Over 120 autonomous haul trucks now in service – but all are retrofits

Nobody at the wheel at BHP’s Jimblebar iron ore mine site

Caption in here
Retrofitted CAT 793F ‘s

BHP’s Jimblebar mine will be the first operation in the mining giant’s Pilbara iron ore portfolio to move completely to driverless trucks.

In an email to staff, WA iron ore boss Edgar Basto and Jimblebar general manager Elsabe Muller said Jimblebar’s existing fleet of 25 Caterpillar 793F autonomous trucks would be expanded to 50 by the end of the year.

They said mine automation was part of the company’s strategy to improve safety, build capacity and remain globally competitive.

It is understood all affected staff will be offered alternative jobs or new roles working with the driverless trucks.

“Employees will be provided training to further develop their skill sets for the roles required to support autonomous haulage,” the email stated.

At last count, Rio Tinto had 76 driverless haul trucks operating across its Pilbara iron ore network with plans for its new Silvergrass project, coming online this year, to be fully automated. Haul trucks at its Yandicoogina, Nammuldi and Hope Downs 4 minesites are driverless.

Last month, Fortescue Metals Group announced it would convert another 12 CAT haul trucks at its Solomon Hub operations and 100 at its Chichester Hub to driverless.

FMG has 56 driverless trucks at its Solomon Hub, representing 75 per cent of its fleet at the operation.

Nothing Purpose Built…. yet

It seems that while the capex tap has been partially turned on to enable retrofitting of existing truck fleets,  none of the majors are prepared to invest in the new, purpose built bi-directional autonomous trucks unveiled at Minexpo last year.

No driver – no need for a cab


Iron ore prices continue their slide

After a miserable May, iron ore is opening the new month on the back foot. Futures in Asia fell to the lowest level in seven months as rising concern about increased supplies steamrollered positive signs, including data from China that may signal record steel output in the top producer.

In Singapore, the SGX AsiaClear contract sank as much as 2.2 percent to $54.30 a metric ton, the lowest since October, after an 18 percent drop in May. Futures in Dalian fell 1.1 percent. On Wednesday, benchmark spot ore retreated 2.5 percent to $57.02 a ton in Qingdao, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd.

The commodity has been on a wild ride this year — coming close to challenging the $100 level in February before collapsing over the next three months — as investors sought to gauge the impact of greater supply and the outlook for steel demand in China. Iron ore’s latest leg down has happened even after a manufacturing gauge for the world’s largest steel industry rose to the highest in a year, suggesting another month of bumper production.

Cargoes from the four largest exporters have remained at high levels, causing port inventories to repeatedly hit new highs,” Dang Man and Ren Jiaojiao, analysts at Maike Futures Co., a Chinese brokerage, said in a note. While steelmakers may be churning out record output, “they’re making hand-to-mouth purchases of raw materials. Iron ore’s fundamentals are pretty weak.”

Iron ore has dropped even as mills in China boosted output to an all-time high in April. The data on Wednesday showed the industry’s purchasing manager’s index rose to 54.8 in May from 49.1 a month earlier, as an underlying gauge of production jumped to 58.2 from 56.2. Readings above 50 show expansion.

Steel prices also retreated on Thursday, extending the previous day’s losses. On the Shanghai Futures Exchange, reinforcement bar eased to a two-week low, while hot-rolled coil lost 0.5 percent.

Iron ore’s declines in recent months have hurt miners’ shares. In Sydney, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. fell 3.7 percent to close at A$4.67, the lowest price since September. Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton Ltd. also dropped. The trio are the country’s largest shippers.

The global market will stay well supplied over the next five years as miners boost production further, according to BMI Research. Output from Brazil will jump more than 100 million tons by 2021 as Vale SA presses on with a ramp-up of its biggest project, S11D, the research arm of Fitch Group estimates.

Source: Bloomberg – asiaconsult.org – Silas Berry – Iron Ore Price Forecast

Residual value forecasts for Airbus A380 about to be tested


Airbus Group SE’s flagship jetliner, the A380 superjumbo, has been dealt another setback as Singapore Airlines Ltd. decided not to renew its lease on the first of the planes and suggested it may walk away from more of the double-decker jets.

Singapore Airlines operates the world’s second-largest fleet of A380s and was the first to fly the plane when it took delivery of the jet in October 2007. The lease on the first A380 expires in October next year and “we have decided not to extend it,” Singapore Airlines told The Wall Street Journal.

