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Australia Mining Trends 2019: Humps, Bumps and Trumps

The Investing News Network takes a look at Australia mining trends for 2019, with a macro view of the issues that came to the fore.

Click here to read the latest Australia mining trends article.

Globally, the overall trends in the resources industry in 2019 were the ongoing impact of the US-China trade war coupled with general uncertainty — as shown by the rising gold price and a mixed bag of results across base metals.

For Australia, it was a year that saw the resources industry holding up the numbers in the country’s economy, with mineral exports keeping the national budget in a surplus (albeit a thin one) and out of a recession, despite faltering national economies the world over.

Overall, the country’s government forecasts that its mining export revenue will be a cool AU$282 billion for the 2019/2020 financial year, a record number.

Even so, analysts approached by the Investing News Network (INN) agreed that 2019 was not an easy year for the sector, talking of growth, but difficulty in financing. Read on for more of their thoughts on Australia mining trends this past year.

Australia mining trends 2019: The year in perspective

To sum up attitudes, Owen Hegarty, who is executive chairman of EMR Capital, told INN at the International Mining and Resource Conference (IMARC) in November, “The trend in 2019 was one of consolidation — the world has seen a few ups and downs, a few humps, bumps and Trumps.”

Hegarty pointed to all the usual suspects impacting the industry: the trade war, the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit as the year wore on and, of course, US President Donald Trump himself.

Despite a year of caution and uncertainty, Hegarty said that there is still good, strong demand for resources around the world.

“You’ve still got demand in the developing economies, in China, India and Indonesia. All of those countries that are near (Australia). They are all good and growing.”

Warren Pearce, CEO of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, said that sentiment was more positive in the lead up to 2019, but the year only partially held up to expectations.

“Heading into 2019, we were confident that the coming year would see a strong recovery for the mining and exploration industry, but that has only partially occurred,” he said.

“Strong commodity prices generally have certainly buoyed mining companies and spurred growth and expansion efforts, (and) exploration has continued to grow. However, over the course of the year, we have seen the balance between greenfield and brownfield exploration shift towards brownfield as explorers struggle to raise capital for greenfield projects.”

For his part, Pearce commented, “(This has) partly reflected the fortunes of the industry, with 2019 seeing an extremely difficult investment environment for the resources sector, primarily driven by ongoing uncertainty in the global economy.”

Paola Rojas, managing director of Synergy Resource Capital, said that the two main themes of 2019 in the development of the industry were lithium’s volatile story and the shift away from thermal coal, which she said she doesn’t think is a temporary shift.

“Australia’s energy matrix is still heavily reliant on (coal), but climate change concerns continue to provide incentives to divest from the sector, including shutting down plants.”

That said, Rojas expressed surprise that the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland was approved in 2019.

“Politics carries weight still,” she said.

The other change she noted was the shift to new energy sources and the concurrent decrease in lithium prices — and, given Australia is the world’s largest lithium producer, this is having an impact.

“The increased availability of lithium globally has affected the local miners, pushing valuations to terribly low levels,” she said. For investors, this is noteworthy, said Rojas.

“There are some great opportunities in the space, and also with cobalt and nickel. I believe next year will be ripe with (mergers and acquisitions) in lithium, albeit not only in Australia.”

When asked about the biggest developments in the Australian resources industry over the last 12 months, Rojas said Australian miners have been focused on getting into production, rather than doing exploration and “adding up value to their deposit so they get acquired by a major” like Canadian companies.

Rojas believes the traditional financing model for junior and intermediate companies is “dead.”

“Investors are reluctant to invest when it is a pure gamble as it’s been in the past, adding up that both cannabis and cryptocurrencies are competing for those investors with tolerance for high-risk alternatives (and winning),” she said. “I think juniors should take a page out of the tech startups’ book and come up with a pathway to cash flow, either through their projects or some other adjacent option. In my mind, grade is not king, cash flow is.”

Willem Middelkoop, who is the founder of the Commodity Discovery Fund, told the Investing News Network that heading into 2019, he had expected a broader recovery in metal markets. “This might happen in 2020,” he commented.

When asked about the main theme in the Australian resources industry, Middelkoop said that the “very high margin for gold miners” is hard to go past, while the biggest developments in the year were mergers and acquisitions across the sector overseas, some of which impacted Australian companies.

“This trend could continue in 2020,” said Middelkoop.

