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Metals and Minerals: The Past Twenty-Five Years

Phillip Crowson
Phillip Crowson
Centre for Energy, Petroleum & Mineral Law & Policy, Dundee, Scotland, DD1 4HN
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January 01, 2005


Global political and economic developments shape both the demand for minerals and primary metals and their supply. Overall, demand has moved broadly in step with economic activity over the past 30 years. Notwithstanding the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, demand grew more rapidly in the second half of the period than the first. The performance of individual products within this general trend largely reflects the specific nature of their main end uses. The geographic center of demand has shifted away from the mature industrial economies of North America, Western Europe, and Japan toward the newly industrializing countries of the Pacific Rim, China, and India. Mine production rose with demand, but not always in precise step. New capacity was required not just to meet demand, even where that was static, but also to offset the continuing effects of ore depletion. There were also changes in the location of production in response to geopolitical forces, the depletion of ore reserves, and the changing economics of extraction and processing. The number of mines contracted, especially during the 1990s, and the scale of mining operations was increased in order to achieve the requisite cost savings. Prices fluctuated in response to changing balances between supply and demand, trending downward from the early 1970s until the early 2000s. Most products witnessed at least one sharp price spike during the period, usually with continuing repercussions. Prices picked up from 2003, but generally not back to their earlier peak in real terms. Profitability varied according to the products concerned. In many years the average rates of return on capital employed have been insufficient to cover the risks involved.

This Paper mainly covers the period from the late 1970s to the present day, but with references back to the early 1970s in order to set the scene for many subsequent trends. The mineral industry and its associated primary processing industries are integral components of the global economy. Mineral prices and profitability depend on the interaction between the demand for mineral products and their supply, which are in turn critically dependent on global conditions. Any realistic analysis of the industry has to place it within the context of these global economic and political conditions, and sketch out how the main global influences, both malignant and benign, have altered over the period. The next section of the paper therefore describes the context within which the mineral industries

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Special Publications of the Society of Economic Geologists

Wealth Creation in the Minerals Industry: Integrating Science, Business, and Education

Michael D. Doggett
Michael D. Doggett
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John R. Parry
John R. Parry
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Society of Economic Geologists
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 2005




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