BRUSSELS, May 11 (Reuters) - Buying and selling activity in the global mining sector fell by 45 percent in value in the first quarter versus a year ago as a five-year downward trend continued, British accountancy firm EY said in research published on Wednesday.
Miners have been forced to sell assets after a prolonged commodities rout left them facing piles of debt.
Buyers held back as they waited to see whether the market had reached the bottom and deal value fell to $3.3 billion in the first quarter of this year versus just over $6 billion in 2015, EY said.
The number of deals fell to 72 from 87 in the first quarter of 2015, with gold making up nearly half of them.
Analysts are still cautious about any recovery, but a flurry of Chinese buying since late April suggests China thinks that copper prices at least are on the way up. [
Lee Downham, EY's Global Mining and Metals Transactions leader, said that after years of consolidation and growth through acquisitions, miners had been forced to focus on shareholder value by rationalising portfolios.
"Divestments will continue to play an important role," he said, adding he expected more deal activity over the course of the year. (Reporting by Barbara Lewis; editing by Susan Thomas)