Apart from lifting—at least temporarily—the price of gold and gold producer stocks, the eventual effect of Brexit on the mining industry is unclear at this early stage of the process. E&MJ’s South African correspondent, Gavin du Venage, reported on initial impressions of how the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) might change the city of London’s long-standing role as a financial center for African mining interests.
The United Kingdom’s stunning decision to dump the EU has roiled world markets and will also bring uncertainty for Africa-focused resource projects that have long used London as a destination to raise capital.
The city has underpinned African mining ventures since before the time of Charles Dickens. Nineteenth century prospectors would solicit financing in smoke-filled rooms with a little more than a map and dreams of riches as part of their pitch. In this way, arch-capitalist Cecil John Rhodes raised the funds that would lead to two of the greatest names in African mining: diamond firm De Beers and resource empire Anglo American.
Today, London is as important as ever for capital raising. Anglo American moved its headquarters there from South Africa in 1990 and listed on the London Stock Exchange. Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Glencore are also on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), representing the elite of the extractive industry. South America-focused Vale is also on the main board with them.
An indication of the uncertainty around London as a financial center was the overnight plunge in listed property stocks following the announcement of voting results.
“Companies headed for London would require office space as well as residential housing, which has been driving the market,” a Johannesburg-based financier told E&MJ, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s the foreign buyers that have been pushing prices higher. Now it’s all about whether they will still keep heading over there to fund their projects.”
For the past half year or so, companies moving to London had signed leases with clauses that allowed them to cancel should Brexit become a reality, the financier said. It remained to be seen whether these clauses would be triggered and lead to companies departing the U.K.
London has been especially important to junior miners. In 1995, the LSE opened the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) to draw smaller companies needing funding. Over the next 20 years, it drew more than 2,400 firms that raised $40 billion collectively.
Many of these were not mining companies, of course, but resource firms remain an important part of the AIM. More than 120 are currently listed, with a collective value of nearly $3 billion. Alternatives to the AIM obviously exist, such as the bourses in Toronto (TSX) and Australia (ASX) that vie for junior listings as well.
The CEO of an AIM-listed junior with several southern Africa projects said the level of uncertainty around London-based financing came at a time when the industry was already struggling to draw capital.
“This certainly is the worst time for this to have happened,” he said, speaking from London via phone under the condition of anonymity. “We have a dual listing, both here and in Toronto and it may well come to it that we end our AIM listing and focus on the TSX.”
Capital raisings are the lifeblood of the mining industry. In a climate in which investors are already gun-shy, the added uncertainty around arguably the world’s most important resource investment destination cannot be a good thing.
“We may see a reorganization of the players in mining and commodity development, and perhaps in the short term a suspension or slowdown of some activity as investors get a clearer sense of how Brexit has informed their portfolios,” said Anzetse Were, a Kenya-based development economist. “I don’t think this will stop a long-term trend of continued interest and investment in the east African mining and commodity development space.”
Were said Brexit has made it clearer to African countries that the continent cannot continue to be victim to international dynamics that lead to fluctuating commodity prices. Africa needs to go beyond mining and build the processing necessary for the manufacturing of finished products from raw commodities in Africa.
“Beyond prospecting and mining, you may find east African countries build further partnerships with investors to build this manufacturing capacity,” she added.