Looking more closely at the states, David Smith, who is the director general for Western Australia’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, argued that the industry is alive and well despite general media coverage saying the mining boom in Australia is over.

“There’s been a reduction in activity associated with construction, but now what’s come onstream is the production as a result of the investment that was put in place to deliver,” he said.

Australia mining trends 2019: Quarterly highlights

Here’s a look at some of the big stories over the year in Australian mining.

January to March: Disaster in Brazil boosts Australian mining

In January, the collapse of the Brumadinho tailings dam in Brazil killed 256 people, and another 14 are missing and presumed dead. The tragedy may have happened in South America, but it greatly impacted the Australian economy. This is because it propped up income from iron ore exports as the price of iron ore rocketed in the immediate aftermath, and took hundreds of thousands of tonnes of iron ore output offline for the dam’s owner, Vale (NYSE:VALE) — a direct competitor with Australia’s iron ore giants.

The result was increased interest in Australian iron ore exports as end users sought alternatives.

April to June: Election brings EVs and nuclear to the fore

In the next three months, Australia was hit by a cyclone that trimmed Australian iron ore output, while the mid-May federal election sucked a lot of oxygen.

The election lurched from issue to issue. At one point, the incumbent prime minister talked up nuclear power, but then back pedalled extremely fast following backlash, and electric vehicles (EVs) made an appearance in a culture war-like argument over what Australians want to drive to work. Not losing focus over the course of the election was the future of coal in Australia; it was always top of mind over the course of the election as Queensland inched towards approving the Carmichael mine.

July to September: Rare earths front and centre

In Q3, Australia was still talking about how it could step in to fill the gap left by Vale, while attentions within the sector were turning back to rare earths again, with Australia in talks with the US.

It was mostly a quiet quarter, with the world’s only major rare earths producer outside of China, Lynas (ASX:LYC,OTC Pink:LYSCF), sniffing around Kalgoorlie looking to establish a rare earths processing plant — something that was locked in during the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Australian lithium companies were doing deals with Chinese battery end users.

October to December: Climate protesters target mining

In the last quarter of the year, protest politics came to the fore, as police in Melbourne were accused of excessive violence against climate protesters outside IMARC.

Meanwhile, Australia and the US signed a formal agreement to begin cooperating on their respective critical mineral supplies. While Australia does not mention China in its release, the US has made it clear that it’s looking for alternative partners — like Australia.

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) took the opportunity to close out the year by reminding policymakers and the general public that it likes nuclear energy and wants the onerous regulations on exploration and development to be lifted, along with the outright ban on nuclear energy generation. According to the MCA, the public feels the same way.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Scott Tibballs, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.

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5 Top ASX Robotics Stocks

Emerging Technology Investing
robotic arm above a globe showing Australia

Australia is hoping to lead the way in robotics, and these are some of the country's top robotics stocks by market cap.

Robotics is a growing area of engineering and science technology. Although Australia is hoping to lead the way in robotics, the number of pure-play ASX-listed robotics companies isn't all that big.

Robotics is a broad term covering everything from design to the construction and operation of robots. It also includes the use of robots in roles normally played by humans, often to reduce errors or speed up processes.

This list includes a wide range of ASX-listed companies that employ robotics. Data was sourced using TradingView's stock screener on November 24, 2021, and stocks are listed in order of market cap from largest to smallest.


1. WiseTech Global (ASX:WTC)

Market cap: AU$17.19 billion; current share price: AU$52.90

Technology powerhouse WiseTech Global provides software solutions to logistics businesses in 130 countries around the world. Its CargoWise platforms are designed using workflows, automation and robotics. The WiseTech Global Group includes more than 30 businesses.

The company has performed positively on the ASX over the past year, with its share price rising about 70 percent since the start of 2021. The company expects to continue this momentum in during its 2022 fiscal year, with projected EBITDA growth of 26 to 38 percent.

2. Altium (ASX:ALU)

Market cap: AU$5.47 billion; current share price: AU$41.67

Altium is a leading global software company that focuses on 3D-printed circuit board (PCB) design. Although seemingly obscure, the PCB design tool Altium Designer is used by robotics companies like Robotics Kanti. The company also sponsors student robotics design competitions that focus on PCB design.

The 2021 fiscal year was strong for Altium, which reported a revenue increase of 6 percent, to AU$180.2 million, and announced a final dividend of AU$0.21 per share.

