Resources and energy quarterly: December 2023

Date published:
18 December 2023

The Resources and energy quarterly (REQ) report contains the Office of the Chief Economist’s forecasts for the value, volume and price of Australia’s major resources and energy commodity exports.

The publication provides:

  • a 2-year outlook for global commodity prices, demand and supply
  • up-to-date global production and consumption data
  • forecasts for Australian production, exports, and prices for key resources and energy commodities
  • reviews of relevant topics and issues
  • detailed statistical tables
  • interactive data using Power BI.

Explore the interactive data dashboards

Use Power BI to build your own charts and tables.

Overview

Latest developments

Australia resources and energy exports are passing a peak.

  • In net terms, the outlook for Australian resource and energy commodity exports has improved slightly since the September edition of the REQ. The world economy has not slowed as sharply as feared a few months ago and the Chinese Government has taken further measures to stabilise the nation’s residential property sector, maintaining demand for a range of resource commodities.
  • The latest forecast is for weaker growth in world demand and improving world commodity supply to reduce Australia’s resource and energy export earnings from a record $466 billion in 2022–23 to $408 billion in 2023–24. A further decline seems likely in 2024–25, as commodity prices soften further and monetary policy expectations imply a stronger Australian dollar.
  • Key September quarter price developments include: 
    • higher iron ore prices as Chinese demand continues
    • higher uranium prices as countries re-evaluate nuclear power
    • lower lithium prices due to high stockpiles and concerns around near term EV demand. 
This chart shows Australia’s annual export values for major resource and energy commodities for the period 2016–17 to 2024–25"

This chart shows Australia’s annual resource and energy export values (in A$ billions) for each major resources and energy commodity from 2016–17 to 2024–25. 

The chart shows the 2 waves of resource and energy export earnings that Australia has experienced since the COVID-19 pandemic. The first wave occurred in 2021, as iron ore prices pushed to record highs following China's reopening. The second wave of revenues came from the spectacular surge in energy prices in 2022, which originated from the fallout over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Higher energy prices lead to record high earnings for coal and LNG.

Macroeconomic outlook

Latest developments

While the IMF’s core outlook for the global economy is slightly weaker than in the September report, recent upgrades to the Chinese growth outlook are favourable for resource and energy commodity demand. Risks remain weighted towards the downside, with key examples being the potential for China’s property sector downturn to worsen.

  • Global industrial production and manufacturing activity have continued to soften in the second half of 2023 due to falling goods demand in major economies. 
  • The core outlook for global growth in 2024 has weakened slightly, with the balance of risks surrounding the outlook remaining tilted to the downside. As inflation returns to target levels, central banks will be able to adopt less restrictive stances, allowing growth to pick up in 2025.
  • Despite better-than-expected growth in the September quarter 2023, key downside risks challenge China’s growth outlook, including ongoing issues in the real estate sector.

Contribution of major economies to global GDP, 2022

This chart shows the annual share of global GDP for major economies, as well as the annual change and Australia's share of two-way trade. China is the largest national economy in purchasing power parity terms and holds a 30% share of Australia's two-way trade. Data table follows
Country Share of global GDP Yearly change Share of trade with Australia
China 18% +3.0% 30%
US 16% +2.1% 6%
EU 15% +3.7% 9%
India 7% +7.2% 4%
ASEAN 5% +5.3% 10%
Japan 4% +1.0% 12%
South Korea 2% +2.6% 7%
Taiwan 1% +2.5% 4%
Australia 1% +3.7% Not applicable

Steel

Latest developments

The global steel outlook remains broadly consistent with the September report. Global steel production continued to soften in the December quarter due to lower demand from China’s property sector and slowing manufacturing and construction in advanced economies.

  • Global steel demand remains weak, driven by lower demand from manufacturing and construction in developed economies and ongoing weakness in China’s property sector.
  • World steel production fell 4.6% (quarter-on-quarter) in the September quarter 2023. An expected stabilisation and gradual pickup in growth in global industrial production, combined with further stimulus-related infrastructure projects, should support stronger growth in steel demand in 2024.
  • World steel production is projected to reach just under 2 billion tonnes by the end of the outlook to 2025. Growth will be supported by new capacity – either underway or planned – with projects in the pipeline in Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East.  

Australian steel refineries

Map showing Australia's 4 steel mills. They are in Port Kembla, New South Wales; Sydney, New South Wales; Whyalla, South Australia and Melbourne, Victoria.

Iron ore

Latest developments

Revenue expectations have increased from September due to stronger iron ore prices combined with a weaker exchange rate. Prices have been supported by improved market sentiment following a series of Chinese government measures to support growth.

  • Spot iron ore prices strengthened in the December quarter driven by positive sentiment associated with the ongoing policy stimulus provided to the Chinese economy. Prices are likely to drift lower over the outlook period.
  • Australian export volumes over the second half of 2023 have remained healthy, reflecting an ongoing ramp up in new operations from established and emerging producers. Export volumes should rise steadily over the outlook period.
  • Australia's iron ore export earnings are expected to rise from $124 billion in 2022–23 to $131 billion in 2023–24 before falling to $102 billion in 2024–25. This is driven by lower prices over the outlook period.