The Singapore flag carrier currently operates 19 of the double-decker jets. The first five were taken on a 10-year lease deal with Airbus. “Decisions will be made on the four others later,” a Singapore Airlines spokesman said.

Singapore Airlines also has five of the jets on order. It is sticking to plans to take delivery of those starting in the second half of next year.

Initial production jets are generally less popular with airlines as they are heavier and often come with teething problems as manufacturers work out kinks. But Singapore Airlines’ decision to give up its lease will put at least one secondhand plane on the market, potentially weakening already softened demand for new A380s.

Brendan Sobie, an analyst at CAPA Center for Aviation, expects Singapore Airlines to return all five of the early A380 jets in its fleet. “Their fleet plan and strategy has always been to replace those aircraft. Early model airplanes come with limitations and Singapore Airlines never wanted to be stuck with remarketing these five airplanes,” Mr. Sobie said.

Airbus in July announced it would slash production of the A380 to 12 planes a year in 2018 from 27 last year. The backlog of A380s to be delivered has eroded during years of no or few orders.

The A380’s size has become its disadvantage as airlines prefer relatively smaller planes such as the Airbus A350 and rival Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner that can fly nonstop to their ultimate destinations, bypassing major hubs such as London and Singapore. The demand for point-to-point connectivity has grown faster than the traffic at major hub airports in recent years.

Airbus will again start losing money building A380 planes at the lower production rate, the Toulouse, France-based plane maker has said. It only last year delivered A380s that were no longer losing money, a decade after the plane first flew. Airbus for years struggled with development and production of the jetliner.

Bad news has continued to pile up for the A380. Airbus this year announced that French carrier Air Austral had canceled an order for two A380s, the latest in a raft of voided purchases of the plane. Air France-KLM SA this year said it had dropped plans to take the last two A380s it had ordered.

Previously, the India-based Kingfisher Airlines Ltd., founded by Vijay Mallya, ordered the plane before the carrier controversially folded in 2012. Russia’s No. 2 carrier Transero also was a buyer before it closed last year. Japan’s Skymark Airlines Inc. had ordered the A380 before the contract was voided over payment issues.

There are also doubts about some A380s in the Airbus order backlog. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., the British airline founded by Richard Branson, has ordered six of the planes but has no plans to introduce them into service. The carrier this year also announced plans to buy Airbus’s A350-1000 long-haul plane, a more modern, twin-engine widebody. Ireland-based lessor Amedeo has ordered 20 of the planes, but so far failed to place them with airline customers.

The Singapore Airlines A380s are owned by German leasing company Doric GmbH, which will need to find a customer for the returning plane in the next 12 months. The leasing firm had no immediate comment.

Airbus wouldn’t comment on the Singapore Airlines decision, saying it doesn’t discuss individual airline fleet plans.

“We are confident in the market for secondhand A380s, which can be leased or acquired at attractive rates. This will offer a great opportunity for new entrants with new business models to start operating the A380,” a company spokesman said by email.

Despite years of trying, Airbus has struggled to win new orders for the A380, which costs $432.6 million each at list price. Airlines have shied away from the superjumbo jet that can seat more than 600 people, worried about how to fill all its seats.

Malaysia Airlines has decided to replace its A380 jets with the smaller A350 jets and is trying looking for customers to buy or lease its six jets, the airline’s chief Peter Bellew told The Wall Street Journal in a recent interview.

International Consolidated Airlines Group SA chief executive Willie Walsh this year said he would consider taking some used A380s to augment the 12 now in service with British Airways. Mr. Walsh has said taking secondhand planes would make more sense than exercising more expensive options for new A380s.

The biggest success for the A380 is Emirates Airline, by far the largest customer. The Dubai-based carrier, the world’s largest by international traffic, operates a fleet of more than 80 of the four-engine planes and has placed orders for 142 of the jets.

The A380 program received a rare boost when Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co. in December ordered three of the planes. Iran Air also has announced plans to take 12 of the Airbus flagship plane as part of a $27 billion deal with the European plane maker. The deal remains to be completed, absent U.S. export approvals and financing.

gaurav.raghuvanshi@wsj.com –

Silas Berry – asiaconsult.org –  27-05-2017 – A380 residual values

Coal Prices are sliding again – What happens next?

Will coal prices stabilise, rebound or fall further?

There is definitely interest in larger capacity, low hours haul trucks, rope shovels and diesel hydraulic excavators, but could this just be the result of  miners deferring essential maintenance until equipment fails. Then scrambling to replace it.

