The copper price rallied sharply toward the end of 2016, and the red metal’s prospects continue to look positive in 2017.
In its most recent copper survey, Thomson Reuters GFMS notes that the copper surplus is shrinking and says that it believes the current low price environment is “sowing seeds for the next boom.” The firm sees the copper price rising around 2018.
With that in mind, investors may want to keep an eye on the world’s top copper-producing companies. In the survey, Thomson Reuters lists the 10 that topped the list in 2015. Read on to learn which companies they were, and what they are currently up to.
Production: 1.893 million tonnes
State-owned Codelco is the world’s biggest copper producer. In 2015, the Chilean company raised its copper production to 1.893 million tonnes, up from 1.839 million tonnes the previous year. The rise came despite a few setbacks, such as protests that temporarily shut down production at the company’s Ministro Hales mine.
2. Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX)
Production: 1.547 million tonnes
Freeport-McMoRan recorded an increase in copper production for 2015, putting out 1.547 million tonnes of the red metal compared with 1.47 million tonnes the previous year. The company is based in Arizona.
One of the company’s assets is the Grasberg minerals district in Indonesia, which holds one of the largest copper deposits on the globe. Freeport-McMoRan reported consolidated sales of 4.65 billion pounds of copper in 2016 and expects 2017 consolidated sales to be 4.1 billion pounds.
3. Glencore (LSE:GLEN)
Production: 1.061 million tonnes
Major diversified miner Glencore produced 1.061 million tonnes of copper in 2015 after announcing substantial copper production cuts that year. In total, the company took roughly 400,000 tonnes of copper cathode out of the market.
In August 2016, Bloomberg reported that Glencore had posted the lowest profit in its five-year history as a public company. A few months later, in November, the company reported that its own-sourced copper production was down 6 percent down compared to the year-ago period. The decline was due to the curtailment of African copper volumes.
4. BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT)
Production: 1.178 million tonnes
BHP Billiton also saw a dip in production from 2014 to 2015, producing 1.178 million tonnes compared with 1.203 million tonnes in 2014.
At the end of 2016, the Australia-based producer had problems at its Olympic Dam operation in Australia. Still, the company has high hopes for copper. The company’s asset manager for Olympic Dam told Bloomberg last year, “[t]he real spark, though, is the demand for renewables … Regardless of where the energy’s coming from, it needs copper.”
5. Southern Copper (NYSE:SCCO)
Production: 745,000 tonnes
Southern Copper saw a 9.08-percent gain in copper production in 2015, putting out 745,000 tonnes compared to 665,000 tonnes in 2014. The company, which is over 85-percent owned by Grupo Mexico, increased its copper sales volume by 12.3 percent on the back of this higher output.
In 2016, Southern Copper reached a new production record of 900,000 tonnes, an increase of 21.1 percent compared to 2015. The company reported that net sales for Q4 came to $1,398.9 million, 11.5 percent higher than the same period last year.
The company believes it has the largest copper reserves in the industry. However, Southern Copper and Grupo Mexico got some bad press for environmental troubles at the Buenavista mine in 2014 — a toxic leak at the mine contaminated the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers in Northern Mexico, turning waters orange.
6. KGHM Polska Miedz (WSE:KGH)
Production: 562,000 tonnes
Poland’s KGHM has operations in Europe, North America and South America, and says that it holds over 37.5 million tonnes of copper ore resources worldwide.
In 2015, the company produced 563,000 tonnes of copper. But the plunge in the copper price drove KGHM to a record loss that year, much of it due to an impairment charge on its Sierra Gorda operation. In the first half of 2016, the company reported a 3-percent increase in production, and in November it said that its profitability had increased despite a slight decrease in sales revenue.
7. Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO)
Production: 555,000 tonnes
Rio Tinto produced 555,000 tonnes of copper in 2015, a steep drop from the 636,000 tonnes it produced in 2014. One of the largest diversified mining companies in the world behind BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto got some good news regarding its Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia in May 2015: after two years of setbacks due to disagreements over the project with the Mongolian government, the two parties came to an agreement to move it forward.
In late 2016, Rio’s chief executive for copper and diamonds told Reuters that the company is “cautiously optimistic” about the current copper market, but holds a stronger outlook for the metal in the mid to long term.
8. Anglo American (LSE:AAL)
Production: 472,000 tonnes
Like many companies on this list, Anglo American put out less copper in 2015 than it did in 2014 — 472,000 tonnes compared with the previous year’s 504,000 tonnes.
In the third quarter of 2016, the company’s copper production decreased by 19 percent from the year-ago period to reach 146,600 tonnes. The company expected lower grades at the Los Bronces mine, and also expected production at Los Bronces and the El Soldado mine to be impacted by strikes.
9. Antofagasta (LSE:ANTO)
Production: 400,000 tonnes
Chilean copper mining company Antofagasta produced 400,000 tonnes of copper in 2015, a decrease from 2014′s total of 455,000 tonnes. In the first half of 2016, the company produced 323,300 tonnes of copper, 6.6 percent higher than in the same period last year. The company expects group copper production for 2016 to be at the lower end of the 710,000- to 740,000-tonne range.
10. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM)
Production: 366,000 tonnes
First Quantum Minerals saw a a dip in copper production from 2014 to 2015, producing 380,000 tonnes in 2014 and 366,000 tonnes in 2015.
For the third quarter of 2016, First Quantum reported copper production of 142,721 tonnes and copper sales of 136,051 tonnes. The company says the positive numbers were the result of a new production record at the Las Cruces mine, increased output at the Kansanshi mine and the continued ramp up of the Sentinel project, which is expected to produce 130,000 tonnes of copper in 2016.
This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Copper Investing News in 2016.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.