Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas In Lima

By Naomi Mapstone
Timing is everything in a Peruvian Christmas. Christmas eve is Nochebuena, the good night, and celebrations are geared to the stroke of midnight, when Peruvians light up the skies with fireworks displays.
In Lima, the sprawling desert capital overlooking the Pacific coast, offices shut at midday, giving the city’s 8m inhabitants time to make a last raid on shops and markets or to catch a bus for the provinces, high up in the Andes.
The city’s habitual creeping fog has evaporated by Christmas eve, lifting the spirits of last-minute shoppers but leaving mall Santas red-faced and flustered in their scratchy red wool suits.
The Santas are a relatively new addition to Christmas in Peru, along with Christmas trees and fairy lights, add-ons to the centuries-old tradition of nativity scenes depicting baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the odd llama under the star of Bethlehem.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Christmas menu in this nation of food lovers, where ceviche and pisco sour recipes are as popular talking points as football. The main family feast takes place on Christmas eve rather than Christmas day, and sees some unusual specialities brought to the table. Peruvian cuisine is a heady mix of pre-Colombian, Spanish, Arabic, African, Chinese and Japanese traditions. At Christmas, Peruvians throw Italian and north American influences into the mix.
Sales of panetónes, the Italian sweet bread, easily outstrip huahuas (pronounced “wawas”), baby Jesus-shaped breads and biscuits traditional in the sierra.
While roast baby pig and roast guinea pig stuffed with herbs might hold sway in the towns of the Andes, when it comes to the evening feast in Lima, turkey rules the roost. Shot through with pisco, a white brandy, basted with red Peruvian chilli, and stuffed with apple, it is often served with mashed sweet potato, salads and an Arabic-style rice cooked in Coca-Cola.
Some families serve dinner at 10pm and toast the arrival of Christ at midnight with champagne, hot chocolate and panetón; others pick at tamales, ground corn stuffed with chicken or cheese, and wait for the fireworks to start a night-long party. Either way, many Peruvians start Christmas day with a long lie-in.

