If there’s one compensation to be drawn from the current downturn in the platinum sector, it’s that the top men of the four top companies in the global industry – all in South Africa, of course – are positive about the medium to long-term future.
Many people I speak to are up in arms. “It’s awful,” they say. “The platinum price seems to keep going down…. inflation keeps going up….labour unrest is worse than ever….even the big boys are putting mines on care and maintenance….what next, they ask?
What next, indeed! So we set about trying to find out, and we tracked down some of the industry leaders for their more informed opinions. And for me, more informed clearly means more positive and optimistic.
First on the list was Bongani Nqwababa – the acting CEO of the world’s top platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats). He leads the way and makes no bones about the fact that Amplats believes that while the short-term market for the precious metal will be extremely difficult, medium to long-term prospects are most attractive.
“Looking at the future global platinum supply-demand situation, we believe that platinum supply is likely to exceed demand in the short term, but that the longer-term supplydemand outlook for the platinum business remains attractive,” he states.
New Impala Platinum CEO Terence Goodlace says Implats is actively and collaboratively engaged in dialogue at the highest levels in an effort to create a sustainable long-term future for the industry for the benefit of all stakeholders,”
“The long-term market fundamentals remain sound and we continue to invest in our current suite of capital projects, and to optimise our current operations, in order to ensure stable future production of PGM’s,” he states.
Another exponent of the “medium to long-term success” theory is Mark Munroe, executive vice-president: mining of Lonmin – number 3 platinum producer in the world. He says: “It is a question of conserving our capital, but at the same time ensuring that when the upturn comes, as it will, that one is well positioned to take full advantage. It is this strategy that Lonmin trusts will take it to being a 950,000 oz/yr platinum producer once the market has revived.
Another optimist is Stewart Murray, CEO of Aquarius Platinum – the fourth-biggest platinum producer in the world: “We are in it for the long haul,” he says, “but first we have to see our way through what is a fairly unpleasant price environment. We have shaped the business accordingly,” he adds.
“I also note that we seem to be one of the few companies in the platinum industry that is willing pro-actively to take the required tough decisions to close the mines that need to be placed on care and maintenance,” he states. Aquarius has placed two of its mines on care and maintenance – Marikana and Everest.
One man who seems less agitated and more laid back than other platinum leaders in South Africa at this time is Steve Phiri – CEO of Royal Bafokeng Platinum – who says: “My feeling for the second half of the year is very bullish.”
“The current climate is likely to go deep into 2013,” he says. “That’s when things should start improving for the platinum industry, and should settle by 2015.”
Is it not interesting to note the common thread that runs through the fabric of these gentlemen’s thinking? And that common thread is the clear belief that no matter how difficult and unpleasant the platinum environment is today, it will move through the cycle and back into the good times in the next two to three years’ time.
Let’s hope that they are right.