November 2, 2015 / 7:42 AM / 4 years ago

As downturn bites, Australia's miners could turn to crowdfunding

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A pair of former miners are hoping to launch a crowdfunding website in Australia for small mining companies struggling to raise capital via traditional outlets as lenders turn their back on the sector.

A view of a coal mine under development in the Leard State Forest bordering the property of farmer Cliff Wallace in Maules Creek June 4, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Regan

Crowdfunding in Australia to raise equity is prohibited under the nation’s Corporations Act. The founders of Mineral Intelligence Pty, however, are counting on this to change by the end of the year under pro-business initiatives being considered by lawmakers.

U.S. securities regulators approved new crowdfunding rules on Friday, allowing start-up companies to raise money for the first time from mom-and-pop investors over the internet.

Over the past three years, tens of thousands of jobs have gone in Australian mining, once the nation’s economic engine, while some executives have taken pay cuts or forsaken bonuses to support the bottom line in the absence of fresh capital.

Shared office space among companies has become commonplace to cut down on rents and perks such as gourmet foods and language lessons at mining camps have been eliminated.

“The lack of equity finance continues to be the most significant business constraint for mineral exploration and mining companies,” said Simon Bennison, chief executive of the Association of Mining and Exploration companies, representing many of Australia’s smaller miners.

Crowdfunding could pave the way for prospectors to raise cash to pay for exploration work at the earliest and riskiest stages of development and provide investors with early opportunities.

“Traditionally, this has been the domain of a select few industry insiders, geologists, mining entrepreneurs and prospectors with the knowledge and industry connections required to get in the ground floor of new mining ventures,” Market Intelligence’s Managing Director Cameron McLean said.

McLean and the company’s co-founder, Joe Treacy, are both former executives of the now-defunct zinc miner Kagara Ltd.

The key issue facing Australia’s small-capped mining firms is the difficulty in raising capital, according to a survey of 108 firms by Grant Thornton Australia.

The number of companies surviving on very low cash balances is increasing, with 29 percent of having less than A$500,000 ($357,000) in cash, the survey showed.

McLean said the company had already complied a list of 60 mining projects worldwide that could benefit from crowdfunding and was building a database of senior executives and others in the sector available to the site’s subscribers, who will each pay A$5,000 a year.

In August, Australia’s then-communications minister and now prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, blamed government bureaucracy for a lack of legislation to allow crowd-sourced equity funding for start-up businesses, and said new rules would be introduced by January.

($1 = 1.4006 Australian dollars)

Editing by Ed Davies

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