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Australia’s ANZ looks to expand lending to critical minerals sector

Australia's ANZ looks to expand lending to critical minerals sector © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An ANZ bank logo is pictured in Sydney, Australia April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

By Melanie Burton

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian lender ANZ Group is looking at opportunities to invest more in the critical minerals sector as part of its efforts to support decarbonisation and has recently backed its first stand-alone lithium deal, an executive said on Wednesday.

ANZ has traditionally supported long-life, low-risk mine projects for Australia’s staple resources including iron ore, gold, aluminium, and nickel, said Simon Arduca, ANZ’s executive director of resources, energy and infrastructure.

“We are keen to do more in transition metals. We are keen to do more across the board,” he said. “We are keen to do more in decarbonisation. We have a goal to be a leader in environmental sustainability and that then feeds into critical minerals.”

As competition for mortgages wipes out some of the usual margin benefits from higher interest rates, ANZ and the country’s other top lenders are looking to redirect staff and capital to the business banking sector.

Australia is rich in commodities like lithium that are key to the energy transition, but early stage resources projects have struggled to attract funds due to lengthening permitting times, soaring costs and because the industry has yet to build a track record.

Investors and traditional lenders have been wary of the sector given the long lead time from resource discovery to cash generation.

ANZ, however, has just financed a stand-alone lithium mine, Arduca told a panel at a mining conference in Melbourne, declining to provide further details.

The bank prefers to finance projects that have mineral reserves that can sustain mining over many years as well as sufficient cash reserves for unexpected events, he said.

“What it means is when the cycle turns, when there’s a weather event, a production issue, we can sit down with our customers and negotiate. It’s a lot harder to do that with a short mine life,” Arduca said.

Green finance, where companies that meet certain sustainability milestones can get access to lower lending rates has not really yet entered the mining sector, but will in time, he added.

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