Chilean mining group Antofagasta reported its annual results on Tuesday morning and to say that things aren’t good would be an understatement. Profits dropped 83%, revenues tanked by 34%, and the company cancelled its final dividend for the year.
Antofagasta’s results are indicative of the mining sector right now, which is in the midst of a huge period of turmoil thanks to the crashing commodity prices.
The price crash is being driven by slowing demand from China and massive supply gluts for many raw materials.
It has forced many commodity firms into big structural changes, with Anglo American cutting more than 10,000 jobs and frantically restructuring its business in the hope of remaining profitable.
In a note titled “The Hangover Part II”, Chinese firm Haitong Securities revisits several calls it made in late 2015 — before earnings season — on the state of the commodities sector, and particularly five large firms; Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Vale, and Glencore.
But perhaps the most interesting call it makes in the note is this — strategy at major commodity firms is dead.
Essentially, Haitong’s analysts believe that the situation is so bad for commodity firms right now that they have had to throw out any long term plans, in favour of simply surviving until things start to pick up again in the industry. They’re doing nothing but trying to keep their heads above water by ensuring balance sheets are protected.
Here’s what Haitong analysts Andrew Keen, Mathew Fearnley, and Nick Mellor have to say (emphasis ours):
Strategy at the majors is dead, for now. Still the case, or more accurately strategy has narrowed into balance sheet protection. RIO and BHP have slightly better balance sheets, but face a strategic “Catch 22”: they have room for acquisitions only if markets continue to improve, a scenario that is unlikely to force tier 1 assets out of peers. Glencore looks like the only active dealmaker (as a seller of assets) in 2016, while Anglo looks like running a jumble sale for the next six months. Vale’s move to align itself with Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) looks full of hurdles.
Other calls made in the initial note, released in October, and titled “The Hangover” included:
- Rethinking capital allocation — Haitong says that this has largely been achieved, citing dividend cuts implemented across the board as evidence.
- The industry is suffering a capacity hangover — This is still true, Haitong says: “Despite the very poor sentiment at the beginning of 2016, much of it driven by China, the fundamentals of key commodity markets were simply not that bad.”
- The cycle of capital expenditure is “unwinding” — Haitong says that this unwinding has been even more pronounced than expected. Capex at miners fell by 34% in 2015, and will fall another 25% in 2016, according to the securities firm. Both numbers are higher than previous estimates.
Alongside the note, Haitong has announced downgrades in their ratings to three of the world’s largest miners, cutting Glencore and BHP Billiton from Buy to Neutral, while also cutting Anglo American to Sell. That means that only one of the five commodity giants covered by Haitong’s note — Rio Tinto — still has a buy rating on its stock. That’s a pretty damning indictment of the sector.