Wiki Leaks Cables Show The Extent Of US DEA Power Worldwide

WASHINGTON — The Drug Enforcement Administration has been transformed into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies, according to secret diplomatic cables.
In far greater detail than previously seen, the cables, from the cache obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to some news organizations, offer glimpses of drug agents balancing diplomacy and law enforcement in places where it can be hard to tell the politicians from the traffickers, and where drug rings are themselves mini-states whose wealth and violence permit them to run roughshod over struggling governments.
Diplomats recorded unforgettable vignettes from the largely unseen war on drugs:
¶In Panama, an urgent BlackBerry message from the president to the American ambassador demanded that the D.E.A. go after his political enemies: “I need help with tapping phones.”
¶In Sierra Leone, a major cocaine-trafficking prosecution was almost upended by the attorney general’s attempt to solicit $2.5 million in bribes.
¶In Guinea, the country’s biggest narcotics kingpin turned out to be the president’s son, and diplomats discovered that before the police destroyed a huge narcotics seizure, the drugs had been replaced by flour.
¶Leaders of Mexico’s beleaguered military issued private pleas for closer collaboration with the drug agency, confessing that they had little faith in their own country’s police forces.
¶Cables from Myanmar, the target of strict United States sanctions, describe the drug agency informants’ reporting both on how the military junta enriches itself with drug money and on the political activities of the junta’s opponents.
Officials of the D.E.A. and the State Department declined to discuss what they said was information that should never have been made public.
Like many of the cables made public in recent weeks, those describing the drug war do not offer large disclosures. Rather, it is the details that add up to a clearer picture of the corrupting influence of big traffickers, the tricky game of figuring out which foreign officials are actually controlled by drug lords, and the story of how an entrepreneurial agency operating in the shadows of the F.B.I. has become something more than a drug agency. The D.E.A. now has 87 offices in 63 countries and close partnerships with governments that keep the Central Intelligence Agency at arm’s length.
Because of the ubiquity of the drug scourge, today’s D.E.A. has access to foreign governments, including those, like Nicaragua’s and Venezuela’s, that have strained diplomatic relations with the United States. Many are eager to take advantage of the agency’s drug detection and wiretapping technologies.
In some countries, the collaboration appears to work well, with the drug agency providing intelligence that has helped bring down traffickers, and even entire cartels. But the victories can come at a high price, according to the cables, which describe scores of D.E.A. informants and a handful of agents who have been killed in Mexico and Afghanistan.
In Venezuela, the local intelligence service turned the tables on the D.E.A., infiltrating its operations, sabotaging equipment and hiring a computer hacker to intercept American Embassy e-mails, the cables report.
And as the drug agency has expanded its eavesdropping operations to keep up with cartels, it has faced repeated pressure to redirect its counternarcotics surveillance to local concerns, provoking tensions with some of Washington’s closest allies.
Sticky Situations
Cables written in February by American diplomats in Paraguay, for example, described the D.E.A.’s pushing back against requests from that country’s government to help spy on an insurgent group, known as the Paraguayan People’s Army, or the EPP, the initials of its name in Spanish. The leftist group, suspected of having ties to the Colombian rebel groupFARC, had conducted several high-profile kidnappings and was making a small fortune in ransoms.
When American diplomats refused to give Paraguay access to the drug agency’s wiretapping system, Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola threatened to shut it down, saying: “Counternarcotics are important, but won’t topple our government. The EPP could.”
The D.E.A. faced even more intense pressure last year from Panama, whose right-leaning president, Ricardo Martinelli, demanded that the agency allow him to use its wiretapping program — known as Matador — to spy on leftist political enemies he believed were plotting to kill him.
The United States, according to the cables, worried that Mr. Martinelli, a supermarket magnate, “made no distinction between legitimate security targets and political enemies,” refused, igniting tensions that went on for months.
Mr. Martinelli, who the cables said possessed a “penchant for bullying and blackmail,” retaliated by proposing a law that would have ended the D.E.A.’s work with specially vetted police units. Then he tried to subvert the drug agency’s control over the program by assigning nonvetted officers to the counternarcotics unit.
And when the United States pushed back against those attempts — moving the Matador system into the offices of the politically independent attorney general — Mr. Martinelli threatened to expel the drug agency from the country altogether, saying other countries, like Israel, would be happy to comply with his intelligence requests.
Eventually, according to the cables, American diplomats began wondering about Mr. Martinelli’s motivations. Did he really want the D.E.A. to disrupt plots by his adversaries, or was he trying to keep the agency from learning about corruption among his relatives and friends?
One cable asserted that Mr. Martinelli’s cousin helped smuggle tens of millions of dollars in drug proceeds through Panama’s main airport every month. Another noted, “There is no reason to believe there will be fewer acts of corruption in this government than in any past government.”
As the standoff continued, the cables indicate that the United States proposed suspending the Matador program, rather than submitting to Mr. Martinelli’s demands. (American officials say the program was suspended, but the British took over the wiretapping program and have shared the intelligence with the United States.)
