Zinc was the hot tip at the Resources Investment Symposium held in Broken Hill last week.
Probably a natural call given that Broken Hill is home to the greatest silver-lead-zinc mine the world has ever known.
In its 130-year life Broken Hill has produced total of 50 million tonnes of lead and zinc combined plus 100 million ounces of silver. It has been mined almost continuously over that time and still has a long life ahead at deeper levels and in exploiting remnant ore.
In his opening address at the symposium, Emeritus Professor Ian Plimer of the University of Melbourne noted that the market for mining shares had been slow and sluggish for the past four years.
He said: “This market will turn around when there is a fundamental commodity shortage and I think that commodity will be zinc. I think we will go into shortage in the first quarter of next year.” It was a big call, because as far as investors are concerned, zinc is the least sexy of all the major metals.
At various times, investors have been excited about diamonds, gold, copper, oil and nickel, but some minerals just don’t seem capable of arousing them. Mineral sands are a good example. Australia is rich in them, but the market is never much better than lukewarm.
Nevertheless, history and sentiment may be overtaken by what is happening in the physical market for zinc. On such statistics as are available, demand for zinc has been outstripping supply for several years and a shortfall may be beginning right now.
Zinc has two main uses. The first is galvanising iron and steel to prolong its life. The old galvanised iron used in fences and roofs was capable of lasting half a century or more in a dry climate. The second main use was in the zinc oxide creams we use to block sunburn. Zinc oxide is also used in tyres to hold the rubber together and ensure longer life.
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