TORONTO – (Reuters) – Leave it to the irreverent Robert Friedland to brighten the mood of a mining conference in the throes of a deep, collective depression.
The outspoken financier, known for his talent for picking winners in a risky business, made a rare public appearance on Monday to trumpet his latest venture, Ivanplats Ltd. It was a star turn by a man apparently unburdened by self-doubt or any lack of confidence in the industry’s resilience.
Friedland’s company, one of a handful of initial public offerings in the mining industry last year, owns South Africa’s Platreef, a project rich in platinum, palladium, gold, rhodium, nickel and copper.
Ivanplats owns the “largest mechanizable, ethical precious metal discovery in the world,” Friedland said at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto, promising that the geological nature of the deposit would allow for more humane working conditions than those in rival South African mines.
“We’ve discovered something that is very good,” he said, “We’re quite confident that the nickel and copper values are double what we would need to recover, gold, platinum, rhodium and palladium at a negative cost.”
Friedland’s sheer enthusiasm seemed out of step with the predominant mood at this year’s PDAC, where talk has often focused on the dearth of financing for mining projects amid cost overruns, multi-billion dollar writedowns and stagnant metal prices.
Friedland sees a big opportunity for Ivanplats to fill a coming void in the market, with the majors hunkering down and shelving major projects after several ousted their CEOs.
“We’re in a world where all of the CEOs of major miners have had their heads cut off … So these major mining companies are now being run by people who are inherently risk averse,” said Friedland. “That means there is going to be less metal around in five years.”
Friedland, who also gave the keynote address at the Canada-Southern Africa Chamber of Business on Tuesday, vowed that the industry would emerge from its funk, as the rise of mega-cities around the world drives metal demand.
“The whole planet Earth is going urban,” he said.
No matter how controversial his remarks, Friedland’s reputation alone wins him a ready audience.
Now 62, Friedland, made a name in 1996 by selling a then-undeveloped Canadian nickel-copper project called Voisey’s Bay for C$4.3 billion ($4.2 billion).
He solidified his near-legendary status within the mining industry with Ivanhoe Mines, a vehicle he used to promote and build the massive Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in Mongolia. Last year, mining giant Rio Tinto acquired a majority interest in Ivanhoe, now called Turquoise Hill Resources.
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