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GoldCorp Inc.’s Penasquito mine in Mexico.

Private equity firms say they are getting inundated with requests for help from small mining companies, underscoring the difficulties miners are facing with the drop in commodity prices.

"It's not only us approaching the people that have the assets we are interested in. They are now coming to us to say, 'Let's sit down now. We're probably in the ballpark where we can do something,'" said Isser Elishis, managing partner with private equity firm Waterton Global Resource Management Inc.

Since Waterton raised $1-billion to buy gold and copper assets earlier this year, the Toronto firm said it has seen interest jump.

The reality is grim. Gold has dropped to a four-year low of $1,179 an ounce, copper is trading near a three-year low of $3 a pound. Big mining companies are divesting assets to pay down debt, and smaller miners and explorers can't raise capital from public markets.

When Waterton announced its new fund in April, it had about 35 confidentiality agreements with miners. That number has now doubled.

"People are slowly getting a more realistic expectation on short- and medium-term commodity prices," said Mr. Elishis. "The equity and debt markets are just not there. The board of directors are feeling pressure from shareholders."

Denham Capital Management, a Houston-based private equity firm that manages about $8-billion, said it is also getting more inquiries.

"It's pretty clear that the markets for the juniors aren't there. Investors are not interested. They just aren't putting money into those businesses. Many of those companies are languishing," said Caroline Donally, a Denham director who specializes in mining.

"We are definitely finding lots of people contacting us who ordinarily would go out to the market and raise money that way," she said.

That doesn't mean that there will be more mining mergers in Canada this year, or that private equity will fill the gap in funding. Although commodities are in the dumps, very few deals have been consummated.

The biggest deal this year was the $3.9-billion sale of Quebec's Osisko Mining, followed by the $1.8-billion sale of a Chilean copper mine to one of the Lundin family's companies and Iamgold's $500-million niobium mine sale to Aaron Regent's private equity firm.

The chief executive of Goldcorp Inc. said he was not surprised there has been so little consolidation.

"Bankers and others often misjudge how optimistic miners are," said Chuck Jeannes. "For some of these junior companies, it is hard to give up on what they are trying to achieve and sell the company."