In a statement on Saturday, the government of Panama said that it regretted “the bad interpretation by United States authorities of a request for help made to directly confront crime and drug trafficking.” It said that Panama would continue its efforts to stop organized crime and emphasized that Panama continued to have “excellent relations with the United States.”
Meanwhile in Paraguay, according to the cables, the United States acquiesced, agreeing to allow the authorities there to use D.E.A. wiretaps for antikidnapping investigations, as long as they were approved by Paraguay’s Supreme Court.
“We have carefully navigated this very sensitive and politically sticky situation,” one cable said. “It appears that we have no other viable choice.”
A Larger Mandate
Created in 1973, the D.E.A. has steadily built its international turf, an expansion primarily driven by the multinational nature of the drug trade, but also by forces within the agency seeking a larger mandate. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the agency’s leaders have cited what they describe as an expanding nexus between drugs and terrorism in further building its overseas presence.
In Afghanistan, for example, “DEA officials have become convinced that ‘no daylight’ exists between drug traffickers at the highest level and Taliban insurgents,” Karen Tandy, then the agency’s administrator, told European Union officials in a 2007 briefing, according to a cable from Brussels.
Ms. Tandy described an agency informant’s recording of a meeting in Nangarhar Province between 9 Taliban members and 11 drug traffickers to coordinate their financial support for the insurgency, and she said the agency was trying to put a “security belt” around Afghanistan to block the import of chemicals for heroin processing. The agency was embedding its officers in military units around Afghanistan, she said. In 2007 alone, the D.E.A. opened new bureaus in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as well as in three Mexican cities.
Cables describe lengthy negotiations over the extradition to the United States of the two notorious arms dealers wanted by the D.E.A. as it reached beyond pure counternarcotics cases: Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian arrested in Spain, and Viktor Bout, a Russian arrested in Thailand. Both men were charged with agreeing to illegal arms sales to informants posing as weapons buyers for Colombian rebels. Notably, neither man was charged with violating narcotics laws.
Late last year in a D.E.A. case, three men from Mali accused of plotting to transport tons of cocaine across northwest Africa were charged under a narco-terrorism statute added to the law in 2006, and they were linked to both Al Qaeda and its North African affiliate, called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The men themselves had claimed the terrorism link, according to the D.E.A., though officials told The New York Times that they had no independent corroboration of the Qaeda connections. Experts on the desert regions of North Africa, long a route for smuggling between Africa and Europe, are divided about whether Al Qaeda operatives play a significant role in the drug trade, and some skeptics note that adding “terrorism” to any case can draw additional investigative resources and impress a jury.
New Routes for Graft
Most times, however, the agency’s expansion seems driven more by external forces than internal ones, with traffickers opening new routes to accommodate new markets. As Mexican cartels take control of drug shipments from South America to the United States, Colombian cartels have begun moving cocaine through West Africa to Europe.
The cables offer a portrait of the staggering effect on Mali, whose deserts have been littered with abandoned airplanes — including at least one Boeing 727 — and Ghana, where traffickers easily smuggle drugs through an airport’s “VVIP (Very Very Important Person) lounge.”
Top-to-bottom corruption in many West African countries made it hard for diplomats to know whom to trust. In one 2008 case in Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koromamoved to prosecute and extradite three South American traffickers seized with about 1,500 pounds of cocaine, while his attorney general was accused of offering to release them for $2.5 million in bribes.
In Nigeria, the D.E.A. reported a couple of years earlier that diplomats at the Liberian Embassy were using official vehicles to transport drugs across the border because they were not getting paid by their war-torn government and “had to fend for themselves.”
A May 2008 cable from Guinea described a kind of heart-to-heart conversation about the drug trade between the American ambassador, Phillip Carter III, and Guinea’s prime minister, Lansana Kouyaté. At one point, the cable said, Mr. Kouyaté “visibly slumped in his chair” and acknowledged that Guinea’s most powerful drug trafficker was Ousmane Conté, the son of Lansana Conté, then the president. (After the death of his father, Mr. Conté went to prison.)
A few days later, diplomats reported evidence that the corruption ran much deeper inside the Guinean government than the president’s son. In a colorfully written cable — with chapters titled “Excuses, Excuses, Excuses” and “Theatrical Production” — diplomats described attending what was billed as a drug bonfire that had been staged by the Guinean government to demonstrate its commitment to combating the drug trade.
Senior Guinean officials, including the country’s drug czar, the chief of police and the justice minister, watched as officers set fire to what the government claimed was about 350 pounds of marijuana and 860 pounds of cocaine, valued at $6.5 million.
In reality, American diplomats wrote, the whole incineration was a sham. Informants had previously told the embassy that Guinean authorities replaced the cocaine with manioc flour, proving, the diplomats wrote, “that narco-corruption has contaminated” the government of Guinea “at the highest levels.”
And it did not take the D.E.A.’s sophisticated intelligence techniques to figure out the truth. The cable reported that even the ambassador’s driver sniffed out a hoax.
“I know the smell of burning marijuana,” the driver said. “And I didn’t smell anything.”
Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting.

