Copper prices rallied toward the end of 2016, and the red metal recently reached its highest price in three years thanks in part to a ramp up in Chinese manufacturing.
Moving forward, copper prices will continued to depend heavily on activity in China. That said, supply disruptions at a number of major mines around the world may help stave off potential oversupply issues. Overall, many experts remain optimistic about the metal’s future prospects.
Given those factors, investors may want to keep an eye on the world’s top copper-producing companies. According to the latest Copper Mine Economics report from the GFMS team at Thomson Reuters, the following companies produced the most copper in 2016.
Production: 1.831 million tonnes
State-owned Codelco is the world’s biggest copper producer. In 2016, the Chilean company produced 1.831 million tonnes of copper, down from 1.893 million tonnes the previous year.
The drop was due to aging mines and reductions in ore grade. Codelco’s chairman, Oscar Landerretche, has said that the company must spend $18 billion on its aging mines over the next five years to remain competitive. In 2016, the company lowered its 2017 premiums for deliveries to China to $72 a tonne on top of LME cash prices; it also improved profits by reducing its costs.
2. Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX)
Production: 1.737 million tonnes
Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan recorded an increase in copper production for 2016, putting out 1.737 million tonnes of the red metal compared to 1.547 million tonnes the previous year. The company reported consolidated sales of 4.65 billion pounds of copper in 2016 and expects 2017 consolidated sales to be 4.1 billion pounds.
One of the company’s assets is Grasberg, the second-largest copper mine in the world. The company recently made a deal with the Indonesian government that will allow it to operate Grasberg through 2041; however, Freeport will have to give up a 51-percent stake in the mine to the state.
3. Glencore (LSE:GLEN)
Production: 1.226 million tonnes
Major diversified miner Glencore produced 1.226 million tonnes of copper in 2016, down from 1.259 million tonnes in 2015. The drop has been attributed to mine suspensions at the company’s African copper operations.
In August, Glencore suspended its Zambian copper mining operations when its power supply was restricted by Zambian energy firm Copperbelt Energy. The restriction led to the mine losing $3 million per day and placed up to 4,700 jobs at risk. Glencore argued that the price increase was unfair and not part of the original agreement. Copperbelt recently restored the Glencore’s power supply, and the two companies are looking to reach an agreement over the issue.
4. BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT)
Production: 1.113 million tonnes
BHP Billiton also saw a dip in copper production from 2015 to 2016, producing 1.113 million tonnes last year compared to 1.178 million tonnes in 2015.
BHP has dealt with a number of issues this year, including a six-week strike at its Escondida copper mine in Chile. Miners opted to end the strike and return to work based on their original contracts. The strike resulted in a $184-million net loss for the company in the first quarter of 2017. Escondida is the world’s largest copper mine.
5. Southern Copper (NYSE:SCCO)
Production: 882,000 tonnes
Southern Copper saw an 18.39-percent gain in copper production in 2016, producing 882,000 tonnes compared to 745,000 tonnes in 2015. The company, which is 85-percent owned by Grupo Mexico, increased its copper sales volume by 18.3 percent on the back of this higher output. Southern Copper believes it has the largest copper reserves in the industry, and has committed to investing $2.9 billion in its Chilean mining operations as part of its growth program and goal of producing 1.2 million tonnes of copper by 2021.
Southern Copper and Grupo Mexico have dealt with bad press in the past for environmental troubles at the Buenavista mine — a toxic leak at the mine in 2014 contaminated the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers in Northern Mexico, turning waters orange.
6. Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO)
Production: 546,000 tonnes
Rio Tinto saw a modest drop in copper production in 2016, with output falling by 9,000 tonnes to reach 546,000 tonnes. The company is one of the largest diversified mining companies in the world behind BHP Billiton — and like BHP, Rio Tinto was also negatively impacted by a six-week strike at Chile’s Escondida mine. Rio Tinto holds a 30-percent interest in the project.
7. KGHM Polska Miedz (WSE:KGH)
Production: 517,000 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 2016, the company produced 517,000 tonnes of copper, a drop from the previous year’s production of 570,000 tonnes. Earlier this year, KGHM canceled a planned second-phase expansion of its Sierra Gorda copper project in Chile. The expansion was initially put on hold but has been canceled due to high production costs and decreases in the price of metals.
8. Anglo American (LSE:AAL)
Production: 401,000 tonnes
Like many companies on this list, Anglo American put out less copper in 2016 than it did in 2015 — 401,000 tonnes compared with the previous year’s 472,000 tonnes.
In the second quarter of 2017, the company’s copper production increased by 8 percent over the same period last year. Anglo American notes that temporary stoppages at its El Soldado mine were partially offset by higher production at Los Bronces, leading to relatively stable copper output.
9. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM)
Production: 379,000 tonnes
First Quantum Minerals saw a dip in copper production from 2015 to 2016, producing 369,000 tonnes in 2015 compared to 379,000 tonnes in 2016. The company’s second quarter report shows an 8-percent increase in copper production over the same quarter of last year, and record throughput of copper concentrates at its Kansanshi copper smelter.
10. Antofagasta (LSE:ANTO)
Production: 370,000 tonnes
Chilean copper-mining company Antofagasta produced 370,000 tonnes of copper in 2016, a decrease from 2015’s total of 370,000 tonnes. In the first half of 2017, the company produced 346,300 tonnes of copper, a 7.1-percent increase over the same period in 2016. Antofagasta’s operations have faced a number of production issues in 2017, including a labor strike that was settled in July, as well as weather issues that curbed production at a number of mines in Chile’s Antofagasta region.
This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2016.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Sivansh Padhy, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.