Australian mining minister declares boom 'over'

Australia's resources minister on Thursday declared the nation's mining boom "over" after BHP Billiton delayed a major project as China's easing and European woes hit commodity prices.

"You've got to understand, the resources boom is over. We've done well -- Aus$270 billion (US$283.6 billion) in investment -- the envy of the world," Martin Ferguson told ABC radio.

"It has got tougher in the last six to 12 months. Look at Europe, the state of the European and global economy. Think about the difficulties in China.

"The commodity price boom is over and anyone with half a brain knows that."

Analysts have warned of growing headwinds in Australia due to the commodity slowdown, with Deutsche Bank this week saying the mining-powered economy was at risk of slipping into recession in 2013 as the value of its exports tanks.

Australia's central bank expects mining and energy-related spending to peak sometime in 2013-14, quicker than expected, due to global uncertainty.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was grilled on Ferguson's comments in parliament, with the opposition seizing on them as proof that Canberra's return to a budget surplus in 2013 as planned was at risk.

But Gillard insisted that mining would continue to buoy Australia's economy, with projects worth hundreds of billions of dollars yet to come online, despite commodity prices appearing to have peaked.

"We will continue to see this nation earn a great deal of prosperity and wealth from exporting resources," she told lawmakers.

"We will continue to see billions of dollars invested in our resources sector, we will continue to see the opening of new projects and we will continue to see investment decisions made.

"The mining boom, the amount we are earning from exporting mining, will be with us for a long time to come."

BHP, the world's largest miner, said Wednesday it would delay and explore a "less capital-intensive design" for the Aus$20 billion Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine as it reported its first profit slump in three years.

Cooling in China, whose economy grew 7.6 percent in the second quarter of this year, its slowest pace in more than three years, and ongoing turbulence in Europe saw BHP's annual profit dive 35 percent to US$15.42 billion.

The decline came as prices for a number of its key products, including iron ore and coal, plunged while its own costs rose.

BHP chief executive Marius Kloppers also blamed the bullish Australian dollar, which has traded near or above parity with the greenback for almost two years for the result, which chimed with recent losses at rival Rio Tinto.

Ferguson's remarks echo warnings from Australia's central bank that the once-in-a-century mining boom which helped the resources-rich nation stave off recession during the global downturn was nearing its peak.

The Reserve Bank of Australia predicted in its quarterly outlook on monetary policy this month that the boom would end "somewhat earlier than previously thought", putting it at "sometime in 2013-14".

The RBA noted that some resource companies had "adopted a more cautious approach to investment opportunities currently under consideration... given the more uncertain global outlook".

Deutsche Bank warned against "over-confidence that the investment pipeline was locked in".

A BHP Billiton copper/uranium/gold/silver processing plant near the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. Australia's Resources Minister Martin Ferguson on Thursday declared the mining boom "over" following BHP Billiton's decision to delay the massive Olympic Dam project as commodities prices sag.

BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam copper and uranium operation at Roxby Downs in South Australia. BHP, the world's largest miner, said it would delay and explore a "less capital-intensive design" for the multi-billion dollar Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine as it reported its first profit slump in three years Wednesday.

Coal is stockpiled at the coal port of Newcastle in Australia's New South Wales state in April 2012. Analysts have warned of growing headwinds in Australia due to the commodity slowdown, with Deutsche Bank this week saying the mining-powered economy was at risk of slipping into recession in 2013 as the value of its exports tanks.

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