Major iron ore deposits

Map of Australia showing that most iron ore deposits and operating mines are located in Western Australia

Metallurgical coal

Latest developments

Metallurgical coal export earnings have been revised down from September quarter as a downturn in global steelmaking lowers prices.

  • Metallurgical coal prices remain well above pre-2019 levels and have spiked further in recent months on the back of supply concerns. The Australian premium hard coking coal price is expected to average US$287 a tonne in 2023, easing to around US$203 a tonne by 2025.
  • Australia’s exports are forecast to lift from 156 Mt in 2022–23 to 169 Mt in 2024–25 as several new mines open.
  • As prices decline, the value of Australia’s metallurgical coal exports is forecast to fall from $61 billion in 2022–23 to $41 billion in 2024–25.

Major coal deposits

Map of major Australian coal deposits and mines. Most coal deposits are in Queensland and most operating mines are in New South Wales.

Thermal coal

Latest developments

Australia’s thermal coal export earnings are similar to the September quarter. Prices have begun to decline as the global energy transition continues, with supply expected to hold while prices decline over the outlook period.

  • Prices for Newcastle 6,000 kcal thermal coal dropped to US$122 a tonne in November 2023, compared with US$159 a tonne in September 2023. The price weakness largely reflects high stockpiles in China and fewer supply disruptions. Prices are expected to drift lower as supply rises and demand moderates over the outlook period.
  • A return to more favourable production conditions is expected to see Australian thermal coal exports rise from 182 Mt in 2022–23 to 203 Mt by 2024–25.
  • As prices fall, Australian thermal coal exports are forecast to fall from a peak above $65 billion in 2022–23 to about $29 billion by 2024–25.

Major coal deposits

Map of major Australian coal deposits and mines. Most coal deposits are in Queensland and most operating mines are in New South Wales.

Gas

Latest developments

The global LNG outlook remains broadly consistent with the September report, though the outbreak of conflict in Gaza has added to forecast risks. The loss of Russian supply (and consequent global dependency on seaborne LNG) leaves gas markets more vulnerable to further disruptions.

  • Australia’s LNG export revenues held at $17 billion in the September quarter. In annual terms, earnings are expected to ease from A$92 billion in 2022–23 to A$64 billion by 2024–25 as global energy prices soften and some supply disruptions resolve.
  • Geopolitical risks have worsened with the outbreak of conflict in Gaza. However, seasonal risks have abated as European countries successfully filled inventories ahead of the northern winter. The price outlook is largely unchanged, with winter demand expected to lift prices from US$12/MMBtu in the September quarter to around US$17/MMBtu by the March quarter 2024, with gradual declines to follow.
  • Longer-term structural pressures should ease after 2025 as the US and Qatar bring new supply sources online.

LNG projects and gas basins

Map of Australia showing that LNG projects are located in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Their combined nameplate capacity is 88 million tonnes per year

Oil

Latest developments

Revenue expectations are broadly similar to the September report. The oil market has loosened slightly from stronger than expected North and Latin American supply.

  • The Brent crude price is forecast to fall slightly to average US$83 in 2024, but then fall significantly further to US$76 a barrel by 2025. The fall will be driven by strong increases in non-OPEC production.
  • Australia’s crude and condensate production is expected to fall to about 280,000 barrels per day by 2024–25 as North-West Shelf output falls.
  • Australia’s crude and condensate export earnings are expected to lift to A$13.8 billion in 2023–24 due to a weaker Australian dollar, before falling to A$11.4 billion in 2024–25 as prices fall and output declines.

Crude oil, condensate and LPG resources

Map of Australia showing that around three-quarters of Australia's oil production comes from the Carnarvon Basin offshore Western Australia

Lithium

Latest developments

Lithium export revenue has been revised downward from September due to prices falling faster than expected. The lithium market has entered a period of surplus supply, placing downward pressure on prices. Lower prices will be partly offset by rising export volumes and a growing share of lithium refined to a higher value product domestically.

  • Lithium export earnings are forecast to fall as lower prices more than offset higher export volumes. Exports will be $14–15 billion in 2023–24 and 2024–25, down from record levels ($20 billion) in 2022–23. 
  • Price declines since the September quarter reflect rising lithium inventories. High-cost producers have become unprofitable and have cut output. Australia’s Greenbushes lithium mine (the world’s largest) reported stockpiling of surplus production and flagged the prospect of future output cuts if weakness in prices and demand persists. However, most producers remain profitable at current prices.
  • Three Australian lithium hydroxide refineries are either operating or under construction, targeting a total capacity of 198 kilotonnes of lithium hydroxide. By 2030, close to 20% of Australian spodumene could be refined domestically. Investments have also been made in low-emissions refining technology including a lithium phosphate refinery. 

Major lithium deposits and mines

Map of Australia showing that all producing lithium mines and almost all deposits are located in Western Australia

Uranium

Latest developments

Export earnings forecasts have been revised up in the latest quarter following a surge in uranium prices. Uranium exports are forecast to exceed $1.4 billion by 2024–25 as prices continue to rise and a new mine opens in South Australia.

