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Metals and mining: is caution the watchword for 2023?

2022’s extraordinary cash flows are in the rear-view mirror for most mining companies. Strong balance sheets give the majors options in 2023. But valuations are constricting M&A activity while inflation is forcing the rescheduling of projects. Companies will seek to maximise value from their existing portfolios through restructuring, organic growth and sales strategies.

Metals and mining companies’ cautious approach is underpinned by a mixed macro-outlook. We expect energy transition-focused commodities to outperform bulks in 2023. Will new capacity in copper and nickel push those markets into surplus? What would that mean for prices? And is a decline in lithium prices now a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’? Margins will cool, but can they remain above pre-pandemic levels?

Metals and mining corporate: five things to look for in 2023 explores our view on:

  • Pay to play: M&A will focus on early-stage assets as financing constraints emerge
  • Reimagining organic growth: companies will broaden their approaches to exploration and development
  • Friends with benefits: the majors will monetise their low carbon position through premia
  • Corporate focus moves to market positions in the post-China era
  • Spin to win: valuation differentials will shift focus to restructuring to unlock value

Aluminium

The aluminium market is set for another year of uncertainty and fluctuation. The wild card will be Chinese policy-making which will dictate both supply and demand. 2023 will also see a further acceleration in the industry’s move towards decarbonisation as renewable power makes further inroads.

Bulk steel alloys

In 2022, bulk steel alloy markets were characterised by diverging trends in China and the west. While western markets were most prominently shaped by the war in Ukraine, in China a ‘zero-covid’ policy proved to be a much more decisive driver. What will 2023 bring?

Cathode and precursor

Despite the many challenges of 2022 EV producers and their battery supply chain had a successful year and entered 2023 on a high. Can the industry sustain its high level of growth in 2023 – and go further by scaling production across the value chain?

Copper

Copper price volatility rose to its highest levels in over a decade in 2022. Will that continue in 2023? And is mine supply set to rise at pace?

Gold

2022 was no different from 2021 in terms of gold price volatility and averaged USD1,801/oz for the year. So, what do we expect for prices in the year ahead? And will the hunt for new ounces continue?

Graphite

Divergence is the key theme of the graphite market in 2023. The spherical graphite supply chain will move towards diversification. Industrial-grade flake prices will decline as demand struggles, but will battery-grade flake sizes disconnect from the rest of the spectrum?

Iron ore

The global iron ore market will continue to witness fluctuating growth trends in 2023, as policy volatility in China and energy inflation woes will beset the market.

How will this impact growth trends? How will miners’ investments be directed?

Lead

The global lead market was robust at the end of 2022. But what will 2023 bring? The extent to which high lithium prices slow the transition from lead to Li-ion batteries is one hot topic for the lead markets in 2023.

Lithium

The lithium market will continue to be underpinned by robust battery demand growth in 2023. Changes in cathode chemistry compositions and rising volume requirements are shaping the demand-side landscape. Will we see further developments in supply?

Metallurgical coal

The metallurgical coal market is entering 2023 on a strong note with rising hopes that trade will fully resume between China and Australia. Will we leave behind the disrupted trade flows, pressures on demand and volatility in prices?

Nickel

What is the future of the LME’s dominant nickel contract? Will hydrogen make its presence felt in the world of nickel? And will we see more investment in mined output in Africa?

Noble steel alloys

After an eventful 2022, will 2023 be calmer for noble steel alloys? Many of the events that caused such volatility last year are dissipating and, while others remain, the global markets have adapted. However, the pending stability could easily be upended.

Rare earths

As global efforts to decarbonise intensify, the rare earths industry continues to evolve. Covid-19-related disruptions dampened market sentiment within China in 2022. But is 2023 set to be an important year for growth?

Steel

Will 2023 will be a tale of two halves for steel? The first half could stay muted due to macro woes, but could the second half fare better as global economic activity revives and Chinese construction gathers pace?

Thermal coal

Coal markets remain tightly supplied with scarce capital spend. However, bearish global economic outlooks could threaten coal demand to the downside. Will prices retain strength in 2023 or are we headed toward a rapid fall?

Zinc

It’s set to be another year of heightened uncertainty and price volatility in the zinc market. Will European producers continue to manage output? Could Chinese rule changes disrupt concentrate flows?
Source: Wood Mackenzie

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