The Bull on Mining Shares

Last Updated Jun 7, 2010 9:48 PM EDT

Despite the rhetoric from the mining sector, if the Resources Super Profits Tax is going to hit the value of shares, we're not seeing it yet. Since the May 2 announcement Rio shares have fallen 5.5 percent and BHP 4.8 percent, but both are less than the 7.3 percent drop in the ASX 200. National Australia Bank fared worse, falling 11.5 percent over the month and the Dow Jones index, far removed from the implications of a local Aussie tax, fell 7.9 percent. So it's a bear market, but there seems to be a lot of bull in the air.
Admittedly, the writing was on the wall for the mining sector well before the budget. The long-awaited Henry Tax Review was bound to do something to tackle Australia's two speed economy, so you could try and argue that the price had already factored in the impact. Certainly BHP has fallen 8.6 percent in the last two months, against a 6.6 percent drop in the ASX 200, but Rio has grown 10 percent, so that scuppers that argument.

Of course, it could be too early to tell. The scheme won't be started until 1st July 2012 --- more than two years away. Perhaps shareholders are confident that, if enough money is spent on advertising, the whole idea will go away.

One argument from the miners we can all agree on is that they helped us through the worst of the global financial crisis, provided you hold shares. They might have lain off more people than the average employer through 2009, but BHP and Rio shares grew by 94 percent and 100 percent respectively, more than trebling the performance of the ASX200 and the Dow Jones indices.

So here's the question? Should such growth in the value of a business, built on the extraction of public resources on crown land, be allowed to develop unfettered? As John Quiggin suggests on BTalk, if the major corporations are now so concerned about the viability of some future projects why don't they hand back the mining rights. Then we'll know they're hurting. Otherwise, on paper at least, it's difficult to see the immediate evidence of their pain.