Technology helps keep miners afloat but prices under water

Mon Feb 15, 2016 6:00pm EST
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* Commodity prices down as much as 80 pct from peaks

* Miners up spending on technology despite falling capex budgets

* Cost cuts mean miners that might have failed may pull through

By Sonali Paul and Nicole Mordant

MELBOURNE/VANCOUVER, Feb 16 (Reuters) - New technology is helping miners cut costs to survive the worst downturn in commodity prices in nearly two decades, which is good news for companies that might otherwise have gone to the wall, not so good for an industry drowning in overcapacity.

Commodity prices from coal to zinc are down in some case as much as 80 percent from record highs a few years ago, caused in part by slowing economic growth in China - for years the world's biggest user of raw materials - which shows little signs of abating.

Global resource-based companies have adapted to the fall in revenue by adopting new technologies enabling, for example, real-time tracking of operations, which helps reduce down time, saves fuel, improves safety and boosts production.

Despite the collapse in prices, Australian mining companies have suffered only a 20 percent fall in profits in the most recent financial year relative to 2012, according to government data.

That means mines that would have been doomed in past downturns are proving far more resilient, prolonging oversupply and keeping downward pressure on prices.   Continued...