Martin Wolf on 2011 economic outlook - global economy -

Martin Wolf on 2011 economic outlook - global economy -

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Christmas Gift For My Wife Elena

    Elena got one of her Christmas gifts from my London book seller. It was published in 1899. The title is The Highest Andes; A Record Of The First Ascent Of Aconcagua and Tupungayo In Argentina And The Exploration Of The Surrounding Valleys.

     I wrote her a long inscription including a comment about another example of British "messing about" in Argentina.

Monday, December 13, 2010

China Moves On Argentina's Oil Riches

China taps into Argentina’s oil prospects

By Leslie Hook and Jude Webber
Published: December 12 2010 20:44 | Last updated: December 12 2010 20:44
When China’s largest oil producer looked overseas 14 years ago for places to invest, it settled on the then-untapped riches of Sudan.
That investment, in 1996, kicked off a string of deals in Africa, as Chinese state-owned oil companies snapped up resources in countries often deemed untouchable by western companies.
But today the Chinese oil majors are sending their money in a different direction: Latin America, which has dominated headlines this year for upstream oil and gas deals. Chinese oil companies have spent more than $15bn in upstream deals there this year – and industry executives say there is more to come.
“There is not a single CEO of a major oil company in Latin America, not one, who has not been approached by the Chinese,” says an M&A banker at a western bank.
Last week’s decision by China Petrochemical Corp to buy Occidental Petroleum’s operations in Argentina for $2.45bn has underscored the trend. The deal came on the heels of Cnooc and Bridas’s agreement to pay $7bn for BP’s 60 per cent stake in Argentina’s Pan American Energy.
Earlier this year, Cnooc invested $3.1bn for a 50 per cent stake in Bridas, a private energy company, describing the deal as a “beachhead in Latin America”.
The shift towards the region is happening partly because China’s oil groups are increasingly confident of competing against their western peers in mergers and acquisitions. Some of China’s earliest overseas oil deals, such as in Sudan, were negotiated on a government-to-government basis, a far cry from a modern corporate boardroom setting.
“Five or 10 years ago the Chinese [oil] companies were buying assets by negotiating directly with a limited number of countries, and there’s a certain shifting perception now,” says Gavin Thompson, head of north-east Asia for consultancy Wood Mackenzie. “They are operating in the real world now, alongside all these other companies who have been doing this sort of thing for far longer in terms of international growth and deals.”
Argentina and Brazil have benefited from the trend. This year, when a share in the Peregrino oilfield off the coast of Brazil went up for sale, at least two Chinese oil companies joined the bidding fray. The state-owned chemicals group, Sinochem, emerged victorious with its $3.1bn offer, even though it had less than a decade of offshore drilling experience.
Argentina’s oil industry has seen the deal as a key sign of confidence at a time when many western oil groups are put off the country’s onerous tax regime and heavy state regulation, and are hoping that it will boost upstream investment. China’s oil majors can afford to take longer-term bets than some of their western peers, thanks to state support at home and access to cheap credit.
One senior Cnooc executive admits: “Argentina has a tough fiscal regime. But that even happens in Australia.” Cnooc is betting Argentina’s energy tax policies may change soon. “We see some encouraging signs that it is going in the right direction,” the executive adds.
The announcement by YPF, the former Argentine state monopoly controlled by Spain’s Repsol, of a huge 4,500bn cubic feet discovery of tight gas in the province of Neuquén – equivalent, if confirmed, to a third of Argentina’s current gas reserves – is only likely to intensify Chinese interest.
Argentina has potentially rich oil and gas reserves offshore, but investment in exploration overall has been constrained by price controls.
BP’s stake in Pan American Energy, while money-making, was seen as peripheral to the British company’s operations for this reason.
“China is probably the only country that would actually buy in [to Argentina], because of the political pricing system there,” says Laban Yu, oil and gas analyst at Macquarie in Hong Kong.
Mineral resources provide additional attraction
In 2004, China’s investments in Argentina added up to a mere $12.9m, according to Julián Peña, a lawyer who sits on the board of the Argentine-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, writes Jude Webber in Buenos Aires
By 2009 that had grown tenfold to $136.7m. This year has seen a series of energy deals, including last week’s decision by Sinochem to buy Occidental Petroleum Corp’s operations in Argentina for $2.45bn. And earlier this year, China promised to invest a further $10bn in Argentina’s rail network.
The bulk of China’s interest has been in energy, but the country is also hungry for other resources in which Argentina is rich, including minerals and fertilisers. It is investing some $600m in urea production in Tierra del Fuego in southern Argentina, and Shandong Gold has also reached a deal to explore for gold in the northern province of La Rioja.
“Argentina has huge mineral potential – there is a large percentage of the country which is unexplored,” said Damián Altgelt, head of mining executives’ chamber CAEM. He said the legal regime in the sector was “quite favourable” despite Argentina’s often unpredictable politics.
China is a big customer for Argentina’s agricultural commodities and is planning a $100m project in the southern province of Río Negro to grow soyabeans for domestic consumption. It has also invested in the Belgrano Cargas railway line which is vital for Argentine soyabean transport, and has fishing ventures.
“China has been sending committees and groups of Chinese officials constantly for the last few years. They are making a lot of effort to understand how things work here,” said Juan Duggan, a lawyer whose firm, Hope, Duggan & Silva is active in negotiations with China.
China is involved in bidding for port and dredging operations in the construction of a new port in the city of La Plata near Buenos Aires.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Buried In Peru's Desert, Fossils Draw Smugglers

Buried in Peru’s Desert, Fossils Draw Smugglers

Moises Saman for The New York Times
Mario Urbina-Schmitt, a fossil hunter who works for paleontologists, rested next to a fossilized skeleton in the Ocucaje Desert last month. More Photos »
OCUCAJE, Peru — Nestled between the Andes and the Pacific, the sparse desert surrounding this outpost in southern Peru looks like one of the world’s most desolate areas. Barren mountains rise from windswept valleys. Dust devils dance from one dune to the next.
Moises Saman for The New York Times
The sands guard one of the most coveted troves of marine fossils. More Photos »
The New York Times
Ocucaje remains open to just about anyone who wants to fossil hunt. More Photos »
But to the bone hunters who stalk the Ocucaje Desert each day, the punishing winds here have exposed a medley of life and evolution: a prehistoric graveyard where sea monsters came to rest 40 million years ago. These parched lands, once washed over by the sea, guard one of the most coveted troves of marine fossils known to paleontology.
Discoveries here include gigantic fossilized teeth from the legendary 50-foot shark called the megalodon, the bones of a huge penguin with surprisingly colorful feathers and the fossils of the Leviathan Melvillei, a whale with teeth longer than those of the Tyrannosaurus rex, making it a contender for the largest predator ever to prowl the oceans.
“This is perhaps the best area in the world for marine mammals,” said Christian de Muizon, 58, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in Paris who led an expedition here in November. He ranks the Ocucaje (pronounced oh-coo-CAH-heh) and adjacent sections of desert with top fossil areas like Liaoning Province in China,where ashfall famously preserved plumed dinosaurs.
But beyond the boon to science, the discoveries here have attracted the attentions of another class of fossil hunters as well: smugglers. Officials in the capital, Lima, say seizures of illegally collected fossils are climbing.
Peru is astonishingly rich in archaeological and paleontological sites, so much so that the issue is part of a delicate political debate here. The loss of national treasures to collectors from abroad has set off concerns about sovereignty, perhaps best exemplified by the feud between Peru and Yale University over Inca artifacts taken by Hiram Bingham, the American explorer typically credited with revealing the lost city of Machu Picchu to the outside world a century ago.
For now, the Ocucaje remains open to just about anyone who wants to search for fossils here. Peruvian law, while vague, classifies fossils as national patrimony and requires fossils found in the country to remain in Peru, unless special permission is granted.
But enforcement and preservation here seems like a distant dream. The government controls the desert but leases parts to mining companies, which could damage or destroy fossils. Looters have already ravaged archaeological burial sites on the desert’s fringes. The police rarely even enter the area.
Almost the only four-wheeled vehicles one sees traversing the desert are trucks carrying workers who spend weeks on the coast collecting seaweed. They sell to dealers, who then export it to Asia.
“This desert is horrible,” said Yolanda Gutiérrez, 35, a seaweed harvester. “The only things a person sees are dirt and rocks and bones.”
An assortment of fossil hunters have their own visions of how the Ocucaje should be managed. One prominent view comes from Roberto Penny Cabrera, 54, a former naval officer who says he is a descendant of Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, the conquistador who founded the nearby city of Ica in 1563.
