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Chile Exploration Spending – 2023 Summary

Analysts generally agree that the supply of copper will become extremely tight unless new projects can be brought online. Demand for copper is expected to increase significantly due to the base metal being an essential element needed for the energy transition. Everything from electric vehicles to energy storage will require copper. 

Many producing copper mines are facing declining production, mainly due to social/community issues, water scarcity, lower grades, etc. For the mining industry to grow production to meet this future demand, it will be critical that there is a combination of brown and greenfield projects advancing to production. Equally important is that exploration spending increases so that there are new discoveries that can feed into the pipeline.

For this reason, it is good to keep an eye on major copper markets. Each year, Chile Copper Commision (Cochilco), publishes a report that analysis junior mining investment. They have recently published their report that highlights exploration spending in 2023. Below we have provided an overview.

Overview of Report

The focus of the report is exploration spending, with a particular focus on junior miners. The purpose of focusing on the junior segment is to analyze the progress and status of those exploration projects that can eventually become technically feasible and economically attractive.

Chile vs Global

  • In 2023, global exploration activity slightly dropped compared to 2022. Exploratory activity fell from US$13 billion in 2022 to US$12.7 billion.
  • Global exploration grew at an average growth rate of 16.1% per year since 2020.
  • The junior segment made up 41.6% of the overall exploration spending compared to the previous year which has been the highest since 2013 at 43.1%. The remaining exploration spending was by majors.
  • Latin America and Canada continue to lead the budget allocation of exploration and mining companies, reaching 26.4% and 19.1% of the global total respectively. It is followed by Australia, which obtains 17.2% of the budget in 2023.
  • In 2023, Chile continued as the main exploration budget destination in Latin America with a 24.7% share. Mexico was second with 18.6% and Peru with 14.6%.
  • Chile recorded an exploration budget of US$832m, positioning it as the fourth most important destination worldwide with a 6.52% share, surpassed only by the US, Canada, and Australia.

Exploration Spending Globally
Exploration Spending in Latin America

Investment in Chile

  • The metal most sought in Chile is copper. The percentage of dollars being spent is on copper exploration makes up 82.2% of the total investment in Chile. It is followed by gold which takes up 13.3% of the budget.
  • The country with the largest exploration investment in Chile is the United Kingdom, with a total spending of  US$353.9 million compared to the previous year which was US$237.1 million. United Kingdom makes up 44.5% of total spending in 2023. Canada follows with a 21.6% share for investment of US$115.3 million.
  • In terms of majors, Anglo American investment is equal to 17.4% of the budget. In second position, Rio Tinto made up 14/5% of the total budget. An increase from 3.2% the previous year. Lastly, Codelco maintains third place with 11% of the total budget.
  • Lithium has a slight increase in budget going from 9.7% in 2022 to 10.6% this year.  There are 24 lithium prospects, of which 14 are active and 7 paralyzed. Of the 24 lithium prospects, only 15 declare exploration budgets for the year 2023.

Junior miners in Chile

  • In 2023, there was 101 junior mining companies registered in Chile compared to the previous year when when there was only 88.
  • Of the 101 exploration companies registered in 2022, 71 of them are active, that is, they present at least one project with advances in exploration, resource estimation, studies or have acquired participation in properties. This is an increase of 19.3% compared to last year for the number of active companies.
  • Of the total number of exploration companies with prospects in Chile, Canada reaches first place with a 51% share out of a total of 101. Australian has 24% of the other exploration companies and Chilean mining companies with 14% – both decreased from the previous year.
  • The main source of capital and financing for these companies are stock exchanges specializing in mining and exploration, such as the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). Of the 101 registered companies, 86 are financed through the issuance of shares on the stock exchanges, and 68 of them specifically from the ASX or TSX stock exchanges.
  • 90.8% of exploration is taking place in the Northern Chile.

Conclusion

Exploration is an important part of a healthy mining ecosystem. It is no secret that large copper deposits are becoming more elusive.  Companies are having to explore deeper and farther away. To find new deposits, exploration spending needs to increase which is why it is important to monitor investment. Reports like this from the Chile Copper Commision (Cochilco) help us measure the health of the sector.

It will be interesting to see how changes to the Chilean mining code will impact exploration spending for 2024. The recent changes increase the cost of exploration permits for concessions that are not being explored. The goal is to encourage more exploration and reduce the hoarding of concessions by larger companies. 

Ax Legal is an advisory firm that works with foreign companies in Latin America. Our team of legal and commercial advisors have a distinguished track record of helping foreign technology and services companies to grow and operate in Latin America. Over the years, we have worked with starts up, mid-size businesses, and publicly listed companies. The one common factor that connects our clients is that they are leaders in their field, providing innovative technologies and services to the industrial sectors.

To better understand how we can support you in the Region, please contact Cody Mcfarlane at cmm@ax.legal