June 10, 2016

The Mining ‘Cliff’ – How far have we come

The winding down of the mining investment boom has largely unfolded as many had predicted.

  •  The transition of the Australian economy from mining to non-mining activity to date has been smoother than many had expected, aided by a low AUD and interest rates. Nevertheless, the ongoing unwinding of Australia’s once-in-a-100-year mining investment boom presents significant challenges to a number of industry sectors and skill groups in the economy. In this note, we estimate the extent to which mining investment and employment have progressed in their respective cycles, and how much further their adjustment has to run.
  • So far, the winding down of the mining investment boom has largely unfolded as many had predicted, although the associated fall in direct mining employment has been more muted to-date. We believe that mining investment is currently more than half-way through the cycle, while employment is slightly below the half-way mark –  with the difference likely to be related to the significantly higher labour intensity of LNG projects in the (near) completion stage of the construction phase.
  • Following the peak and subsequent decline of commodity prices and Australia’s terms of trade, mining investment has followed suit, steadily declining after peaking 2012-13. The question remains how much further does the mining investment downturn have to run, and what have been the broader consequences for the economy? Our analysis suggests that, given the existing pipeline of mining projects scheduled for completion, the investment downturn is a little over half complete in level terms. As a percentage of GDP, mining capex has fallen from 8% GDP at its peak to around 4¼% currently and expected to fall to 1½% of GDP by late 2018.
  • Higher mining output has not fully offset the drag from investment. Furthermore, the relatively labour-intensive nature of the mining investment phase (relative to the operational phase) means that the decline has significant implications for the local labour market.
  • We estimate that 46k mining jobs were shed between the peak in 2012-13 and 2014-15 and around 50k more will be cut going forward. The majority of the job losses are likely to come from WA due for a number of reasons, including that: 1) WA’s mining investment and employment cycles are currently less progressed than Queensland, 2) WA accounts for a larger share of total investment and employment in the country, and 3) the labour intensity of commodity projects in their operational phase in WA is lower than in Queensland.
  • This will cause significant headwinds, especially in geographically affected regions and in certain specialised skill groups. However, it is not unmanageable at the national level with offsetting job creation elsewhere (particularly in services sectors) – we are forecasting 18k additional jobs to be created per month over the next few years, with the unemployment rate to track down towards 5½% by mid-2017 before inching up thereafter.

For further analysis download the full report.

For more extensive analysis on the trends and projections in mining employment, refer to our detailed note: