ABS releases exploration data for the March 2020 quarter
When seasonally adjusted, exploration expenditure over the quarter decreased by 0.6% (-$4.3m) to $712.7.6m. When compared with the March quarter 2019, there has been an 18.3% year on year increase from $581.7m. It is normal for the March quarter expenditure to be less than the other three quarters of the year, which could be attributed to delays in new year start-ups and reduced activity due to the wet season in the northern regions.
Mineral exploration seasonally adjusted (source ABS)
In original terms, there is a significant drop in expenditure from the December 2019 quarter of 20.1% to $602.1m. Spend on existing deposits fell by 16% and on new deposits by 26.1%. The largest decrease in spend was on base metals. Some of this drop-off could be attributed to the impact of COVID-19 with many drill sites operations being either restructured or stood down during March.
Mineral exploration original terms (source ABS)
Actual metres drilled for the March quarter rose by 3% seasonally adjusted to about 2.8 million, compared with about 2.7 million drilled in the same period in 2019.
Metres drilled seasonally adjusted (source ABS)
Looking at the original series figures, metres drilled on existing deposits was about 1.45m (1.4m in 2019) and on new deposits was 0.8 million (0.75m in 2019).
Metres drilled original series (source ABS)
In conclusion, the numbers do highlight a slowing in exploration spend and metres drilled which could be attributed to COVID-19. A better understanding of its impact will be seen when the June quarter numbers come out in September. We do know that many of the larger existing mines are continuing with their drilling plans under restructured operations, but there are many remote exploration projects that are in hiatus and waiting for more certainty around funding and site access.