3. Vection Technologies (ASX:VR1)

Market cap: AU$249.49 million; current share price: AU$0.25

Vection Technologies is a multinational software company with offices in Western Australia, as well as Subiaco and Casalecchio di Reno in Italy. The company uses robotics technology in addition to 3D, virtual reality, augmented reality, industrial internet of things and CAD solutions.

The business is split into two sections: information technology development and outsourced services. The company also collaborates with Autodesk Technology Centres, the Microsoft Mixed Reality Team and Cisco Systems Italy.

4. FBR (ASX:FBR)

Market cap: AU$116.95 million; current share price: AU$0.05

FBR designs, develops and builds robots for the global construction market. The company's dynamically stabilised offerings are made to work outdoors using FBR's Dynamic Stabilisation Technology.

This technology was first used in the Hadrian X, a brick-laying robot that can build structural walls more efficiently than traditional methods and with less waste. The first commercial building to have its structural walls built by Hadrian X in 2020 was completed and tenanted in 2021.

5. Bill Identity (ASX:BID)

Market cap: AU$44.18 million; current share price: AU$0.25

Previously known as BidEnergy, Bill Identity provides a series of bill management solutions leveraged using its Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The RPA system helps clients increase their efficiency and serves customers across Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Europe. The company had a strong year, with total operating revenue growth of 55 percent year-on-year to AU$14.6 million in its 2021 fiscal year.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Ronelle Richards, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article

Sydney Opera House at night

Robotics is an area of investing that is growing in Australia ― but is it a sector worth investing in?

The global robotics industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.8 percent through 2028 according to the Global Industrial Robotics Market Analysis 2020. Robotics is an area of investing that is growing in Australia ― but is it a sector worth investing in?

Broadly speaking, robotics is the design and construction of robots. This can include core automation and production, industrial software, robot technology and integration of robotics. From drones to self-driving cars to toys ― robotics is a growing industry that is beginning to permeate our daily lives.


The distinction between robotics and AI can be a little confusing, but essentially think of robotics like the body and AI like the brain. Both can exist separately, and they are powerful when combined. The goal of a robot is to complete a task faster and more efficiently than a human.

What does the market look like?

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen technology sectors such as robotics accelerate as businesses have faced global challenges. Robotics has been able to help keep spaces safer by replacing humans with robots on factory lines, in eCommerce warehouses or on healthcare frontlines taking temperatures or disinfecting spaces.

What is Australia doing to support the robotics sector?

In early 2020, the Robotics Australia Network was formed to accelerate growth of the domestic robotics industry. The network aims to strengthen global competitiveness and cement Australia as a global leader in robotics.

How does the Australian robotics sector stack up?

According to the International Federation of Robotics, in a ranking of the world's most automated countries it's not even in the top 10. Number one is Singapore, followed by South Korea then Japan.

The investment space for pure robotics companies is relatively small, with greater opportunities to invest in more broader technology, AI and automation stocks.

Who are the big players in robotics stocks?

Robotics stocks in Australia are companies with a strong crossover to other technology sectors like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Vection Technologies (ASX:VR1)
Market Cap AU$77.56 million

Vection is a multinational software company with offices in Western Australia as well as Subiaco and Casalecchio di Reno in Italy. The company uses robotics technology as well as 3D, virtual reality, augmented reality, industrial IoT and CAD solutions. The business is split into two sections: IT development and outsourced services. The company also collaborates with Autodesk Technology Centers, the Microsoft Mixed Reality Team and Cisco Systems Italy.

Bill Identity (ASX:BID)

Market Cap AU$52.97 million

Previously known as BidEnergy, Bill Identity is a series of bill management solutions leveraged using robotic process automation, which helps clients increase efficiency. The company serves customers across Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Europe. Bill Identity had a strong year, with total operating revenue growth of 55 percent year-on-year to US$14.6M in FY21.

What are the other ways to invest in robotics?

Another way to get into the robotics sector is investing in robotics exchange traded funds (ETFs), a popular choice that offers exposure to the industry of robotics and artificial intelligence rather than a single company. Two major ETFs in the robotics sector are:

  • BetaShares Global Robotics and Artificial Intelligence ETF (ASX:RBTZ)
  • The ROBO Global Robotics and Automation ETF (ARCA:ROBO)

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Ronelle Richards, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.