Mining Risk - Perceptions and Reality

Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 4
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1994
One common public perception of mining is that financially it is an extraordinarily risky business. Another and contrary view, in certain circles, is that price risk and other financial risks can be relatively easily removed or shifted by a number of schemes or devices. In reality, beyond the orebody discovery stage, mining need not be any more risky than most heavy industrial businesses. Nevertheless, as stated by Rappaport, (1986): Risk is a parameter of central importance in establishing the economic value of any asset. The level of risk is determined both by the nature of the firm's operations and by the relative proportions of debt and equity used to finance its investments. These two types of risk are commonly referred to as 'business risk' and 'financial risk' respectively. The term financial risk is used somewhat more loosely herein to recognise the reality that any risk inadequately addressed in the design, construction and operation of a mining project can have significant financial consequences; usually negative. For instance, a specific area of business risk in mining is often called technical risk which definitely has severe financial consequences if not managed correctly. The various risk shifting, hedging and risk management tools available all have their place and range from merely useful to almost indispensable. However, in the long-term, financial risks are maintained at acceptable levels by the application of sound, more fundamental business management principles. There are many with a vested interest in perpetuating a perception that the conceptual foundations of sound management practice are extremely complex. In reality, most management concepts are prosaic, but their application requires incredible discipline and hard work. There is no magic formula or 'silver bullet'. It appears that a company whose activities are restricted to mining can analyse the range of risks specific to mine development and operations more clearly than companies in which mining is just one of many businesses. The almost universal failure of large oil companies in the mining business is probably the best example of lack of any clear comprehension of fundamental business characteristics and risks. Conversely, in regard to risk management, choosing to be in other business as well as mining does nothing to reduce the risks of the mining business. The individual shareholder can probably make such 'diversification of portfolio' decisions better than most management teams. It could be argued that diversification across a number of disparate businesses may actually increase overall corporate risk due to lack of management concentration and focus. These differences between the perceptions of financial risks and the realities in mining need to be further elaborated in relation to some uncompromising business concepts.
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