Mr. Penny Cabrera, who guides both backpackers and paleontologists into the Ocucaje, lives in his aristocratic family’s crumbling yellow mansion on Ica’s square.
“I am a patriot, a Peruvian, and where my foot steps that is patrimony,” he said, contending that some of the Ocucaje’s fossils should be left in the ground. Another option, he said, would be to create a museum — not in Lima, much less Berlin or Paris — but in Ica.
On the streets of Ica and nearby towns, visitors can already see such fossils — and buy them. Merchants sell fossilized shark teeth, about the size of a man’s hand, at prices from $60 to $100 apiece. They say other fossils are available, at higher prices. “Ocucaje yields many bones,” said one merchant, Marcos Conde, 35.
Meanwhile, seizures of illegally obtained fossils are increasing, surpassing 2,200 this year, compared with about 800 last year, largely at Lima’s international airport, said José Apolín of the Ministry of Culture’s office of recovery. Sometimes officials stumble upon large fossils by chance; in 2008 the police found a jawbone thought to be that of a mastodon in the cargo hold of a bus.
Recent discoveries elsewhere in Peru are raising interest in the country’s fossils and the potential for more trafficking. Almost 14,000 feet high in the Andes, for instance, a mining company controlled by Australian and Swiss investors announced a startlingdiscovery last year: more than 100 dinosaur footprints embedded in walls of stone.
Rodolfo Salas, paleontology curator at Lima’s Natural History Museum, said evidence that his institution obtained, including photos of fossils for sale by private dealers, showed that the Ocucaje was especially vulnerable. He said the trade was supported by huaqueros, or looters of archaeological sites, who turned to fossil hunting.
Paleontologists working here fear the robbery of their discoveries. After finding a fossil thought to be a 35-million-year-old whale cranium, the team led by Mr. de Muizon camouflaged the find with burlap before it could be removed to hide it from looters.
The fossil hunters sometimes turn on one another, too. In 2008, Mr. Penny Cabrera, who roams the Ocucaje in a battered four-wheel-drive Nissan, pushed for the authorities to arrest Mario Urbina-Schmitt, 48, a well-known researcher for Peru’s Natural History Museum, while he was working with a French paleontologist, Gilles Cuny.
Mr. Urbina-Schmitt, who faces time in prison if convicted on charges of illegally removing fossils, said the case against him was absurd, revealing disarray in properly regulating fossil collection. He also said the focus on his case had shifted attention away from other episodes, like a 40-million-year-old whale fossil spirited out of the desert. “My crime is that I do good work,” he said.
The debate over trafficking aside, paleontologists say the prized fossils of the Ocucaje remain vulnerable to yet another factor: erosion. “If we leave them in the desert,” Mr. de Muizon said of the Ocucaje fossils, “they will be dead for the second time.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 11, 2010
An earlier version of a headline with this article misspelled the name of a desert in Peru. It is the Ocucaje Desert, not Ocugaje.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Security Of Oil And Mioneral Supplies-A Big Concern For The Future

Ahead of The Herd, Telling you things everyone else doesn't already know.

