The devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday triggered a sell-off in equity markets that were already retreating, following data that pointed to rising inflation in China and renewed worries about the economic integrity of the Eurozone.

Commodities were also weaker, as copper hit a two-month low to close at US$9,073 per tonne, or US$4.12 per pound. Nickel retreated sharply to US$25,655 per tonne, while zinc fell to US$2,275. Precious metals held up better, as gold edged lower to US$1,422.5 per ounce, and silver crept higher to US$35.84 per ounce. Platinum fell to US$1,778 per ounce and palladium fell to US$764.35 per ounce.

The majors led the retreat in equities. Rio Tinto closed 8.1 per cent lower at 3,967p as it increased its bid for the Australian-listed coal company Riversdale to US$16.50 per share. Rio also extended the offer period for Riversdale by two weeks to 1st April. Elsewhere, Xstrata has received further approvals for its US$4.2 billion Las Bambas copper project in southern Peru’s Apurimac region. Las Bambas will be a long-life copper mine which will initially produce of 400,000 tonnes of copper in concentrate per year, with significant by-products. First ore is expected in 2014. Xstrata closed down five per cent at 1,354p. Also on the slide, Anglo American fell 6.2 per cent to 3,118p, while BHP Billiton fell 8.1 per cent to 2,291p.

In the gold space, African Barrick Gold announced an initial mineral resource of 679,000 ounces at its Golden Ridge project. African Barrick aims to develop Golden Ridge into a satellite operation for the Buzwagi gold mine, effective 2013. The shares fell 9.2 per cent to close at 514p.

Allied Gold has poured first gold at the Gold Ridge mine in the Solomon Islands. This mine is expected to produce 120,000 ounces per year, and should lift Allied’s aggregate output to some 200,000 ounces per year. The shares closed 8.7 per cent lower at 38.36p.

Meanwhile, in Côte d’Ivoire miners are enjoying mixed fortunes. Cluff Gold closed 16.4 per cent lower at 101p after it temporarily suspended operations at its Angovia mine, due to problems with supplies. In contrast the recently-commissioned Tongon mine owned by Randgold Resources is still operating on plan despite the continuing political impasse in the country. The company’s reassurance to market couldn’t prevent its shares falling 8.2 per cent to 4,550p, though.

Even further down the food-chain, Algeria-focused GMA Resources eased back 1.5 per cent to 1.7p as it revealed disappointing production numbers for January and February. The primary reasons for the continued low production are a lack of high-grade ore feed and poor crushing performance.

In gold exploration, Kryso Resources has received a letter of interest from The Export-Import Bank of China for the financing of the company’s 100 per cent-owned Pakrut gold project in Tajikistan. Wider market weakness meant that investors were still heading for the exits, though, and the shares fell 18.5 per cent to 13.35p.

Meanwhile, European Goldfields closed 11.4 per cent lower at 760p as it started the final stages of its public consultation regarding its proposed development of its Certej project in Romania.

In copper, Chilean copper miner Antofagasta increased net earnings by 57.5 per cent last year to US$1,051.8 million. The company also stated that it expects expansion at Los Pelambres, and commissioning of the Esperanza mine to increase group copper production in 2011 by 60 per cent. The shares closed 6.8 per cent lower at 1,339p.

Still in Chile, Herencia Resources has started drilling on its high-grade copper-silver Doris prospect on its 70 per cent-owned Paguanta project. Herencia’s shares closed 11 per cent lower at 3.25p.

Over in Africa, Discovery Metals announced high-grade intercepts from underground in-fill drilling at the Zeta target on the Boseto copper project in Botswana. Discovery plans to complete an updated resource on Zeta by mid-2011, and has started drilling to test the underground potential at another prospect at Plutus. The shares closed down 15.7 per cent at 64.9p.

Elsewhere, Stratex International has encountered further positive intersections of copper, gold, molybdenum and rhenium from its Muratdere copper-gold project in western Turkey. Joint-venture partner Aydeniz has confirmed its intention to fund the next stage of drilling. However, Stratex couldn’t escape the general sell off, and its shares fell 3.2 per cent to 7.5p.

In iron ore, Obtala Resources bucked the downward trend by rising two per cent to 51.75p. The company raised £6 million through a subscription at 50p and acquired a 50 per cent interest in Bushveld Resources for US$11.5 million plus potential further consideration of US$20 million. Bushveld owns an interest in a two billion-tonne iron ore deposit in South Africa.

Meanwhile, fellow iron ore junior Sable Mining announced that it has identified some good looking iron ore exploration targets in Liberia following the completion of an aeromagnetic survey of its Bopulu and Timbo reconnaissance licences. The shares fell 7.6 per cent to 24.5p.

In coal, Beacon Hill Resources edged higher to 16.81p as it increased coal resources at its Minas Moatize coal mine in the Tete province of Mozambique to 79.77 million tonnes.

And not surprisingly, Churchill Mining has appealed against the decision by the Administrative Tribunal in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, to revoke the four mining licences that comprise the company’s East Kutai coal project. After last week’s heavy fall, the shares closed 20.8 per cent higher at 32p.

In other energy commodities, uranium investor Kalahari Minerals is in discussions with CGNPC-Uranium Resources, a subsidiary of state-owned China Guangdong Nuclear Power, regarding a possible cash offer for Kalahari at 290p. The shares rose 14.5 per cent to 298p, in expectation of a higher bid.

Elsewhere in uranium, VANE Minerals increased its resource at its Wate project in northern Arizona to over one million pounds. VANE and partner Uranium One will now move the project into the development stage. The shares closed 4.6 per cent lower at 3.22p.

In nickel, European Nickel has recommenced direct shipping ore operations at its Acoje project in the Philippines. Under a new agreement with DMCI Mining, DMCI will undertake the mining and sale of the nickel laterite from Acoje, ore and pay European Nickel a royalty fee on each shipment made. The shares closed 3.1 per cent lower at 15.5p.

Meanwhile, potash developer Sirius Minerals closed 5.4 per cent lower at 13.25p after it raised £20 million through a placing at 13p per share.

And Stellar Diamonds also tapped the markets, raising £6.2 million through a placing at 8p per share. The new money will be used to accelerate exploration and development of Stellar’s kimberlite portfolio. The shares fell 9.8 per cent to close at 8p.


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