Copper prices stalled in the second quarter of the year, but many market watchers remain optimistic about the red metal’s prospects moving forward.
Prices surged 7 percent in July, and experts like Eric Fry and Mickey Fulp have said they are bullish on copper in the coming years. What’s more, Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and other firms have called for a copper deficit, suggesting it will drive the next leg higher in prices.
That said, copper supply was fairly even between 2015 and 2016. According to the most recent report from the US Geological Survey, global copper production came to 19.4 million metric tons (MT) in 2016, up only slightly from the 19.1 million MT produced the previous year.
Here’s a look at top copper production by country in 2016, as reported by the US Geological Survey. Chile took the top spot again by a long shot, although Peru saw a significant increase in output.
Mine production: 5.5 million MT
Though it was hit with earthquakes, heavy rains and strikes in 2016, Chile’s copper production held up well, dropping by only about 160,000 MT year-on-year.
However, further declines may be in store for the country. President Michelle Bachelet recently said her administration is set to achieve what no other government has managed to do for half a century: reduce the nation’s dependence on copper and diversify the economy.
Mine production: 2.3 million MT
Last year, Peru beat China to become the world’s second-largest copper producer. It saw a drastic increase in copper production, with output jumping from 1.7 million MT in 2015 to 2.3 million MT in 2016.
Moving forward, it’s possible Peru’s copper production will increase further — investors reportedly plan to allocate US$28.27 billion to the country’s copper mines, the Energy and Mines Ministry reported recently. Even so, it’s worth noting that Peru recently faced a nationwide strike coordinated by mining labor unions; it was called off after hours of negotiations and clashes with the police.
Mine production: 1.74 million MT
China, the world’s largest copper consumer, fell from second place to become the world’s third-largest producer of the red metal in 2016.
Despite its lower ranking, China’s copper output increased slightly relative to 2015, coming in at 1.74 million MT. The rise has been attributed to the commissioning of new projects, including the 45,000-MT-per-day Zijinshan gold-copper mine owned by Zijin Mining Group (SHA:601899), as well as other projects in Anhui and Gansu provinces.
China’s decision to place bans on copper scrap imports may play a role in keeping copper prices boosted as demand for refined copper is expected to increase.
4. United States
Mine production: 1.41 million MT
US mined copper production increased by about 2 percent in 2016. According to the US Geological Survey, that bump was largely due to production in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Montana and Michigan; those states account for 99 percent of the country’s mine production. Rio Tinto’s (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO) Bingham Canyon copper mine — a major contributor to US copper production — reached a labor contract agreement with four unions back in April.
Mine production: 970,000 MT
Australia’s copper production remained fairly flat in 2016. Output dropped just 10,000 MT from 2015, in part because BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BLT) achieved lower copper production at its Olympic Dam mine.
Australia’s expenditure on copper exploration was down 27 percent year-on-year in Q1 2017, but the country has maintained steady production despite the impact of heavy rainfall and Cyclone Debbie.
6. Congo (Kinshasa)
Mine production: 910,000 MT
Copper production in the Congo decreased from 1.02 million MT in 2015 to 910,000 MT in 2016. The fall was caused by Glencore’s (LSE:GLEN) partial suspension of production at its Katanga operation. The Congo’s industry-led chamber of mines said it expects the country to mine about 1.5 million MT of the metal in 2018, supported by the reopening of Katanga in the second half of the year.
Mine production: 740,000 MT
Zambia jumped from ninth to seventh place on this list last year, recording an increase in copper production of roughly 28,000 MT relative to 2015.
Canada’s First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM,LSE:FQM) announced plans to modernize and invest over $1 billion in a new smelter for its Kansanshi copper mine in the country earlier this year. Kansanshi has recently seen a 15-percent cut to its power supply as First Quantum and other miners like Glencore enter into a dispute with the Zambian government over recent price hikes for power.
Mine production: 720,000 MT
Canadian copper production also increased in 2016, coming in at 720,000 MT relative to 697,000 MT the previous year. While the strong US dollar may be putting pressure on copper prices, the exchange rate can be a boon for Canadian producers that record costs in Canadian dollars, but sell in US dollars.
Mine production: 710,000 MT
Russian copper production dropped in 2016, coming in at 710,000 MT compared to 732,000 MT in 2015. Norilsk Nickel (MCX:GMKN) accounts for a large portion of that output — the company reported consolidated copper production of 360,000 MT for 2016, down 2 percent year-on-year.
Mine production: 620,000 MT
Mexico rounds out the list of the world’s 10 top copper-producing countries for 2016. It produced 620,000 MT that year, up from 594,000 MT in 2015. Despite being lowest on the list, Mexico is home to Grupo Mexico (OTCMKTS:GMBXF), which owns 85 percent of Southern Copper, one of the largest copper-producing companies in the world.
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This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2016.
Securities Disclosure: I, Sivansh Padhy, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.