Security of Supply

Richard (Rick) Mills
Ahead of the Herd

As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information
While working for Shell Oil during the 1940's Dr. M. King Hubbert noticed the production of crude oil from individual oil fields plotted a normal bell shaped curve. Roughly half of the oil from a field has been exhausted when the bell curve peaks.
Carrying that insight further he surmised that oil production from a group of oil fields would follow a similar bell shaped pattern.
In 1956 Dr. Hubbert predicted the cumulative group of oil fields within the US would reach peak production in the 1970's, and thereafter decline – no matter how much money would be thrown at exploration and development of reserves US oil production would not rise higher after this date – his prediction was uncannily accurate.
There are a few things we can learn from studying oil production on the upside slope of Hubbert’s bell curve.
As oil production nears its peak:
  • Oil becomes harder to find
  • Discoveries are smaller and in less accessible regions or geologic formations
  • Costs are higher to produce the crude from these discoveries
  • Producing oil from existing fields becomes more expensive - recovering the last barrel of oil is more expensive than recovering the first barrel
Mine production of many metals is showing a number of similarities:
  • Slowing production and dwindling reserves at many of the world’s largest mines
  • The pace of new elephant-sized discoveries has decreased in the mining industry
  • All the oz’s or pounds are never recovered from a mine - they simply becomes too expensive to recover
There are a few differences between mining and oil:
  • Mining is more cyclical than oil which make mining companies even more reluctant than oil companies to spend on exploration and development
  • There is no substitute for many metals except other metals – plastic piping is one exception. For oil substitution you have shale gas, coal liquefaction, nuclear power, oil sands, ethanol or bio-diesel, solar, geothermal and wind
  • Metal markets are much smaller than the crude oil market so speculation is a larger factor
  • There hasn’t been a new technology shift in mining for decades – heap leach and open pit mining come to mind but they are both decades old innovation. Oil producers have exploited new drilling and production technology to produce oil and gas from new types of reserves - oil sands and gas shales.
Increasingly we will see falling average grades being mined, mines becoming deeper, more remote and come with increased political risk. Extraction of metals from the mined ore will become increasingly more complex and expensive, even more so when one considers the effects of Peak Oil – the cost of technology innovation to power mining will be very high.
This is our reality - we’re living on a relatively small planet with a finite amount of reserves and a growing human population.
Broad spectrum peak commodities is a cause for concern over the longer term.
In the shorter to medium term there are several concerns in regards to global resource extraction we need to consider.

Project Pipeline
During the economic downturn miners saved their cash and paid off debt. Capital Expenditures were virtually non-existent and many projects were delayed or cancelled outright.
Below are five examples of production shortfalls looming or already existing:
Operational constraints and cutbacks initiated in 2009 are projected to constrain mine production to 16.2 million tonnes in 2010. Looking to 2011, increased economic activity is expected to boost end-user demand for the metal much faster than production, pushing the global market deeper into deficit of about 400,000 tonnes. International Copper Study Group (ICSG)
Short of silver mines with strong zinc/lead by-product credits there is nothing between here and the horizon in terms of new production. This then implies that a shortage bubble is coming along and prices will spike again as they did in 2006/2007. Primary base metal sources of Zn/Pb will be heading down as mines expire and no new production appears. This is where the real crisis is brewing." Christopher Ecclestone, Hallgarten & Company
Rare Earth Elements
In the last 10 years the global market for rare earth elements has grown to 125,000 tons per year and by 2014 demand is predicted to reach 200,000 tons per year.  China, the supplier of 97 percent of this demand is lowering export quotas and might very well stop all REE exports by 2014.
Today, there are some 441 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries. These 441 reactors, with combined capacity of over 376 Gigawatts (One GWe equals one billion watts or one thousand megawatts), require 69,000 tonnes of uranium oxide (U3O8).
According to the World Nuclear Association, about 58 power reactors are currently being constructed in 14 countries. In all there are over 148 power reactors planned and 331 more proposed. Each GWe of increased capacity will require about 195 tU per year of extra mine production – three times this for the first fuel load. Let's also consider the fact that no one builds a $4 to $6-billion dollar reactor just to watch it go idle. They will order one or perhaps several year’s worth of fuel supply to guarantee it doesn’t.
In 2008, mines supplied 51,600 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate containing 43,853 tU, which means mining supplied roughly 75% of nuclear utility power requirements. The remaining supply deficit used to be made up from stockpiled uranium held by nuclear power utilities, but their stockpiles are pretty much depleted. Mine production is now primarily supplemented by ex-military material - the Megatons to Megawatts program which ends in 2013 - the Russians have stated that the agreement will not be renewed.
Job Crisis in the Resource Extraction Sector
A combination of mass retirements and increasing natural resources demand from emerging economies has created a crisis in the resource extraction sector - one which is definitely not on investor’s radar screens.
The Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MIHRC) estimates that over 60,000 people employed in the mining sector are expected to retire by 2020 but that the industry will need an additional 100,000 people just to maintain current levels of production.
The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada warned a severe oil patch labor shortage is looming and that the “patch” will need to hire 24,000 new employees by 2014.

