LONDON (Reuters) - Stock market flotations of smaller mining and metals companies are set to pick up this year, although a return to the flood of deals five or six years ago remains unlikely while investors rebuild their bruised confidence in the sector.
A continued rally in metals prices is galvanizing some firms into raising capital on exchanges across the world to fund exploration and plow cash into existing projects, with others also preparing initial public offerings.
But with investors' memories fresh of a bloodbath in mining stocks in 2015, the firms' ambitions are modest: they are joining small-capital indexes or listing on junior markets in deals typically worth $10 million or less - far from Glencore's $10 billion flotation in 2011 when commodities were booming.
"We are at the early stages of a cyclical recovery so you would expect to see the first signs of resurgence in the IPO market," said Michael Rawlinson, Global co-head of Global Mining and Metals at Barclays.
So far this year, the bulk of IPOs have been in Australia, where nine mining companies have already filed to list their shares on the Australian Stock Exchange. That compares with 10 new issues for the whole of 2016.
Lee Downham, head of EY's global mining & metals transaction advisory services, said the small-cap indexes in Toronto, London and Australia would see the bulk of initial activity until investors built up the confidence for larger cash calls.
"The sector needs to regain shareholder confidence before the bigger fundraising takes place," he said.
Investors were stung when mining indexes in London, Australia and Toronto fell between 27 and 50 percent in 2015, with Anglo-American (AAL.L) losing 75 percent of its value.
However, commodity prices began their revival last year, sending Anglo-American back up nearly 300 percent and making it the best performing blue chip in London, albeit from a low base.
Gold exploration companies, including Huntsman Resources and Raptor Resources, have dominated the Australian crop of IPOs so far as they take advantage of bullion prices rising in 2016 for the first time in three years.
Huntsman Resources is an exploration company with projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Australia, while Raptor Resources explores for gold and copper in Australia.
Also expecting to list in Australia is lithium-focused Marquee Resources, which plans to raise $2.7 million from investors to find and develop exploration projects.
The London Stock Exchange, which hosts three of the world's largest five mining firms, listed two companies last year - rare earths miner Mkango Resources (MKA.L) and uranium miner Aura Energy (AURA.L). They followed just one flotation in 2015.
Mkango chief executive Will Dawes said the miner listed on London's junior AIM market to fund its projects, increase liquidity and broaden its shareholder base while maintaining its Toronto listing.
Rainbow Rare Earths RWBR.L raised $8 million from its listing in London in January to fund its Burundi project.
"Circumstances seem to be more optimistic for junior mining IPOs in the short to medium term than they have been before," said Martin Eales, chief executive of Rainbow Rare Earths.
Performance of the new listings has been mixed. Shares in Mkango and Rainbow have not added that much value but Aura Energy has surged about 75 percent.
There have been two new mining listings on the Toronto Stock Exchange so far this year, and the bourse said more are expected in the coming months. In 2016, there was a 38 percent increase in cash raisings by mining firms from 2015.
"Assuming that things continue the direction they are going with commodity prices, and there is every indication that there will, we will be seeing a large number of new listings," said Orlee Wertheim, the head of business development for mining at TSX.
However, industry experts said that while there was a marginal improvement of new listings, investors were still cautious and this could affect how many companies actually make it to market.
"In terms of our pipeline, we are definitely seeing more flow of potential transactions," said Jeff Keating, director at SP Angel Corporate Finance. "There is more interest in mining companies but I don't believe that it is going to lead to a flood of IPOs or a return to where we were five or six years ago."
(Story corrects number of Toronto listings this year in eighteenth paragraph.)
editing by David Stamp