Metals miners might have bigger concerns on their minds than the recent slump in commodity prices.
In 10 days, the second round of presidential elections in Peru pits centre-left candidate Alan Garcia against nationalist Ollanta Humala, who says he is for the nationalization of Peru's assets, including mines.
The latest poll showed Garcia clearly in the lead at 56% compared with Humala's 44%,
reported on Wednesday. Then again, Garcia, although he is not for nationalizations, backs higher taxes on oil and mining profits.
Mining companies are already nervous about losing their assets in South America since Bolivia's new President Evo Morales announced the nationalization of his country's oil and gas interests on May 1. Mining assets, Morales said, would be next.
, which operates a 125,000-ounce gold mine in Bolivia, dropped more than 2% after Morales' announcement. But the Bolivian hit had taken place amid a bull run; they've since dropped nearly 15% amid a broad selloff in commodities that resumed Wednesday. (Early Thursday, July crude was up 25 cents to $70.11 a barrel, while gold added $5 to $642.50 and copper gained 10 cents to $3.74 a pound.)
Shares of Denver-based
Apex Silver Mines
, which is developing a 100%-owned San Cristobal silver-zinc-lead project in southwestern Bolivia, have plunged 17% since May 1.
Shares of Idaho-based miner
, which owns a silver mine in Bolivia, have fallen 8.3%.
Yet Bolivia is not a major mining country, accounting for 7.1 tons of gold in 2005, or only 0.3% of global production, and only fractional amounts of copper, according to Citigroup.
"The greater concern is potential spillover to Peru, which is a major producer of gold," writes Citigroup analyst John Hill.
The impact of nationalization in Peru could indeed be more chilling for foreign mining companies than it would be in Bolivia. Peru is South America's largest gold producer and the world's fifth largest, with 8.2% of global production coming from Peruvian mines. It also accounted for 3% of copper production in 2005.
Major players in Peru include Newmont,
( PD), and potentially
, should its acquisition of
( FAL) go through.
Speaking at the seventh International Gold Symposium in Lima, Peru on May 3, Newmont President Pierre Lassonde confessed he was "nervous" about the upcoming elections.
"Our new investments in Peru are now totally conditional on what happens with the country's new government," he said, according to
Denver, Colorado-based Newmont is a partner of Peru's
( BVS) at Yanacocha, a massive gold mine in the north of the country, which produced 3.3 million ounces of gold last year.
"Of course we are nervous about what will happen after the elections. Just look at what is happening in Bolivia and Venezuela," Lassonde was quoted as saying.
Venezuela, which recently took control of oil fields from France's
and cancelled an oilfield contract with Italy's
, is another source of concern for the mining industry. Idaho-based
has the largest gold-mining presence in the country.
Lassonde might be breathing a little easier already, given the recent poll of Peruvian voters.
Similar concerns have become widespread for many commodity producers in different parts of the world, as rallying prices stir up claims of ownership by the countries with large deposits.
"Regions that have readily available reserves of metals, such as Russia, much of Latin America and Africa, are increasingly turning to resource nationalism, a flashback to the 1970's commodities boom," BMO Nesbitt Burns senior economists Doug Porter and Bart Melek wrote.
The recent slump in prices might cool some of these demands, at least temporarily. But it's not doing much for metals-mining shares, which have all declined sharply over the past two weeks.