Caterpillar and Komatsu dealers have referred to this in many of the analyst briefings issued in the last few years but the increased spending they claimed would be necessary to run older equipment, for longer has steadfastly refused to show up in their component sales figures.

Shipments of new machines are still at 20 year lows. Watch this space.

Thermal Coal Prices to Jan 2017


Metallurgical Coal Price to Jan 2017

Surging price of coking coal shows Beijing’s directives to keep local mines closed are working

The ability of policymakers in Beijing to roil global commodity markets has been underlined by a breathtaking rally in a key steelmaking ingredient that has caught consumers cold, but promises a profit windfall for the struggling mining industry.

The price of premium hard coking coal has more than doubled in the past six weeks to more than $200 a tonne as supplies have dwindled and buyers have scrambled to find cargoes in the spot market.

Behind the surge — or “met coal mania” as it has been dubbed by one bank — are production curbs in China where the government is restricting the number of working days at domestic coal mines to 276 a year, down from 330.

This policy is mainly aimed at improving the profitability of its bloated and heavily indebted coal industry so it can repay loans to domestic banks. But it has also reduced output and tightened the global coking coal market. Its impact has been magnified by a string of disruptions in Australia, a leading supplier to the seaborne or export market.

If the price rise is sustained it could add billions of dollars to the bottom lines of the industry’s biggest producers, which include Anglo American, BHP Billiton, South 32 and Canada’s Teck. Coking coal is an important raw material used in blast furnace steel production.

“It’s been a perfect storm on the supply side,” said Christopher LaFemina, analyst at Jefferies. Caught between an oversupplied Chinese market and faltering demand for steel, 2016 was supposed to bring more pain for the coking coal industry. But things have not worked out that way.

Instead of adding to last year’s 30 per cent drop, coking coal has staged a dramatic recovery, rising 164 per cent which has made it the best performing commodity of 2016.

“In bulk and base commodities if you get Chinese policy right you are a long way towards getting the market right,” said Colin Hamilton, head of commodities research at Macquarie.

China sprang its first surprise this year when policymakers, alarmed by slowing economic growth and capital flight, injected a huge amount of cash into the banking system. This boosted construction activity and demand for steelmaking materials such as iron ore and coking coal.

The credit surge was followed by the 276-day policy, which first lifted the price of thermal coal, used to generate electricity in power stations.

Coking coal did not start its vertiginous ascent until July when heavy rain and flooding reduced supply from Shanxi province. This forced Chinese buyers into the seaborne market, which was then hit by a number of unexpected outages at mines in Australia that further crimped supplies.

While about 300m tonnes of seaborne coking coal is produced each year most of it is traded on a contractual basis and priced off the spot market or monthly or quarterly averages. The amount of material readily available to buy — even when the market is not grappling with supply side issues, is very small — fewer than 10m tonnes according to Mr Hamilton.

“We have basically gone from $100 to $200 a tonne on the back of a few deals,” he said of the recent rally.

According to Ernie Thrasher, chief executive of US coking coal producer Xcoal, most of the recent buying in the spot market has come from steel mills in Europe and India. “They realised they needed coal but the market had started to run away from them,” he said. “Buyers tend to be much more reactive when the price goes against them.”

Industry watchers do not think the price surge can continue for much longer. Knowing that contract prices will rise in the fourth quarter — possibly to $170 a tonne — steel mills will have been buying as much as they can under existing arrangements. Many of these contracts have options to buy an extra 10 per cent of agreed volumes, say traders.

Tom Price, analyst at Morgan Stanley, said that road conditions in Shanxi had started to improve while China’s National Development and Reform Commission has requested a short-term lift in coal supply primarily to cap thermal coal prices. Prices above $200 a tonne will also trigger a supply response, particularly from producers in North America.

Mr Thrasher said Xcoal would increase its exports and expected others to follow although they might take a bit longer — between three and six months. This is because many US mines were mothballed in 2015 while others were placed under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

“What you will see at this price level is that anyone who can produce will produce,” he said. However, few people expect prices to fall sharply unless Beijing performs a policy U-turn, something that seems unlikely in the near term.

“We expect supply increases to put some downward pressure on the coking coal prices in the very near future,” said Mr LaFemina. “But we do not expect a collapse to the levels of earlier this year as the government clearly wants to avoid financial stress in the domestic coal industry.”