  • Supply disruptions and renewed interest in nuclear power have resulted in prices rising to US$81 a pound in the early part of the December quarter, revising up the price and value forecast.
  • Prices are now forecast to climb to around US$92 a pound by 2025, driven by a structural market deficit. Australian exports are forecast to increase from around 4800 tonnes in 2022–23 to around 5700 tonnes by 2024–25. This growth reflects the expected opening and ramp-up of production at Boss Energy’s Honeymoon mine in South Australia.
  • Price and volume growth are expected to lift uranium export values from A$812 million in 2022–23 to A$1,539 million by 2024–25.

Major uranium deposits

Map of Australia showing uranium deposits and operating mines

Gold

Latest developments

Australian gold export earnings are expected to decline over the forecast period as prices ease from the near-record highs of 2023. Compared to the September report, earnings have been revised higher in 2023–24 due to higher forecast gold prices and a lower assumed exchange rate.

  • After averaging US$1,930 an ounce in the September quarter 2023, gold rose to above US$2,000 an ounce in November following the onset of conflict in the Middle East. Prices are forecast to remain elevated but soften gradually to average around US$1,830 an ounce in 2025.
  • Australian gold production decreased to 72 tonnes in the September quarter 2023 due to lower grades, planned maintenance and several mines in care and maintenance. Production is forecast to be steady due to project delays.
  • Higher volumes will lift exports to $27 billion in 2023–24 from $24 billion in 2022–23. Price falls will then cut exports to $21 billion in 2024–25.

Major gold deposits

Map of Australia showing that most major gold deposits are in Western Australia

Aluminium, alumina and bauxite

Latest developments

Forecast export earnings has been revised up slightly from September. Primary aluminium prices will fall in 2023 due to sluggish global demand. However, earnings should recover to $18 billion by the end of the outlook period as prices recover.

  • The primary aluminium price has strengthened from the September quarter. The rally comes on the back of a new round of fiscal stimulus from China, and power supply-related smelter production curtailments in China’s Yunnan province.
  • Russia’s share of world aluminium exports continues to fall as a result of Western nations’ sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
  • Earnings for Australian exports of aluminium, alumina and bauxite are expected to rise from $16 billion in 2023–24 to $18 billion in 2024–25 as prices rise over the outlook period.

Major bauxite deposits

Map of Australia showing the locations of bauxite deposits and mines

Copper

Latest developments

Revenue expectations remains broadly consistent with the September report. Strong growth in global copper demand this year (due to China) is expected to moderate from 2024. Stronger export volumes will maintain Australia’s export earnings around $12 billion annually over the outlook period.

  • Copper prices have trended lower in the second half of 2023. Despite strong growth in copper demand in China in 2023, the poor near-term outlook for construction and manufacturing in major markets such as Europe and Advanced Asia continues to weigh on the copper price. The benchmark LME copper is estimated to average about US$8,200 a tonne in the second half of 2023 (down from US$8,700 a tonne in the first half).
  • Global copper consumption is estimated to grow by 7.3% in 2023. China is expected to account for the bulk of this growth, driven by increased manufacturing activity and large investments in energy infrastructure.
  • Australian copper export earnings are forecast to reach around $12.6 billion in 2023–24. Higher Australian production and export volumes will see export earnings reach $13.4 billion in 2024–25.

Major copper deposits

Map of Australia showing copper deposits are located in all states

Nickel

Latest developments

Revenue expectations have decreased slightly from September. Despite strong growth in global nickel demand expected to 2025, a significant increase in supply (particularly from Indonesia) is expected to push nickel prices lower over the period.

  • Chinese demand (from end-uses such as stainless steel and EV battery production) continues to drive global nickel consumption, now forecast to rise by 5.5% year-on-year in 2023 and by 7.4% annually to 2025.
  • A continuing oversupply in the global nickel market – driven by strong growth in Indonesian and Chinese supply – is expected to peak in 2023, though will remain over the outlook period. 
  • Weaker prices over the outlook period are expected to push Australian nickel export earnings lower, falling from $5 billion in 2022–23 to $3.9 billion in 2023–24, before recovering to $4.3 billion in 2024–25.

Major nickel deposits

Map of Australia showing most nickel deposits and all operating mines are located in Western Australa

Zinc

Latest developments

Revenue expectations are broadly similar to the September report. The outlook for zinc demand remains subdued due to weakness in the Chinese property sector.

  • The outlook for zinc demand remains subdued due to both increased supply and ongoing weakness in China’s property market. The zinc price is forecast to average US$2,600 a tonne in 2024 and then rise to US$2,700 a tonne in 2025.
  • Australia’s zinc output has fallen in 2023 as some small mines closed. But output is expected to rise over the outlook period due to the Century mine expansion and higher Golden Grove mine output.
  • Australia’s zinc exports are forecast to fall to $3.9–4 billion in 2023–24 and 2024–25, with higher volumes partially offsetting the impact of lower prices.

Major zinc deposits

Map of Australia showing zinc deposits in all states. The largest operating mines are in Queensland and the Northern Territory