In both industries the biggest demands will be for workers to replace staff who reach retirement age.

The existing shortage of skilled personnel and the imminent retirement of so many baby boomers (many are mid level managers) means the mining sector is in direct competition with the energy sector for people to train and prospects are bleak for either industry to obtain the necessary bodies and minds.
Country Risk
One of the most serious and unpredictable risks facing mining operations and investor interests is "country risk" - where the political and economic stability of the host country is questionable and abrupt changes in the business environment could adversely affect profits or the value of the company’s assets.
Resource extraction companies, because the number of discoveries was falling and existing deposits were being quickly depleted, have had to diversify away from the traditional geo-politically safe producing countries. The move out of these “safe haven” countries has exposed investors to a lot of additional risk.
Many countries might come to mind as places where shareholders could, without warning, receive news that their operations have been taken over by the government and/or its friends, or that permits are suddenly suffering delays or have been cancelled outright.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. has bought 50 percent of copper stockpiles in London warehouses. The purchase, reported in the Wall Street Journal, takes place as new exchange traded funds focused on copper come to market.
The ETFs are expected to put further pressure on already tight copper supplies.
It’s another new element of demand for copper in an already tight market.” said Patricia Mohr, commodity market specialist at Scotiabank
Security of Supply
Access to raw materials at competitive prices has become essential to the functioning of all industrialized economies. As we move forward developing and developed countries will, with their:
  • Massive population booms
  • Infrastructure build out and urbanization plans
  • Modernization programs for existing, tired and worn out infrastructure
Continue to place extraordinary demands on our ability to access and distribute the planets natural resources.
Threats to access and distribution of these commodities could include:
  • Political instability of supplier countries
  • The manipulation of supplies
  • The competition over supplies
  • Attacks on supply infrastructure
  • Accidents and natural disasters
  • Climate change
Accessing a sustainable, and secure, supply of raw materials is going to become the number one priority for all countries. Increasingly we are going to see countries ensuring their own industries have first rights of access to internally produced commodities and they will look for such privileged access from other countries.
Numerous countries are taking steps to safeguard their own supply by:
  • Stopping or slowing the export of natural resources
  • Shutting down traditional supply markets  
  • Buying companies for their deposits
  • Project finance tied to off take agreements*
*Traditional sources of project finance have mostly dried up or are on terms that are unacceptable. Project finance is largely provided by developing nations and is usually being tied to off take agreements.
As the potential for commodity scarcity escalates, M&A activity in the global mining sector will likely intensify, mimicking a ‘global arms race." M&A in the Global Mining Sector - No Stone Unturned, PricewaterhouseCoopers
Every country needs to secure supplies of needed commodities at competitive prices yet supply is constrained and demand is growing. Barring a total global economic collapse or a dramatic reduction in the world’s human population it doesn’t seem to this author demand is going to collapse anytime soon.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently published its report World Economic Outlook for October 2010 and in it they talked about commodity demand from emerging countries. “Because their growth is more commodity-intensive than that of advanced economies, the rapid increase in demand for commodities over the past decade is set to continue…the current era of higher scarcity, rising metal price trends and a balance of price risks tilted toward the upside may continue for some time.”
This author believes that there is exceptional, and as of yet, undiscovered value in junior companies with quality assets in safe stable countries.
Junior resource companies offer the greatest leverage to increased demand and rising prices for commodities.
The bottom line for investors in the resource sector is that juniors already own, and find, what the world’s mining companies and refineries need.
Are there a few junior resource companies, with exceptional management teams, on your radar screen?
If not maybe there should be.