SOURCE: https://www.ft.com/content/a07e0a54-8010-11e6-8e50-8ec15fb462f4

FT.com – Silas Berry – asiaconsult.org

Surface mining equipment: “The latest reported deliveries are dismal” according to leading mining industry research house

The Parker Bay Mining Company recently issued its second quarter updated surface mining equipment index. The results are another illustration of just how tough life is for for OEMs like Joy, Caterpillar, Komatsu, Liebherr, Atlas Copco and others. It appears that miners are managing to delay capex indefinitely as they get used to lower volumes, keep their equipment running for longer and find replacement parts and equipment in the secondhand market.


2nd Quarter 2016:

Whether compared to previous reports sequentially (Q2 vs. Q1 2016), year-over-year (Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2015) or vs. the peak levels that were obtained in 2012, the latest reported deliveries are dismal. Annualizing the latest numbers would appear to result in 2016 shipments equal to less than one quarter’s shipments during 2012. And it ranks among the worst quarters in the past 20 years. There are a number of mining industry measures that appear to indicate an end to the industry-wide contraction, but these are certainly not yet reflected in equipment shipments tracked by Parker Bay.

Explanation of how the Index is Developed The PBCo Mining Equipment Index is a measure of the quarterly evolution of surface mining equipment shipments worldwide.  It relies on data from Parker Bay’s Mobile Mining Equipment Database and encompasses the same product range covered by the Database*. The index utilizes the value of equipment as opposed to number of units such that one $10mm excavator has the same weight as five $2mm trucks. Values are not based on the price of each unit as sold but instead an approximate value assigned to machines by size class and product expressed in constant $’s (updated annually). As such, the index does not reflect changes in equipment pricing but rather the overall sales volume. The base for the index is Q1 2007=100. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. *All products are included except draglines whose low volume, high $ value, long lead time sales can cause fluctuations that don’t reflect the quarterly changes in the market. 



Source – http://parkerbaymining.com/industry-information/surface-mining-equipment-index.htm

Silas Berry – AsiaConsult – asiaconsult.org

Chinese province to extend maturity on $60bn in coal loans – No recovery in sight for the sector

Country’s most coal-dependent province moves to ease pressure on bad-debt-laden mining sector

China’s most coal-dependent province has moved to ease rising pressure on seven of its largest coal miners by extending the maturity on up to Rmb400bn ($60bn) in loans, in a sign of the severity of the bad-debt crisis gripping the country’s depressed coal sector.

The move by Shanxi province marks the first time a local regulator has asked banks for leeway on loans for a select group of companies. It is the latest in a series of tactics employed by the country as it tries to pare bad debt, which by some analysts’ estimates has reached epidemic levels.

The central government last year launched a Rmb4tn-and-counting programme that pushed banks to swap debt from many local government businesses for longer-maturity bonds. This year, Beijing announced a controversial plan in which banks would trade corporate debt for equity in companies.

Corporate debt is a concern across China but the situation is particularly desperate in Shanxi. A four-year slump in coal prices has left miners in the red and private companies unable to repay high-interest-rate shadow-banking loans that date back to a boom in coal prices a decade ago. A collapse in the chain of credit in the shadow-banking sector is reverberating through the province, which accounts for about one-quarter of coal production in China, itself the world’s largest coal industry.

The Shanxi branch of the China Banking Regulatory Commission will allow the province’s seven biggest coal companies to restructure short-term debt into medium and long-term loans, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Shares in the seven state-owned companies soared on Monday — several by their 10 per cent daily trading limit — with a weekend report by respected business news magazine Caixin that Beijing was considering debt-to-equity swaps for the beleaguered sector adding a tailwind. Pain relief is not the same as medicine. The CBRC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move comes after the deputy provincial government led the seven coal miners on a road show to Beijing this summer in an attempt to convince investors to subscribe to their bonds. One company in May offered five-year bonds at nearly double the yield on comparative notes but the initiative on the whole showed few positive results.

“Coal is an important industry to Shanxi therefore the government has to step in to alleviate the problem,” said Fitch Ratings analyst Alvin Cheng, noting that companies kept on life support worsen China’s glut of coal and other industrial capacity.

At the end of last year, Shanxi’s seven largest coal groups had Rmb1.18tn in debt, almost as much as the province’s Rmb1.28tn gross domestic product in 2015, according to Everbright Securities. Fitch estimates current combined debt stands at Rmb1.1tn, and according to Chinese media the companies have about Rmb600bn in short-term debt.


Silas Berry

Source https://www.ft.com/content/8b244b36-5d39-11e6-a72a-bd4bf1198c63