investment rose five-fold between 2001 and 2010. Indeed, Africa has seen sustained growth since 2000, with the boom itself being mainly commodity driven.
However, as indicated in the ‘State of the Market’ report on Africa from IntierraRMG, the worldwide fall in exploration activity since October 2011 has also been apparent in Africa, where the malaise has been severe since mid-2012. Drilling reports in the five months to end-May this year slumped to just 250. The annual figures have disguised this recent slump, with total drilling activity on the continent increasing last year to an overall 1 240 reports. Drilling reports had fallen to 790 in 2010 before climbing to a cumulative 1 127 in 2011.
Whatever the absolute level, gold has retained a remarkably consistent share of the total; 61% in 2010 and 2011, 56% in 2012 and 65% over the first five months of this year. Drilling reports for African gold peaked in October 2011 at 83 prospects (and 80 the following month) but touched a nadir of 23 prospects in May.
As IntierraRMG editorial director, Chris Hinde, states, “This represented over 85% of the drilling reports for May, with barely any exploration on the continent for other metals (there was a total of only 27 drilling reports). Drilling for copper in Africa slumped to just three reports in May. Reports on copper drilling had reached 18 prospects in each of September 2011 and August 2012, but had fallen to seven prospects in April 2013.”
According to the IntierraRMG database of almost 3 500 listed companies, a total of US$829 million has been raised since end-May 2011 for exploration in Africa. This financing (incorporating convertible bonds) includes money raised for prospecting, sampling, exploration drilling, resource-definition drilling, surveying and for preliminary metallurgical test work. Money raised for gold exploration dominates the two-year ranking, accounting for almost 57% of the total. Some way behind, the search for copper, coal and iron ore account for only 7.9%, 7.2% and 6.3%, respectively.
Given the dominance of gold exploration in the financing objectives, it is no surprise that West Africa accounts for over 41% of the African total. The region is defined for this purpose as Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger and Nigeria. A further 18% of the finance raised over the past two years is accounted for by exploration in the four Southern African nations of Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.