From prime rib to chips and dip: Lean times at mining’s annual conference – by Susan Taylor and Euan Rocha (Reuters U.K. – March 4, 2015)

(Reuters) – When the world’s miners head for Toronto each year to attend their industry’s annual conference, they arrive with certain expectations. They’re accustomed to finding oyster bars, rowdy parties, open bars with high-end liquor and elegant hotel suites.

But this year’s gathering of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) is a more subdued affair, with lavish spreads and grand lodgings increasingly giving way to cheese platters and Airbnb rentals.

After a years-long downturn in the mining sector – and with little relief in sight – the 2015 convention, which runs through Wednesday, has lost some of its glitz.

“We’re seeing far less prime rib, far more chips, far more salsa,” said Benjamin Cox, chief executive of explorer Aston Bay Holdings Ltd. (BAY.V). “I’m really depressed that I have to drink bourbon versus single malt scotch, it just doesn’t do it for me.”

Striking a more serious note, Cox also summed up the overall mood of the miners: “Everyone is panicked in the industry. If you are not humbled this year, whether you work for a major or a junior or anyone in-between, you are insane.”

Junior mining firms, which specialise in exploration and development, have been hit especially hard by falling metal prices. Spending on global exploration for non-ferrous metals dropped to $11.4 billion in 2014 from a $21.5 billion in 2012, SNL Metals & Mining estimates.

Although final attendance numbers have not been released, event organizers expected between 20,000 and 25,000 participants this year, down from a peak of some 30,000 participants during boom times. Mining firms are reluctant to miss the event entirely, since relationships that start at PDAC often translate into deals or sales down the road. But they say they are trimming where they can.

Aston Bay, which saw its agreement with Chile’s Antofagasta (ANTO.L) terminated after copper prices soured, cut its attendance to three from seven people and used online home-rental marketplace Airbnb to find a two-bedroom condo to house attendees. It has even cut the number of fact sheets it hands out.

Bruce McDonald, executive vice-president at analytic services provider ALS Ltd., said he found this year’s gathering “a little bit depressing,” but a sign of the times. “Flat is the new up,” he said.

In past years, miners have vied for prime booth space on the main floor. This year, PDAC opened up the floor to a wider range of exhibitors, including suppliers, financial firms, and even pipeline company TransCanada (TRP.TO), which is touting the merits of its Energy East project. Even so, there was empty exhibition space.

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