Attendees at the world's largest mining conference are more hopeful for the future of the industry than they were a year ago.

The annual conference of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada — or PDAC — is underway in Toronto this week.

Vic Pakalnis, president of the Sudbury mining innovation group MIRARCO, said last year's conference was a gloomy one.

But this year, he said attitudes are more positive.

"Of course, it's very troubling. I'm a mining engineer and have lived through five of these boom-bust cycles. We're on the low end of it," he said.

"If we look at the world economies, in two years time, I'm predicting there's going to be a major boom," Pakalnis added. "And I think Canada will be positioning itself to take full advantage of that. I think in a couple of years time we're going to be looking at the Ring of Fire taking off again."

'Very, very challenging'

But with a slowing Chinese economy and an oversupply of nickel and other metals on the market, it's not clear when the slump will finally be over.

Mining giant Vale recently posted a fourth quarter net loss of $8.5 billion — the worst since it became a private company about two decades ago.

Vale spokesperson Angie Robson said there's no crystal ball for the future.

"The current state of the market is very, very challenging.  Not only for Vale here in Sudbury, but really for mining companies around the world," Robson said.

Robson said the company has been trying to control costs while minimizing impact on workers.

"There's been no operations closed or shut down. Part of our objectives here this time is to try and limit any impacts on our people, so you haven't seen any reductions in terms of head counts," Robson said.

Vale executives have said the company is looking to sell off some assets.

But Robson said she hasn't heard anything to suggest that might happen in Sudbury.

"I've heard no conversations that will have an impact on Sudbury," she said. "When the market sort of declines, the rumours start to increase and go up."