BHP Picks Copper Over Other Metals to Benefit from EV Boom

The world’s largest miner thinks copper — not lithium or cobalt — is the best way to benefit from increased electric vehicle demand.


Mining giant BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT) sees copper as the best way to benefit from growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy.

The world’s largest miner will focus on boosting its copper output instead of turning to cobalt or lithium, key elements in electric car batteries, Chief Executive Andrew MacKenzie said Tuesday (February 20).

“We have a strong growth plan for copper,” he said. “The copper market is an order of magnitude greater even when you allow for [EVs] than we would expect the cobalt market or lithium market to be.”

In fact, research suggests that copper demand from EVs could rise by as much as nine times in the next decade. That’s because while cars using internal combustion engines require up to 23 kilograms of copper each, a hybrid electric vehicle uses nearly double that amount, at 40 kilograms of copper.

Mackenzie is not the only executive bullish on copper. Glencore (LSE:GLEN) CEO Ivan Glasenberg, Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO) CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques and Ivanhoe Mines (TSX:IVN) founder Robert Friedland have all called for a big boost in copper demand from the EV sector.

When asked about Escondida in Chile, the world’s largest copper mine, which last year was disrupted by a strike that lasted more than 40 days, Mackenzie said he did not wish to pre-empt discussions with unions, but was seeking to control costs.

“Ultimately we want to be able to drive unit costs down and the best way to do that is by making labor more efficient,” he told a London news conference.

On Tuesday, BHP reported its results for the half year ended December 31, 2018, with underlying profits increasing 25 percent to $4.05 billion. That missed a forecast of $4.3 billion, Reuters says.

Meanwhile, costs were higher than anticipated, and BHP disclosed a $496-million hit due to operational issues at its coal assets and at the Olympic Dam copper mine, RBC Capital Markets analyst Tyler Broda said in a note. “The results are fairly underwhelming,” he added.

BHP also declared a dividend of $0.55 per share, up from $0.40 per share last year, which was a positive surprise for investors such as Argo Investments, one of the company’s top 20 shareholders in Australia.

On Tuesday, shares of BHP closed down 4.51 percent in London, at GBP $1,490.40. The company’s share price has declined 2.11 percent year-to-date.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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