It seems a bit surreal that 1850 delegates will be descending on Kalgoorlie-Boulder, the world’s gold capital, for the annual hosting of the Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum from tomorrow morning.
With much of Europe bracing for a second or third wave of COVID-19, the US being Trumped and authorities on high alert in eastern Australia, the fact a large crowd can gather in a place like Kalgoorlie-Boulder for three days of conferencing and four nights of networking is quite extraordinary.
A two-month delay from its usual slot in early August appears to have done little to dampen delegates’ enthusiasm for this year’s rendition of Diggers & Dealers, despite COVID-19 and the hard border consequences that will make this very much a West Australian affair.
Much more precious
Then again the silver – or rather, gold – lining of COVID-19 has been the rampaging price of the precious metal. We were all pretty excited at last year’s Diggers & Dealers when the gold price was around $US1500/oz or $2159/oz – almost poverty levels compared to today’s price of $US1916/oz or $2634/oz.
Diggers & Dealers 2020 was always shaping as a celebration of WA gold given the news late last year that Northern Star Resources and Saracen Mineral Holdings had each acquired 50% of the Super Pit – one of the world’s great and arguably the most famous gold mine.
The fact that Northern Star and Saracen last Tuesday confirmed a merger of equals – in truth, a takeover by Northern Star of its smaller Super Pit partner – to create a $16 billion global leader just adds the tonic to a Diggers & Dealers that will have to make do without interstate and international miners, dealers and fund managers, kept away by the pandemic.
As good as Diggers & Dealers is as a mining and networking event, only the bravest of non-West Australian Bravehearts would have put up with two weeks of quarantine in Perth prior to a trip to Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Let’s Zoom in
If there is one thing that COVID-19 has taught us, it is that virtual conferencing and presentations can be just as powerful and successful as their face-to-face version. Long after COVID-19 becomes a footnote, no shortage of mining executives will be relishing the fact they no longer have to fly around the world every other month to present their wares face-to-face.
Not surprisingly, Diggers & Dealers has added a streaming component to its conference presentation schedule.
Whether this new-found enthusiasm for virtual participation extends to after-hours virtual networking remains to be seen. If it can be done, it will happen at Diggers & Dealers.
Certainly the party planners at the likes of Hartleys (or, as of last Thursday, Euroz Hartleys), Macquarie Bank, Argonaut and Diggers & Dealers sponsor Canaccord Genuity are pushing ahead with their evening social events – by design or because of COVID-19, Canaccord’s Perth executives and former Paterson Securities leaders Michael Manford and Aaron Constantine will take on prominent roles this year.
The lead-in, usually dominated by myriad site visits as miners make the most of a captive audience needing to get to Kalgoorlie-Boulder by tonight, will be different.
Most focus – and the hottest and possibly only sponsored ticket to town – is the Super Pit partners’ site visit for investors, media and special people, followed by a sundowner at the Super Pit lookout. KCGM paraphernalia could prove popular – the days for Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines, the tradition-rich operating company owned 50-50 by the Super Pit’s owners, are likely numbered.
WA Premier Mark McGowan flies in as tomorrow’s keynote speaker – even the sizeable loot on offer for the international guest speaker usually featured at Diggers & Dealers was probably not enough to convince a global authority on monetary or economic policy to spend two weeks in quarantine in Perth prior to flying to visit Kalgoorlie-Boulder for the one-hour address.
The Premier will add to the parochial feel at Diggers & Dealers. Five months out from an unloseable State election, the Premier will no doubt be reminded that it has been the mining sector – particularly iron ore but with a decent dollop of gold royalties – that allowed his Government to announce a $1.2 billion budget surplus last Thursday.
A golden crop
Monday morning’s keynote address is always difficult to top – so why not ask the Super Pit owners to present back to back?
Northern Star’s Bill Beament has pulled his executive chairman’s rank to replace CEO Stuart Tonkin as post-morning tea presenter while Saracen boss Raleigh Finlayson, originally slated for an early slot on Tuesday, has been shuffled forward to follow Beament tomorrow. It makes sense, of course, to hear from the merger-of-equal partners one after the other.
If the smart money is to be believed, the Northern Star and Saracen teams will reunite on Wednesday night to pick up the joint Dealer award – for their respective share of the Super Pit.
They could also win next year for their merger-of-unequals, which would make it three Dealers in a row for Northern Star (the Pogo buy won Northern Star the 2019 gong).
Not that Richard Hyde, boss of one of the ASX’s newest gold producer’s West African Resources, should complain. Having been bumped from his Monday slot to make way for Finlayson, Hyde gets the Saracen boss’ Tuesday morning gig following Kirkland Lake Gold president Tony Makuch’s session opener – a likely virtual presenter.
Hyde is a contender to be back on stage on Wednesday night when the 2020 Digger award is announced.
New St Barbara boss Craig Jetson will introduce himself – presumably via Zoom – on Tuesday morning after Gold Road Resources CEO Duncan Gibbs adds a dividend story to Gruyere’s stunning exploration and production success tomorrow afternoon.
Some say De Grey Mining’s Hemi discovery in the Pilbara could rival Gruyere in size, which may explain why this explorer is valued at $1.6 billion and a contender for the Best Emerging Company gong. De Grey boss Michael Jardine will argue his case on Wednesday.
Powering the new world
Gold may dominate but there are other commodities that will attract a lot of interest.
Elon Musk has helped to inject some enthusiasm into nickel sulphide stocks – Mincor Resources and Independence Group will be presenting and the likes of emerging players St George Mining are exhibiting – while BHP Nickel West’s Eddy Haegel may be asked on Tuesday to address how close he is to signing a supply deal with Tesla.
It will also be hard to go past Chalice Gold Mines and its phenomenal Julimar palladium discovery not far from Perth, which could captive delegates on Tuesday evening.
WA’s group of potash and sulphate of potash developers are nearing the pointy end of offtake, financing and construction schedules, with Salt Lake Potash presenting on Wednesday and others like Australian Potash likely to attract significant attention in and around the marquee.
A balancing act
Amanda Lacaze has long been one of the more popular presenters though this year the Lynas Corp boss has handed presentation duties to the rare earths miner’s vice president upstream, Kam Leung.
No doubt Lynas’ progress building its processing plant near Kalgoorlie-Boulder will be a topic of conversation and watched closely by the next generation of ASX rare earths producers Hastings Technology Metals and Northern Minerals.
Lacaze, of course, has been a flag bearer for gender diversity at Diggers & Dealers, alongside long-term presenter Elizabeth Gaines, the Fortescue Metals Group CEO who speaks on Tuesday.
Pleasingly, South32’s chief financial officer Katie Tovich makes her Diggers & Dealers debut tomorrow evening, which should attract a large audience.
Which is a nice segue to the GJ Stokes Memorial Award, named after the Diggers & Dealers’ founder.
Since the award’s inception in 1997, the impressive list of awardees is a genuine who’s who of mining. It is also a list exclusively of men.
Maybe 2020, a year that has rattled the status quo the world over, will deliver a change in Kalgoorlie-Boulder on Wednesday night.