JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) - Africa attracted 14% of the $8.4-billion budgeted for exploration for nonferrous metals globally in 2017, Standard & Poor's (S&P's) 'Global World Exploration Trends' report highlights.
Exploration in Africa was focused mainly on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso, Tanzania and South Africa.
Continued interest in West Africa made gold the top target, with the metal's share of regional spending jumping to 61% from 51% in 2016.
The increase in global exploration expenditure, from $7.3-billion in 2016, was the first yearly increase after four consecutive years of declining investment in this area, the report stated.
This was predicted to continue expanding over the course of this year.
Although the main focus of expenditure was on gold, accounting for 73% of the year-on-year increase, exploration targeting base metals assets also rebounded in the second half of the year, with battery metals exploration surging.
Lithium exploration allocations in 2017 more than doubled year-on-year, while cobalt-focused exploration also increased strongly.
Being the world's largest cobalt producer, the DRC received one-quarter of the global cobalt exploration budget in 2017.
Meanwhile, the report identified Canada, Australia and the US as the continued leaders in exploration spending, with allocations totalling $5.55-billion. The top ten countries accounted for 70% of the $7.95-billion global surveyed total.
By region, Latin America remained the most popular, with six countries - Chile, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia - accounting for 91% of the region's budget. Gold was the top target for the third year in a row, garnering 44% of regional spending.
S&P's Global Market Intelligence associate research director Mark Ferguson noted that improved equity market support for explorers allowed many companies to launch or resume drill programmes on their most promising projects.
"Despite significant market volatility, the generally positive trend in metals prices has continued in early 2018; we, therefore, expect the global exploration budget for the year to increase by a further 15% to 20% year-on-year."
Reflecting funding challenges faced by some junior companies early in the year, the number of explorers with spending plans declined slightly, by 3% year-on-year to 1 535 companies, while major miners with revenues greater than $1-billion continued to allocate only a small proportion of their revenues to exploration efforts.
Riskier exploration remained relatively unattractive, the report highlighted. "A long-term swing away from grassroots exploration has been exacerbated since 2013 by a combination of scarce funding for junior explorers and spending cuts by the majors.
"Although improved market sentiment over the past 18 months seems to have slowed the decline in grassroots exploration's share of budgets in 2017, another year of increase in the mine site share reflects the near-term focus of many producers, as well as a persisting climate of risk aversion," it read.
The total exploration figure was based on an underlying survey of more than 3 000 companies, of which 1 535 recorded an aggregate budget of $7.95-billion in 2017, compared with $6.9-billion allocated in 2016.