• Rio Tinto has been given hope the Serbian Government will back its Jadar lithium mine in the face of opposition from community and environment groups
  • Iron ore hit as Chinese real estate continues to implode
  • Can Regis prosper as an underground gold miner?


There have been few tales as cautionary in recent years as Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) and its travails in Serbia.

A lesson in the power of community, politics and business in unconventional jurisdictions, the project proclaimed by Rio as the largest prospective lithium mine in Europe was apparently sunk in early 2022 when mass protests prompted a pre-election Serbian Government to cancel its project permit.

Since then the company has maintained it still planned to deliver the project despite pitched opposition from local environmental campaigners.

And a report on Sunday from the Financial Times quoting Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić and finance minister Siniša Mali, now two years removed from the heat of an election campaign, suggests Rio’s wishes could yet be granted.

According to the FT, Serbia’s top brass will return Rio’s permits after it announced the release of a draft environmental impact assessment last week as long as it met guarantees to maintain environment standards.

“If we deliver on everything, [the mine] might be open in 2028,”, Vučić, who added business leaders were expected to come to Belgrade next month to confirm the project’s revival, was quoted as saying.

It’s a curious turnaround. Rio is the only global mining super major to move enthusiastically into lithium on the back of its projections that EV production growth will see demand grow 4-7 x this decade. BHP (ASX:BHP) has remained on the sidelines while Glencore

The iron ore, aluminium and copper giant, which like other diversified players wants to shift from old world commodities into ‘green metals’ like lithium and copper, had responded to its issues at Jadar by paying US$825 million for Argentine brine play Rincon Mining, where it is aiming to have a 3000tpa pilot plant on a novel direct lithium extraction project up by the end of this year at a cost of US$335m.

While the FT piece has a sniff of finality about it, there is little doubt opposition will remain pitched. Savo Manojlović, a lawyer and activist who led the GO CHANGE campaign against the project ahead of its cancellation in January 2022, was elected to Belgrade’s City Assembly in this month’s municipal elections.

He’s already been on the offensive over the FT drop.



Jadar is located near Loznica, a rural community around 140km from Belgrade. Rio expects to extract 58,000tpa of lithium hydroxide as well as boric acid by processing a mineral contained at the site called jadarite, having developed a process in a Melbourne lab to extract the critical minerals from the unique orebody.

It was sanctioned pending approvals by Rio in 2021 as lithium prices began their upswing towards record highs, but prices have since come back down to Earth, with a fast supply response to match EV demand growth crowding the market and sending chemical prices back into the low US$10,000s/t range earlier this year.


Iron ore falls

Iron ore prices in Singapore copped a rough 2.5% smack in afternoon trade after a host of May real estate numbers were delivered from the Middle Kingdom.



Surging above US$120/t not too long ago, Australia’s top export commodity is back under US$105/t. Those remain positive levels for the big iron ore miners, but a little hairy for more marginal producers.

Housing sector investment dropped 10.1% YoY over the first five months of 2024, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Around 30% or so of the end market for steel in China – and therefore iron ore – is in the real estate sector, which seems to have been crumpling with the pace of a black hole since 2021.

But prices have remained stubbornly high, rebounding on a number of occasions as export steel demand, manufacturing, infrastructure and carmaking have picked up the slack.


Regis flags underground future in reserve update

Investors have spent years waiting for the worm to turn for Regis Resources (ASX:RRL), the mid-tier gold miner which poisoned the golden goose with hedges that hampered profits as bullion prices climbed in 2023 and 2024 to record highs.

Those have now been cleared, but it faces a bigger question mark now over its growth prospects.

For years Regis’ bread and butter was in effectively mining and processing low grade open pits at its Duketon project near Laverton in WA, a mantle lately picked up by former boss Mark Clark’s new success story Capricorn Metals (ASX:CMM).

Now it is looking to expand its underground production at the ageing Duketon while milking profit margins from a 30% share of its non-operated Tropicana project, where majority partner AngloGold Ashanti is taking a similar approach.

Growth at those two sites seems all the more important with doubts circling its McPhillamys project in New South Wales after a major blowout in pre-production capex was revealed earlier this year.

While no news is available around the outlook there just yet, a resource and reserve update today gave a (very small) window into the plans ahead in WA.

Regis’ overall resources were flat after depletion over the last year, remaining at 7Moz with 360,000oz of add-ons coming from the Duketon project (2.69Moz of that 7Moz is at McPhillamys by the by).

Reserves were up slightly from 3.51Moz to 3.6Moz. But RBC’s Alex Barkley, who has an outperform rating and $3.10 price target on the $1.73 per share, $1.3b gold producer, said the continued reserve growth at the Duketon underground reinforced its shift in focus.

“Duketon underground R&R continues to grow in-line with RRL’s strategic switch to an underground production focus. RRL wants to operate 4-5 underground mines with production of ~200-250kozpa,” he said in a note.

“We expect that the many former open pits operated by RRL, plus existing geological knowledge, should help create future underground opportunities.

“This annual update has not greatly reduced Duketon open pit resources, despite the strategic shift away from pit production. Newly itemised stockpile ounces of 164koz at 0.7g/t at Duketon South should help support buttress production in the transition to underground production. Overall we consider this update neutral to slightly positive for RRL.”


Today’s Best Miners 🚀

Capricorn Metals (ASX:CMM)  (gold)  +4.5%

West African Resources (ASX:WAF) (gold) +2.5%

Genesis Minerals (ASX:GMD) (gold) +2.3%

Red 5 (ASX:RED)  (gold) +2.3%


Today’s Worst Miners 😭

Arcadium Lithium (ASX:LTM) (lithium) -6.1%

Paladin Energy (ASX:PDN) (lithium) -4.9%

Liontown Resources (ASX:LTR) (lithium) -3.9%

Resolute Mining (ASX:RSG) (gold) -3.9%


Monstars share prices today



ASX 200 Metals and Minings Index today